To define those terms a bit, by “religion” I mean those structures, dogmas, and practices which bind communities together, help people be a little less mean to one another, and provide pre-set ways to be a good, and even holy, person. By “spirituality” I mean almost the polar opposite. Spirituality transgresses existing structures. It doesn’t construct the self—it transforms it, even negates it entirely. And while it, too, is interested in goodness and holiness, its heroes are those who blazed their own paths, and were often deemed rebels in their day….Spiritual people don’t like organized religion because organized religion is someone else’s, and thus to some degree inauthentic.
But the biggest issue, I think, with our cultural moment is in the splitting of “spirituality” from “religion.” This bifurcated language has been around since the 60s or so, but I think it’s become more acute in recent years, as the schism has become more entrenched between a hyper-literalist fundamentalism and a feel-good panacea offering easy steps to enlightenment….It seems to be about the personal, individual journey of the brave individual self—one pictures Jack Kerouac setting out on the road, needing nobody and finding no use in external help.
Yet this picture belies 2,000 years of nuanced theology. The spiritual giants about whom we often talk—Heschel and Rebbe Nahman, St. Theresa and Gandhi, Thomas Merton, St. Francis, the Kabbalists of Safed, Rumi—these were people deeply embedded in a religious tradition. They were certainly brave enough to go deep into the dark, hidden corners of the soul, to meet their own naked heart and the soft murmur of Divine with an openness to hear whatever might be heard, but they did not do so as rogues beholden to no one. They did so as religious adherents, as people who prayed sometimes even if the experience was boring, or uninspired, who followed the tenets of their practice even when it was sometimes inconvenient, who took on strictures even if they weren’t always even sure why they were doing so. They innovated in their thinking and actions, to be sure, but their extraordinary transformation to the people who could offer up such depth came as a result of being pushed by their practice in ways that they might not have pushed themselves.
Check out the whole story here and here, and decide for yourself.
Let me start by saying that as excited as I was to fly the Jewschool flag, I was somewhat suspicious of the event itself. I tend to sneer at the kind of spirituality that comes with chanting and meditating and crystals and beads and what-have-you, and that’s sort of what I expected to be bombarded with here. After all, I know that Jay Michaelson is prone to running off to Tibet for a month of silent contemplation, and Seth Castleman has built his career on bringing the Dharma and the Torah together. I know that Danya holds a torch for the kind of traditional Jewish spirituality that I both crave and mock, although from reading her memoir I know that she’s adopted the lotus position herself on more than one occasion.
So let me be the first to say that the event was not that at all. Sure, Danya and Jay disagreed on whether aromatherapy bath crystals can really be considered spiritual tools, but the discussion was much more focused on the interplay between “religion” (i.e. the structures & strictures, rituals and communities of organized faith) and “spirituality” (what Danya calls the moments of feeling groovy). (Incidentally, if you were hoping for more of an exploration of how your boogers embody God, Jay is holding a series of conference calls for folks to come together in exploration of the non-dual Judaism he espouses in his book.)
The three speakers introduced themselves and their approaches but then quickly moved on to the Q&A portion of the evening. They did two rounds of four questions each. I tried to capture the entire Q&A session with my Flip Camera, but the darn thing crashed after Seth & Danya answered the first four questions and Jay had answered the first three. But the footage I did manage to get captures enough of the feeling of the event and many of the interesting points. I’ll lead with Jay’s answer to a question about the place of Judaism in his spirituality. (This is from the first round of questions, so I don’t have Danya & Seth’s answers to the same question.)
Behind the cut are more videos addressing the role of music in each person’s spirituality, the place of Israel in their spirituality, and approaches to balancing structured religion with a desire to “pick and choose” and get rid of bits of religion that don’t sit well with us. More »
I might have gotten that title mixed up a bit. Fuller report coming tomorrow, including video of most of the Q&A part of the panel. In the meantime, if you’re curious to know what it was about and you weren’t one of the lucky 120 or so people who made it in the room before the risk of fire hazard cut folks out, you can see tweets from me and Joanna Ware from the panel. (Scroll down to those with timestamps between 7:00 and 8:00 pm EST on Jan. 31st.) I took some snapshots of the Jewschool table and the crowd as well. My pictures of the panel didn’t come out so great (Danya talks with her hands too much for my crappy camera phone to focus!) so you’ll have to wait for the video to see Jay Michaelson, Seth Castleman, and Danya Ruttenberg in action.
