Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

About the Tree - a symbol of what?

First Christmas is a Christian Holiday - and while the tree is originally pagan... the times make it a Christmas symbol.

Back to the question: Is it appropriate to take a symbol from a different faith and rationalize it as Jewish?

Well some traditions in Reform Judaism come from Christianity - the Confirmation service comes to mind as one.

But on the other hand, if I saw a beautiful decorative cross that I liked, I would not wear it or put it in my home because it sends the wrong message. The "cross" is clearly a Christian symbol, no doubts.

There are many opinions about Jews having trees and we only touched on a few of the arguments at class today.

Here are a few interesting links to opinions on the subject:

Case History for Having a Tree

Hanukkah Bush?

What Jews Do On Christmas
It is a good time for Jews to be good citizens and strengthen the bond with our Christian neighbors

The Jewish Christmas

Conflicting Information? Deut: 16:21-22 Torah Study

Deuteronomy 16:21-22 Says not to put "posts" or "trees" or "stone pillars" beside the alter of God.

BUT... There are many other places where our patriarchs did just that: Gen 21:33 Abraham plants a tree to worship by. Gen 28:16-22 Jacob builds a pillar to mark a Holy place. Ex 24:4 A stone pillar is erected at Mt. Sinai. and more. We even refer to the Torah as our "Tree of Life"...

So why is it that in Deuteronomy - this becomes a prohibited thing?

According to Rashi, because that was what the Cannanites did for their idol worship ... It would possibly become confusing and so it is just "not done any more" and besides now in the new land they will have a central place of worship.

So this is another "rule" that changes with the times once they "enter the land".

It is important not to even seem to use the same symbols as those who worship idols.

So this brings us to a question: Is it bad to use a symbol from a different faith and rationalize it to make it our own...

This brought on a discussion of Christmas Trees in Jewish homes - see next post.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Omer and Haircuts

Do you know about hair cuts and the Omer?

on the 33rd day of the Omer (the 7 weeks between Pesach and Shavuot) it is traditional to get a hair cut...

So schedule your haircut for May 28th and include a little Jewish tradition that is easy...

Actually there is a special tradition among orthodox tradition that a baby doesn't get a haircut until age 3 and then it is done on Lag B'Omer - the 33rd day of the Omer.

Why the 33rd day? Well the Omer is a period to remember all those who died in the plague during the time of Rabbi Akivah and on the 33rd day there was a lifting of the death from this terrible disease and so they celebrate that day.

So do it Jewish and get a haircut on May 28th! (really sundown the 27th to sundown 28th) Hmmmm... that is a Shabbat so I wonder what they do. If anyone knows please comment.

You can download a special calendar to "count the Omer" on the Traditions Renewed site:

It is in the top article on Pesach.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Chag Sameah - Good Pesach

To my readers a wish for a wonderful Pesach celebration.

Posts About Pesach

Vidui - a confession before death - an acknowledgment

I wonder about what my father thought as he was guided through this prayer, as I know he was. If he had the chance to say it in English so he could understand the words... and he was one of those whose contributions to community were so great and I hope he felt the satisfaction with his meaning and contributions in this life.

And what about my mother who died suddenly and was not able to say or even reflect on the vidui or its meaning?

I went to a class on death and Jewish ritual by R. Shelly Marder. That is where we reviewed the Vidui and it's meaning. The traditional prayer is more of a reflection on one's life and an acknowledgment of faith and hope for meaning and redemption.

We focused a bit on the word "redemption" in this sense. It is a connection with the Jewish people and their history as opposed to a comment on the hereafter. I like that. While our lives as individuals have meaning and hope for good impact in this world, we are part of a rich and wonderful history of people striving to make the world better.

- Translation and more commentary is posted on TraditionsRenewed in the page on lifecycle.
Vidui - Translation and Comments

Acknowledgment of mortality and reflection on life.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Two things we are to PURSUE

There are only two things we are told to pursue in the Torah:

Justice and Peace

An interesting "gem" from Torah Study this week.

Definition: Pursue defined

Pursuit is a proactive word and while there are many attributes and conditions that are covered in the Torah, these are the two qualities of community that are held to a higher level: Justice and Peace. Somehow this seems appropriate.

The connection between Justice and Peace - our primary goals - something to always work towards.

Quotes from web searching:

Rabbi Marder's sermon from November 2004: "Jews come, that is, from a tradition that doesn’t encourage escapism. It forces us to acknowledge the pain, injustice and strife all around us, and simultaneously cultivates in us an intense yearning for justice, goodness and peace. "

More searching on the subject found:

... the actions or inaction of our leaders do not absolve us of responsibility. Nothing frees us of the command to be pursuers of justice. In our inter- connected world injustice leads to injustice, and where there is any injustice none can live in peace. So we must take up our responsibility to discipline our behavior and our minds, to be pursuers of justice so that we - and all - may thrive and live.

Ellen Dannin, a member of the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah and Congregation Beth Israel, teaches at Wayne State University Law School.

Her conclusion is that without Justice there is no Peace... interesting.

