Thursday, 28 April 2016

Feeling Tired at the End of Pesach? So Come to Shul

The Yom Tov of the end of Pesach marks the moment the Children of Israel cross the Sea - the last stage of the Exodus. What is so remarkable about the Biblical narrative is the choser emunah - the lack of faith demonstrated. Just days after the majesty of the plagues and the moment of the Exodus itself the Children of Israel take one look at the Egyptian army advancing behind them and give up, 'were there no graves in Egypt that you had to take us into the desert to kill us?' But it works out, another glorious miracle, and then the glorious Shira - the Song of Sea we will enjoy tomorrow.

Perhaps we can learn something from the glorious run of sacred time we are experiencing so many thousands of years later. We've prepared, we've cleaned and koshered and cooked and stayed up too late and ... now we are tired. And we haven't even been schlepping our worldly possessions through the desert with flat dough baking on our backs. There are two responses to feeling tired. One is to give up, moan and decide we are no longer able to bother. The other is to explore the edge of that exhaustion, push a little more to find what happens when we demand of ourselves a celebration of our freedom. It turns out there is much more to find. There is so much more for which to be grateful. And it turns out that the miracles to come are even greater than the miracles that have allowed us to reach this point.

Rambam, in his Guide to the Perplexed, weaves a metaphor of spiritual seeking. There is a King inside a palace, but most of the people don't try and enter, and of those that do most give up in the antechambers. The point of the Yom Tov at the end of Pesach is to enquire who is still prepared to seek, still prepared to celebrate and still prepared to discover the miracles of our freedom.
We will be celebrating on Friday with an egalitarian service. 

On Shabbat, in both the mikdash and the Minyan Chadash, we be serenaded by the Song of Songs and the service will also feature Yizkor. I look forward to seeing you there,
Chag Sameach,
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Prepping the Seder - A Three Part Guide to Getting Ready - Peshat, Remez & Drash



Peshat - What's Really Going On?

Mishnah Pesachim 10:3
They mixed him the second cup and here the son asks his father. And if the son lacks the intelligence to ask, his father instructs him, ‘How different this night is from all other nights…’

Pesachim 115b
Abbaye was sitting in front of Rabbah. He saw that they were taking the table away. He said to them, ‘We still haven't eaten, why are they taking the table away?’ Rabbah said to him, ‘You have exempted us from reciting Mah Nishtanah.

Mishnah Pesachim 10:4 (as per Rambam)
They mix the second cup and the at this point the child asks and reads -
How is this night different from all other nights;
For on all nights we don’t even dip once, this night twice.
For on all nights we eat chametz or matzah, this night only matzah
For on all nights we eat roast, boiled or stewed meat, this night roasted.
For on all nights we eat other vegetables, this night maror.
For on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, this night we all lean?

Rambam 8:3
Nowadays we don’t include ‘roasted meat’ since we don’t have the paschal offering.

Ester 1:6
There were hangings of white, green and blue, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble; the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of alabaster, marble, mother of pearl, and precious stones.

Tosefta Brachot 5:5
What is the arrangement of reclining? Where there are two cushions, the most important person reclines at the head of the first. The second is below him.
Where there are three cushions, the most important person reclines at the head of the middle, the second is above him, the third is below him.

Josh Kulp: The Schechter Hagadah
Reclining was customary in Greco-Roman banquets and helped distinguish normal eating from formal ‘dining.’ In the Greco-Roman world banquets were typically eaten while reclining on a triclinium, three elevated mattresses arranged in the shape of the Greek letter Pi. In front of each mattress was a table which was brought to the diner and taken away at various points in the meal. People reclined to their left, so that they could use their right hand to eat.

Mishnah Pesachim 10:1
On the eve of Pesach … even the poor of Israel don’t eat until they are leaning.

Talmud Yerushalmi
Said Rabbi Levi, it is the way of slaves to eat standing up, but here they eat leaning to make it known that they have left servitude for freedom.

Floor Mosaic, Sephoris

Mishnah Brachot 6:6
When they sit [yoshvin] each blesses themselves. When they lean [heyseivu] one blesses for all.
Ovadiah M’Bartenura
Sitting without seiva is a sign that they are not coming together to eat.