Hey everybody out there in Jewschool-land! Sometimes it feels lonely up here in Beantown. Sure, The Wandering Jew and Danya are here with me, but so many of the events posted about here on Jewschool take place 300 miles south of us, it’s hard to feel part of the cutting edge progressive Jewish community that we hear so much about.
Ok, I kid a bit, but those of you who are also reading these words from somewhere in orbit of the Hub of the Universe know they ring true. So for this reason alone, I encourage you to clear your calendars for Sunday night and join me, and Danya, and hopefully hundreds of like-minded others at Everything is God: A Boston Spiritual Woodstock.
From the accounts I heard and read, the first EIG event (held in Central Park a few months ago) was the bee’s knees. Well, as we all know from The Godfather II and Empire Strikes Back, the second one will be even better. And the second one is happening on Sunday at 7 pm at Harvard Hillel. Facebook it.Buy your ticket. And then make sure you stop by the Jewschool table at the Jewish Organizational Hoe-Down to say hi to me.
All the official information (including, you know, what the event actually IS), in the form of a press release, after the cut. More »
Each week, over Shabbat dinner we engage in an experiment in mindfulness. Moving through the Shabbat table liturgy we are forced to think about two things: how does our wine and challah taste and where did then come from?
During the weekday, I eat akin to Homer Simpson, eating too much and beginning each bite before finishing the one before. On Shabbat, we are forced to take a step back. First we remember through blessing the wine and challah that food is a gift, and it is from God. (Of course it’s a law to bless our food on the weekdays as well even the most pious Jew would argue that there is something different and special about Shabbat blessings.)
In addition, the Shabbat liturgy forces us to follow an order. I’ll admit that I’m a fork loader. The more I can taste in a given bite the happier I am. But on Shabbat, we don’t mix. First we taste the wine. Then we taste the challah. Only then do we get to eat everything else. Shabbat is our chance to pause, taste our foods, and enjoy the difference in taste at each step in our ritual.
For this reason, it couldn’t be any more perfect that Tu Bishvat, the holiday where we usually celebrate the unique tastes of nature and look closely at how we relate to God’s world, falls on Shabbat. It is during this holiday that we are encouraged to go above and beyond what we do every week, to be mindful of our food in all aspects. This coming Saturday, at Congregation Beth Elohim when the clocks strike 6PM we will combine the best of Shabbat and Tu Bishvat.
Taste of Tu Bishvat will be an experiment in mindfulness. Like the Shabbat table liturgy we’ll take the time to really taste our food (through meditative practice) and to study and discuss where our food comes from by looking at issues of sustainability and eating. The night will end with a havdallah service as we say goodbye to Shabbat and Tu Bishvat. Cost is $18. To register click here.
A call for submissions was just sent out by Tamar Fox and her sister, Deena Fox, soliciting writing about the experiences of Jewish women in dealing with death and mourning.
The full submissions call is below, after the jump. They’re looking for all sorts of writing, but to show you the depth and breadth of the collection-to-be, I thought I’d include a little cut from Tamar’s bleak and wholly incredible blog, Blogging the Kaddish, which she wrote over a year of mourning for her mother:
It has been a pretty scary month since I stopped saying Kaddish. Two weeks ago the family gathered in Chicago for the unveiling of the headstone, and since then I’ve been feeling pretty strange. I’m calmer than I have been in months. I’m getting more sleep. I’m seeing more of the people I want to see more of. I’m riding my bike, and reading interesting books and staying up all night with friends drinking whiskey and laughing. I don’t think I’m better, really. I certainly have a lot more “grief-work” to do, but I think that ending Kaddish allowed me to settle into my grief in a way that I never could during the eleven months.
For me, saying Kaddish was really a struggle. It hurt, but it felt important. I guess it was like the intense ache you get in muscles after you work out really hard. The next day it’s painful, but also a sign of increasing strength. You’re not exactly glad for the pain, but you appreciate that it’s necessary for the work you have to do.
Editor’s note: The following guest post is by Rabbi Matt Carl. Rabbi Carl serves Congregation Mt Sinai in Brooklyn Heights and teaches and writes independently. His work and projects can be found at www.rabbimoshe.net.
My first Hazon Food Conference was a wonderful experience. Unable to make it due to scheduling for the last three, I was excited to participate this year, especially since my synagogue will be host to Hazon’s Avodah-AJWS CSA in Brooklyn. This year, I believe for the first time, the conference was held over a weekend that included Asara B’Tevet, a “minor fast” day. Yesterday was a strange experience, as the Food Conference ended with a very different relationship to food than it had the first three days.