Another interesting quote found on the subject:
The whole of the Torah is an attempt to make the Jewish people a peace-loving, tolerant, benevolent nation, focused on eradicating the injustices man experiences such as poverty, hunger, and violence. God wills for God's children to cooperate, to end war and bloodshed, to pursue peace, justice, and righteousness. God wants God's children to love each other. - By Michael Knopf JTS / Columbia - in his comments about the war in Iraq May 2003:

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Four Sons and a Fifth

The four sons: Wise, Wicked, Simple and Innocent are all around the Seder Table... they are all within us.

Interesting link to the Four Sons and the Four Questions

Link 4 sons to 4 questions

And then there is the 5th son the one who is not there.... sad but true, these are the ones who not only do not know the story and cannot ask... they do not know to ask although it is their heritage too.

The 5th son

We all know some of the 5th sons... invite them to your seder if you can.

And on Your Gates

from Torah Study 4/9

In the Shema we say to put these words ... on the gates. We learn that the gates are not the gates to our home, but the gates to our community.

In the story of Ruth, Boaz goes to the Gates to to discuss with the community how to "redeem their kinsman". There are other references to the "gate" of the community.

We must put the words on our gates.

In today's diaspora this custom has been lost. And yet we should feel good being a community out in the open and the words should surround us as it is commanded. These words transcend their literal meaning and have grown to encompass a feeling and a sense of wholeness for both the individual and the community of Israel everywhere.

Justice Justice...

Torah Study Beth Am 4/9/005 'Justice, justice shall you pursue.' Deut 16:18-20

A discussion of a system for Judges and Officials to hear the unbiased facts and judge fairly.

What follows is a look at what is fair according to the Bible and what is "fair" or "not fair" in our US Judicial system.

A key difference noted is the focus on the community vs the focus on the individual... very interesting and it still gives us a lot to strive toward.

In the Torah the system for Justice evolves from Moses being the only Judge. To the delegation of authority based on Jethro's suggestions and then to the system of the community selecting Judges and the creation of "Professional" Judiciary.

Fairness is a subject that starts with God's selection of Abraham to do what is fair and just, the issue of the citizens of Sodom, and the system of Tsedeck or Equity.

Rashi's commentaries make it very clear how important "Fairness" and "impartiality" are in Justice. And he also emphasized the need to appoint Judges based on their ability to be fair.

The essence is that we are, in fact, aware of our imperfection and the difficulty of being fair. so we are give a "dream of perfect justice" - something to work toward.

URJ Torah Study on Shoftim - Justice

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Is a PVC Pipe Sukkah "Kosher"?

Torah Study 4/2: Sukkot

The Torah tells us in Leviticus to build the Sukkah
The Mishna 1 (tractate Sukkah) tells us how to build it
The Talmud tells us PVC is ok for the frame but not the roof! (at least that would be where to find out)

The Mishna tells us that the roof must be mostly shady and made with things that grow from the ground... so branches, wood, leaves are all ok.

It says the structure needs to stay up for 7 days and should be built (or fixed up) specifically for the feast, so it has to be stable but not too stable. While it is a reminder that things are temporary it is also supposed to be the most joyous time at this feast, so the Sukkah should be comfortable and enjoyable to 'live' in. And you CAN go inside if it rains

PVC Pipe Sukkah Plan

Speaking of rain: The prayer for rain is part of Sukkot. And there were rituals where water was poured on the altar as a 'prayer for rain'. This is, after all, a holiday of the harvest and agriculture seasons.

The discussion continues telling us that this is the MOST joyous holiday that the whole community should celebrate... and the question to the diaspora community is why isn't Sukkot more popular than Hanukkah? (well unfortunately it is because of Christmas),

And it was pointed out that there IS a connection between Hanukkah and Sukkot - that the celebration of Hanukkah is a "Winter Sukkot" because at the time of the Macabees - there was war in the harvest season so they celebrated Sukkot late that year - it later became - Hanukkah.

NEXT WEEK: Justice and Being Fair... should be good.

What is a Pilgrimage?

Another topic to contemplate based on Torah Study 4/2

How is a "pilgrimage" different from a "vacation"?

  • purpose?
  • intention?
  • who is on the trip?
  • does it have to be a 'journey' to Jerusalem?

    Interesting questions related links:

    Book by Larry Hoffman on Pilgrimage

    Why We Travel By Pico Iyer
  • Refection on Reform Jews' Evolution

    Tidbit from Torah Study 4/2

    Early Reformers felt that "modern" life was somewhat superior and effected how they viewed the "laws of Torah".

    As they got more and more disillusioned with "modernity" there is a turn back to look more closely at the Torah for guidance and reflection.

    Now we are more humble and more willing to learn about and from the mitzvot.

    Therefore there is a feeling that is good about the community coming back together to learn Torah.

    This reflection came from a discussion on how we want to follow the "law of the festivals" and come together more for the day of the pilgrimage festivals.... especially Sukkot but also Pesach and Shavuot. But the pressures of our secular lives interfere with this so it is difficult to take another 3 days from the "working world" to join in the 'pilgrimage' focus.