Hagadah Shleimah, Menachem Kasher C20
First we should emphasise that the number of questions is not at all consistent in the manuscripts of ancient Hagadot. We have two, three, four, five questions. So there is no proof that the question is late, simply since it doesn’t appear in the Mishnah… The word ‘seivah’ has two meanings aside from the meaning of leaning to the left. As it states in the Arukh – a circular arrangement of chairs to sit at for a meal and there is also a meaning derived from Mishnah Brachot 6:6 They seiv and one blesses for them all. How can this mean leaning? Rather the idea is that they ate in a group gathered together. For note that the Torah (Exodus 12:1) says that the paschal offering is to be eaten ‘in one place’ – bvat echad. [That is to say] the obligation of the paschal offering is to eat it together in seiva - in a group … leaning was just a natural way of eating throughout the year but the essence of the obligation seivah was that a person should eat with their fellow and their family in seivah that is to say together. And this question applied even while the Temple was standing, that is to say it is a Torah mandate.

Exodus 13
So God led the people around [vayaasev], through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea.
Exodus Rabba 20:18
The Rabbis have learned from this that even the poorest man in Israel must not eat without leaning for so the Holy Blessed One did for them as it says ‘So God made the people recline [vayaasev].’


Remez - What Might this Hint At?


Freedom In Exile – Fleeing Lhasa for Dharamasala
At a few minutes before ten o’clock, now wearing unfamiliar trousers and a long, black coat, I threw a rifle over my right shoulder and, rolled up, an old thangka that had belonged to the Second Dalai Lama over my left. Then, slipping my glasses into my pocket, I stepped outside. I was very frightened. I was joined by two soldiers, with them I groped my way across the park, hardly able to see a thing. On reaching the outer wall we joined up with Chikyah Kempo who, I could just make out, was armed with a sword. He spoke to me in a low reassuring voice. I was to keep by him at all costs. Going through the gate, he announced boldly to the people gathered there that he was undertaking a routine tour of inspection. With that, we were allowed to pass through. No further words were spoken.

Talmud Gittin 56a
Abba Sikra the head of the guard in Jerusalem was the son of the sister of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.
Yachanan sent for him saying, Come to visit me privately.
When he came he said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation?
He replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me.
He said: Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to save a little.
He said to him: Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something evil smelling and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let then your disciples get under your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse.
He did so, and Rabbi Eliezer went under the bier from one side and Rabbi Joshua from the other.
When they reached the door, some men wanted to put a lance through the bier. He said to them: Shall [the Romans] say. They have pierced their Master?
They wanted to give it a push. He said to them: Shall they say that they pushed their Master? They opened a town gate for him and he got out.

The Jew In the Lotus, Rodger Kamenetz
As [Rabbi Yitz Greenberg] told the story of the first-century sages, I felt the power of our being there, as Jews. Dharamasala as much as one can argue by analogy, is surely the Tibetan Yavneh. In this small Indian town, with no more than five thousand souls, lies the main hope for the survival of Tibetan Buddhism. And I could see – with a little squinting – the Dalai Lama and his leading abbots and monks as the Buddhist equivalent of Yochanan ben Zakkai and his sages.

Material from;
http://www.hias.org/sites/default/files/3-30-16_hias-seder-supplement.pdf

Drash Material from;

http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/32695

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Top Ten Tips for a Liberating Pesach

i. A Bittul beats ballistic bothering.
You don’t have to drive yourself mad in an all-encompassing war of destruction waged on Chametz. The minimum standard is remove everything smaller than the size of an olive and then perform a Bittul – a nullification – “all Chametz which is in possession, which I have not seen or removed or of which I am not aware, is nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.”  The Bittul is done once on evening before Seder and again late morning of the day of First Seder.

ii. Invite people to the Seder who can’t be there. 
I always like to start the Seder by inviting everyone to welcome one guest, one person who has passed away, or can’t be there, or just someone you would love to welcome to experience our story. It sets the mood and it brings the community around your personal Seder together.

iii. Prep the Seder
Don’t open the Hagadah for the first time as you sit down at the Seder table. Buy a new Hagadah, one with commentaries, spend a while flicking through, pick some aspects that mean more to you. If you are not leading, let the leader know you would like to share something at a certain point. If you need more inspiration, try the internet. Tzedek and JCORE are among many organisations that have special guides with discussion material and questions. Also try www.myjewishlearning.com


iv. Karpas is Hebrew for crudités
The desultory sprig of parsley is not what Karpas is all about. It’s a Greek custom of putting out snacks before the meal to allow the conversation to flow more easily. We make dips and put out a range of vegetables. Top tip – artichokes, perfect for dipping, noshing and accompanying schmoozing.