I came to the conference with my own opinions and practices about the minor fasts. As a spiritual and contemplative practice, I am a big supporter of fasting on these days. As a Zionist and a realist, I question the practice in this era. That being said, I was quite interested to learn about the fasts from the perspectives of those teaching workshops at the conference. As Shabbat was ending, Rabbi Seth Mandel (the OU‘s head of shechita), Rabbi Ahud Sela (of Conservative congregation Temple Sinai in Los Angeles) and Julie Wolk (founding co-director of Wilderness Torah) presented a panel conversation on fasting, moderated by Dorothy Richman. Julie spoke of her experience on a vision quest and Rabbi Sela of his experience doing a “fast for Darfur,” while Rabbi Mandel spoke more generally of the role of fasting in Jewish spiritual life. Yesterday, during the fast, Rabbi Steve Greenberg taught “The Hunger Artist: Fasting as Body Cleansing” with Biblical, Rabbinic and contemporary texts on the experience, meaning and purpose of fasting. More »
Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Yoni Stadlin, founding director of Eden Village Camp. Many of you celebrated at this summer’s Bereishit Festival or you may have justheard of them through the grapevine. As we look toward our next Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, we invite you to hear Stadlin’s inspiring story. Oh yeah, and thanks to three huge Jewish organizations for investing millions in such an awesome project!
My name is Yoni Stadlin, and I am a redwood-tree-sitter. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world, can grow up to 300 feet tall, and can live for two thousand years! I lived aloft in redwood trees for two months of my life. Tree-sitters are people who live up in trees that are slated to be cut down, on the wager that no one would cut down a tree with a person in it.
Tree-sitting has been effective in protecting huge groves and helping change many policies, but many of these ancient beauties have been logged nonetheless. Ninety-five percent of coastal redwoods in the northwest U.S. have been logged for making things like decks, playgrounds and tools. The practice of clear-cutting – leaving no trees standing – has turned huge, lush, vibrant and ancient redwood forests into eroded wastelands, destroying habitats, contaminating water, and massively increasing our species’ footprint on this planet.
Imagine, people in trees! One person, name Julia Butterfly, lived aloft for two and a half years on a suspended platform in a tree named Luna. Imagine where you were two and a half years ago, and imagine being held by a gigantic tree from then until now. Imagine seeing no doors, not one building, road or florescent light, and your feet never touching the ground. This is what I did for two months, and I loved it. More »
Over at The Forward, Jay Michaelson has a great column on The Myth of Authenticity. As I read it, his basic point is to crack apart any sense of an essential transhistorical Judaism in favor of an outlook that sees Judaism and Jewish culture (like all cultures) as always hybrid. This means that Jewish culture is ours to construct (with recourse to the dizzying variety of historical Jewish forms as well). As Michaelson puts it,
No, Biblical Israelites are not the real Jews. Neither are Hasidim, 20th-century modernists, neurotic New York psychoanalysts, Moroccan saints, angst-ridden intellectuals, High Reformers or anyone else. Real Jews are all of the above — and the rest of us who take Jewishness seriously, in one form or another. Real Jews speak with Southern accents, keep one day of yomtov (the holiday), hike in the wilderness, eat shrimp, intermarry, become ba’alei teshuvah, do karate, are bisexual, are neoconservative. Real Jews are the ones who make Judaism real for themselves.
So Jewschoolers, are we ready for this brave new world where meaning trumps authenticity? I know I am, and I would love to see the mainstream Jewish community wake up to the power of arguments like Michaelson’s.
“We are all mediators, translators.” -Jacques Derrida
There have been three distinct moments since I began learning in the Jewish legal tradition that have significantly altered my perspective on the goals and intent of what we apply the blanket term, Halakhah. It is something that I struggle with on a daily basis and has a direct effect on my faith, my practice and my identity. More »
Rabbi Danny Gordis’ column from last week’s Jerusalem Post says that if you struggle with your relationship to the State of Israel, it’s probably because you’re individualistic and self-centered. Many of us disagreed. Shalom Rav offered a powerful response right here on Jewschool last week. Jay Michaelson and Gordis continued their exchange on the pages of The Forward. I also wrote a response that the Jerusalem Post ran this weekend.
After all the thinking and writing about JStreet, identity, politics, strategy, power, etc. I’d be curious to hear what Jewschool readers think about the following question that’s been on my mind a lot recently:
What spiritual significance does the State of Israel hold to you?