v. It’s about freedom
Don’t be imprisoned by the language of the Seder. At some point you need to have a discussion about the nature of freedom. What does freedom mean, what does it mean to be Jewish and free - free from what, responsible for what? What would your values be if no-one was forcing you to do otherwise? What is stopping you from pursuing those values right now?

vi. Do something daft
The Rabbis of the Talmud suggested throwing toasted nuts around the Seder table to keep the kids occupied. We put out finger-puppets, oranges, Miriam’s cup, ah, loads of stuff – anything to keep people interested and engaged.

vii. If at first you don’t succeed
I love the ability to celebrate two Sedarim. And I love the ability to have a more formal and a less formal experience. The two Sedarim shouldn’t be the same. If you will be with the same people, around the same table, with the same food, then change the questions. Pick different conversations.


viii. Allow yourself to be defined
I remember a Pesach, I must have been 14, when I had to take a packed Pesachdik lunch into school; Tupperware and Matzah crumbs. It was a tremendous moment allowing myself to be defined by my actions. I was someone who cared enough about my Jewish identity to do this, and decline doing that. Through my observance I found a deeper relationship to my own identity. And to this day I find I make the clearest statements of my engagement with my faith over Pesach, with the cleaning and shopping and everything else. And that is OK. In fact, it makes me who I am.

ix. You have captured my heart
Ah, the Song of Songs, the Biblical book, said Rabbi Akiva, that makes the whole Torah worthwhile. We’ll be singing it on Shabbat Chol Ha-Moed Pesach, together with the Song of the Sea on the seventh day, and Hallel and … these are great Synagogue services, full of melody and joy. It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring, or find, in Shul the communal public engagement with Pesach, to counterbalance the private, familial celebrations of Seder Night. (On the subject of Shul, there are, of course, double points on offer to those able to join us for weekday Yom Tov services.)


x. In every generation a person should see themselves …
Take responsibility for your own Passover journey. If you love it, be proud. If it doesn’t speak to you … take responsibility for finding a way to make this incredible story and the rich universe of rituals that surround it resonate with you. There is no-one else to blame. This is our own life we are celebrating. It would be a terrible thing to run out of the ability to acknowledge our own freedom.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Duchenning on Shabbat (Technical)

The Routledge informs us that we don't Duchen on Yom Tov which falls on Shabbat (Yom Kippur apart.) The Hertz and the new-ish Sacks/Koren Siddur contain the same instruction. This is from the Sacks/Koren Siddur

Interestingly the newer Koren Machzor (at least the volume for RH) uses different language which fudges the issue.

'If Kohanim say' suggests that in some circumstances Kohanim don't say (presumably Shabbat, for a Cohen who is in the room should bless), but those circumstances are not spelled out either on the page (for either day of RH) or in the Halachic Guide at the back of the Machzor. I suspect, and I'm asking, but haven't yet had a confirmation, the intent is to say subtlely, that the tradition not to Duchen on Yom Tov/Shabbat is not to be taken too seriously - without any fear of embarrassing communities or Rabbis who don't.

Some of the sources on the subject

SA OH 128:44 Rem'a
Our custom in all lands is that we don’t raise our palms unless it is Yom Tov since at that time we are in the Happiness of Yom Tov and “The glad of heart shall bless [Tov lev hu yivarech]” and this is unlike other days, even unlike the Shabbatot of the year, when we are troubled thinking about earning a living and avoiding Malachah.

Mishna Brurah ad loc.
We don’t raise our palms unless it is Yom Tov - whether the festival falls on weekday or Shabbat but there are places where it is customary not to raise palms when Yom Tov falls on Shabbat but this custom is not at all essential.  (Ein minhag zeh ikkar clal) as many commentators have written.

Magen Avraham
Mem Ayin [not sure who this is] has written that there is a terrible [garua] custom that a few places do not  raise palms when Shabbat falls on Yom Tov. It's not right and I don't know the reason for the thing. It's possible that the rabbis of the world [I'm not really familiar with this phrase, I think it is meant pejoratively, i.e. they might be ordained, but they don't know what they are talking about] said that there is a problem of making petitions on Shabbat, but this doesn't apply on Yom Tov …

Moshe Feinstein IM 3:18
Behold, this person has a Synagogue where the custom is that Cohanim don't lift up their palms even on Yom Kippur which falls on Shabbat. This is an error and we should reproach them. For even in those places where the practice is not to lift up palms on Yom Tov which falls on Shabbat [we still do this on Yom Kippur] … and moreover even the custom which exists in some places not to lift palms on Yom Tov which falls on Shabbat, that's not a powerful custom, even in those places. In recent times there is virtually no place where there is this terrible [garua] custom, as is explained in the Arukh HaShulchan 128:64 [which explains that] the custom that used to apply in ancient times, of not lifting hands when Yom Tov fell on Shabbat, has been annulled in our times for the custom has no reason or sense… And specifically in these years of pain [tzoros] we need blessing, and the mercy of the Heavens is good. We should command the Cohanim to lift their palms and those rabbis  of the world, it's better that they should not [stop the lifting of palms] especially on Yom Kippur which falls on Shabbat.