My favorite siddur these days is the Koren Sacks Siddur. Busting ArtScroll’s liturgical monopoly for the first time in a long time, Israeli siddur and Tanach publisher Koren combined the elegant layout and typefaces created by Eliyahu Koren with the clear, concise English commentary and instruction of the British Sacks siddur to create the Hebrew-English Koren Sacks Siddur. The siddur came out this summer and quickly shook up the exciting world of Orthodox American liturgy.
One of the OU’s perennial complaints about the ArtScroll family of siddurim is their refusal to quote or cite modern sources. The OU has long sought to create a siddur that includes the commentary and teachings of the giant of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Koren loves it and is already working on creating this siddur, which they call the Mesorat HaRav Koren Siddur.
New York City’s underground fashion’s latest darling, bad-boy wild child Levi Okunov, is dressing women up as Torahs.
Now, I’m not the smartest person in the world. Sometimes it takes me a while to fully get an idea. I need time to process so I can fully appreciate the impact of a situation or an event. But not with this. This I got right away. Just not in the way you think.
Okay, it’s interesting – sort of. As for his actual auto-didactic fashion designs, nothing special there. It’s a bit of a simplistic rebellion, and therefore boring. And empowering the Torah as a focus of fetish (in the religious or veneration-of-the-animal sense) is not new, as Michaelson’s article pointed out. Neither is heresy new – nor necessarily offensive or threatening. “Heresy”, after all, is just a Greek word for “choice”. More »
This high holiday season was new for me in many ways. It was my first away from my family, it was the first time I fasted without drinking water, and it was also the first time I didn’t go to services during the day on Yom Kippur. This last one, and a related concept I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, are what I want to talk about here.
As anyone who’s done it knows, praying is not a simple concept. It’s a big category within the religion (as in it encompasses a lot of practices and ideas), and there are a myriad of opinions about every single aspect of it. When, how, where, and why you should do it, and so on.
Like many Jews, I’ve always had a complicated relationship to prayer. I was raised religious, but without much connection to a synagogue. Although very nice, the shul in our town never excited us that much (I think I’ve talked about my struggles with this a bit in a previous post), and I’ve looked for other options for a long time. More »
To those of you who were worried that I was unhealthily smug, worry not. My day of davening at Hadar was the most humbling prayer experience of my life. Many have complained, mostly in the comments here, that this High Holiday Sampler Plate Adventure series has been rather smug. I’ve often been accused of smugness and I won’t go so far as to deny it.
First, let me apologize to anyone who was actually looking forward to my reflections on watching Kol Nidrei live streaming at Jewish TV Network. I couldn’t get it to work right, so I just went to bed frustrated. I was gonna live-tweet it and everything. But alas.
Uv’chen, I’ve been hearing about Kehilat Hadar since I moved into this part of the world and I’ve been told for a couple years now that I need to check it out. I dunno if Yom Kipur was the best day to make my first trip to Hadar or not, but I had a great time. And by a great time, I mean a deeply reflective time.
In recent years, I’ve had Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist prayer experiences, not to mention post-, non-, anti-, and multi- denominational ones. Hadar is the closest I’ve ever come to Orthodox. Despite the deeply various backgrounds of the people who come to Hadar, the founders and the feel is certainly as close as you can get to Orthodox while remaining egalitarian.
Which is to say that I can’t remember the last time I spent about 50% of Jewish service as confused and lost as I was for most of yesterday. I’m normally someone who prides himself on his facility with the sidur. Even the machzor, which I don’t know as well as the daily or Shabat sidur, has never been hard for me to navigate. So normally, when things in a service don’t got just the way I want them to, I’m frustrated or annoyed or exasperated.
I was certainly frustrated yesterday, but in a good way. I felt challenged yesterday by a lack of knowledge. And when it comes to gaps I discover in my liturgical knowledge, my instinct is always to fill the gaps. Mostly, I was humbled. Yes, you read that right. I said I was humbled. There were tunes I’d never heard before, sung loudly and raucously with clapping, dancing and podium-pounding. It was an attitude I’d never encountered before on Yom Kipur. There was excitement, but the proceedings still managed to remain as somber as I ordinarily think of Yom Kipur as being. These nearly joyous outbursts of song nicely paralleled Rabbi Shai Held‘s sermon, easily the highlight of the day, in which he spoke of a bizarre Talmudic verse which calls Tu B’Av and Yom Kipur the most joyous days of the Jewish year.