And One Last Thing
A friend, with an inside scoop into mid-to-late C20th Anglo Jewry shared that the 'real' reason for non-Shabbat Duchening in Minhag Anglia is 'lest the Cohanim should carry their slippers to Shul.'
Ahhh, Minhag Anglia :-)
Actually, it makes a whole of things fall into place, including why we do Duchen on Shabbat Yom Kippur (think of the Shofar).

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Do We Have to Feed Everyone Who is Hungry?

I'm seeing more beggars on the streets, sitting outside supermarkets on scraps of cardboard, waving paper cups at me as I walk by. And the situation here is nothing compared to the influx of strangers in elsewhere in Europe. We are struggling - us liberal Westerners. We are struggling to live up to the demands of our souls, the demands of every articulation of human rights. We are struggling to know how to make this situation improve. We are struggling to protect our own interests as strangers make their own calls on resources we perceived as 'ours.' And we are struggling to understand the security implications of so many arrivals from Muslim countries. That goes for the entire British community. As Jews, in addition, we are struggling to work out whether we side principally with the indigenous who can advocate for self-protection or the outsider for whom a welcome for other outsiders is a necessary part of what makes this a society in which we wish to live.

The Talmud (Gittin 61) states there is an obligation to assist the non-Jewish poor along with the Jewish poor because of 'darkei shalom - the ways of peace,' but, tantalisingly, it's very difficult to penetrate the inner meaning of this term. On the one hand darkei shalom could be a moral charge, a command to lift all humanity from the grip of suffering and poverty. On the other hand darkei shalom could be a utilitarian piece of advice, be nice to the non-Jews so they won't hate you back. If the obligation to act for the sake of darkei shalom is moral then whether we like or trust these new hungry strangers we are obligated to open our wallets and our hearts. But if the obligation is utilitarian, if this is just political advice, then we can weigh up the pros and cons of today's challenges with cool calculation.

Sifting through the great Rabbinic commentators of our tradition it's hard to understand which stance is more normative. Maimonides in Hilchot Melachim suggests two Biblical prooftexts for the obligation to take care of the non-Jewish poor for reasons of darkei shalom, 'God is good to all in God's mercy,' and 'Her ways are of gentleness and all her paths are of peace.' This seems to be a vote in favour of a universal Jewish morality. But elsewhere in his great legal code (Hilchot Avodah Zarah), we read that darkei shalom obligations only apply 'when Israel is exiled among the nations,' and when Israel has 'the upper hand over the nations' not only do these obligations not apply, but one doesn't even tolerate an idolater to walk the streets. That suggests the driving force behind the principle of darkei shalom is solely the avoidance of enmity. Elsewhere - in commenting on the obligation to stand in honour of the funeral procession of a non-Jew (another obligation imposed, in the Talmud, because of darkei shalom) it seems that Joseph Caro sides with the universalists and the Bach sides with the utilitarians. It is complex.

Ultimately, I side with the moralists, partly because of my deepest conviction that the image of God resides in all of humanity, and partly because of the deep belief that our redemption from slavery has to stand for more than our narrowest sense of self-interest. Our journey from bondage to freedom cannot be secured when others are left in darkness.

These are mighty - and eminently Seder-night-suitable - questions. They are questions about how we understand ourselves as Jews living in twenty-first century Britain. I hope their discussion can enrich your engagement with this most special part of our journey through the Jewish year. I hope you will side with me, with the moralists. And I hope that your intellectual engagement will drive a practical, and equally a financial, commitment to be involved in the bettering of the lives of today's strangers. In particular I am delighted to commend the work of World Jewish Relief supporting both impoverished Jewish communities and non-Jewish refugee communities in our name, and for the sake of darkei shalom. Please look at their web site and consider supporting their important work.
Our actions and charitable gifts won't solve the problems of the hungry, but it will allow us to utter the words, 'may all who are hungry come and eat,' with a degree of honesty and the sense of pride we should feel at the Seder night.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

On the Terrible Events in Brussels - And Purim

Dear Friends,

Strange times, when lunatics can threaten our very lives simply because we disagree with their - crazy - religious attitudes.
It must be Purim.
I don't mean to make light of the horrific events in Brussels today. My thoughts are with all those who are mourning or are injured. It's a horrific unconscionable attack.

But we have been here before.
We have lived in societies threatened by those who find us threatening.
We have had to find ways to survive not only physically, but existentially and emotionally. We can't always lock ourselves inside.
Buried back in the mists of time we, Jews, found a way to respond to this kind of threat, this shadow that seems to hang over our lives from one generation to another.
They called it Purim.

It's a day of telling the story,
But a day of laughter, chaotic celebration, masquerades and release from the fear - it's even a day of drinking.
There is a time for everything.

So come, join us tomorrow night as we tell the story and laugh and release the tension this threat proposes.
Serious times demand serious responses. We'll get that, I'm sure.
But for one night, let's laugh and drink and celebrate our faith that we are - even in our love of peace, in fact particularly because of our love of peace - stronger than those who hate us,

Purim Sameach,

Rabbi Jeremy

5:30                     Families and Kids' activities
6:30                     Megillah Reading for all
Followed by       Persian Buffet, Schmooze

More info here


Friday, 11 March 2016

On Disagreement

I'm teaching on disagreement at the Shul this Shabbat.
All welcome.

Sources are here

And some lovely sources they are too.

What I am not going to try to post is this stunning piece from Likkeutei Moharan, Reb Nachman.
I think it is utterly stunning.
It's a little technical, designed for those with a background in Rabbinics and a soul able to handle Hasidic exegesis, but stunning.

Hope you enjoy it

Likutei Mohoran 64:4

And know that machloket is the behina  of the creation of the world, for the essence of the creation of the world is by means of the vacated void (as is mentioned above), for without this everything would be ain sof, and there would be no place for the creation of the world. Therefore [God] made a tzimtzum to the sides and made the vacated space, and in that place [God] created all of creation. These are the days of hamadot, by means of speech, as mentioned above – by means of the speech of the Divine were the Heavens made – and this is also the behina of machloket, for if every talmid hacham was ached there would have been no space for the creation of the world.
Rather it is only by means of the machloket between them – when they are disagreeing one with the other, and each one is pulling themselves to a different side, by means of this there made between them the behina of the vacated void which is the behina of the tzimtzum  of the light to the sides, for this is the creation of the world by means of speech as is mentioned above. For all the words that each of the speak, it is all for the sake of the creation of the world which is made by their hands from the vacated void that is between them. For talmidei hachamim create everything by means of speech, as it says (in a discussion in the Zohar on Isaiah 51) and say to Zion – you are my people [ami], do not read ‘ami’ rather ‘ími’ – with me. Just as I create the heavens and the earth, with my words, so shall you. So too one should be careful not to speak too much, only what is necessary for the creation of the world and no more. For by means of the multiplication of the light – for the vessels were not able to suffer the multiplication of the light – they were shattered – and through the shattering of the vessels the husks gained life…

And this is the explanation of the Mishna, ‘All my days I grew up amongst the hachamim, and I found nothing better for the body than silence, and the exposition of something is not the essence, rather the action, and anyone who speaks too much will err.’
Between the hachamim – that is the behina of the vacated void that exists and is created between the hachamim by means of the disagreement and machloket which lies between them…For by means of machloket  the behina of the vacated void is created, and for the midst of the vacated void, the whole world is created…
All my days I grew that is my days and my middot – this is the behina of the creation of the world.
Between the hachamim – specifically the hachamim in the midst of the vacated space, for here is all the world created.
I grew – that is my days and my middot, from small to great.
and I found nothing better for the body than silencefor in the vacated void there is nothing better than silence, as is mentioned above, for it is forbidden to enter there, unless one is the behina of silence, which is the behina of Moses, (as is mentioned above). And this is nothing better than silence, for once a person grasps that behina – the behina of silence – as it says, there is nothing better than silence, therefore their days and middot  have grown there, in the vacated void. And this is
and the exposition of something is not the essence, rather the action for all the words and the explanations of these hachamim, their essence is not the explication alone, rather the action, for they make and create, by means of their words the world (as is mentioned above) – don’t read ami (my people) rather imi (with me). And so

And anyone who speaks too much will err – for the multiplication of the light gives life to the husks, (as is mentioned above).
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