Aside from the new (to me) tunes, this was my first encounter with an entire congregation that prostrates itself during the Avodah service! Not to mention the part of the service when everyone at Hadar lays flat on the floor, face down. That one was new to me, so if anyone wants to leave a comment with an explanation, it’s much appreciated.
Yesterday was an endurance test. I arrived at 8:50 a.m. and shacharit has started five minutes earlier. Finally, at 7:30 p.m., about eleven hours later, we wrapped up Ne’ilah. (That’s eleven hours of davening, with only a one-hour break, for those keeping score at home.) Yes, I thought! Now I can go eat. Without skipping a beat, they launched right into Ma’ariv. I briefly entertained the idea of sticking around, but my grumbling stomach and aching head said otherwise. Luckily, Hadar was handing out candy, juice boxes and water bottles on the way out!
I’ve never felt so truly reached by the liturgy of the day, so I’m glad of Hadar’s part in helping the fast and the davening do their intended work on me.
I’ll now move on to a few thoughts about Hadar as a community. Keep in mind that I’ve never been on an ordinary Shabat, so I don’t know what Hadar is normally like.
I’ve heard the charge leveled at Hadar that it is elitist or cliquey. I suppose I can see that from this limited experience, but it is not as if I arrived not knowing anyone in the room. Within the cavernous, packed church multi-purpose room we occupied for the day, I spotted about five bloggers I know (including a few Jewschoolers, including our BZ and Jen Taylor Friedman). I also spotted Tamar Fox, who gave me my first break blogging anywhere other than my own blog, sitting directly in front of me. My boss, a former coworker and about a half-dozen of our volunteers were there too. I ran into a few other friends as well, some of them Yeshivat Hadar alumni and some current Hadar students. So I felt comfortable because of all the familiar, friendly faces, but I can see how others would not have the same experience.
All in all, a good gmar chatimah, I think. Hoping yours was good too.
Through writing I have committed many a wrong, but unlike those whose faces I see, I will likely never know the vast majority of people who I wronged via this blog. God cannot forgive these sins, only those whom I have wronged. If I can commit sin through the web, then surely I can also repent through it.
For the wrongs against others through hardness of heart, by not posting stories I didn’t like
without knowledge, of those who I knew personally and those I did not
with the utterances of my lips, and my fingertips
in public, where thousands of people read
through harsh speech, against those who simply disagreed with me
by deceit, for willfully withholding or ignoring information to press a point
through wronging a neighbor, by picking fights with others, their blogs, or their organizations
through insincere confession, by writing something not because it is important, but to get acclaim
willfully and carelessly, by writing sloppily and poorly without caring
by showing contempt for teachers and forebears, and not respecting those who came before me
by misusing (the) power of wide readership
through foolish speech and impure lips, by condemning things I have also done
against those who know and those who don’t even have internet.
For the wrongs I have committed against others through denial and false promise, by saying I would post things when I didn’t, or posting things when I said I wouldn’t
through evil talk, by slandering individuals and painting whole peoples with one brush
through scorning, and hypocritically treating others how I hate to be treated
in commercial dealings, by not declaring conflicts of interest, and by biting the advertisers that support us
through haughtiness, by meeting people not to befriend them, but to use their story for a post
with prying eyes, and nosy intentions, by using but not attributing others’ material
with idle chatter, by exaggerating stories or trumping charges
and with brazenness, treating myself and us as more important than I and we are.
For wrongs I have committed against others by being judgmental, evaluating every event, conversation, experience and person as bloggable or not bloggable
entrapping a neighbor, by writing posts just to agitate them
by holding a begrudging eye, and criticizing the form and not the content of someone’s comment
with obstinacy, by refusing to acknowledge when I’m wrong, by not posting corrections, or correcting posts only under duress
by rushing to do harm, and eagerly posting news damaging to individuals or groups
by gossip-mongering, and not fact checking
by vain oath-taking, by speaking for our blog and others without their permission
through baseless hatred, condemning people instead of their ideas
by not extending a hand to causes that needed press but I didn’t care enough
through confusing the purpose of this blog and my ambitions for myself.
For all these sins and more, forgive me, pardon me, accept my atonement. I am sorry, in the waning hours of this season, for all the feelings I have hurt online.
And for all those who hurt me through the words they wrote, or failed to write, on blogs and Twitter and Facebook and others, I do not hold a grudge. I forgive you and release you, so that we can all begin a new year fresh and clean and whole and living.
G’mar chatima tova, may you be inscribed for goodness.
Although most modern Jews have abandoned the practice of Kapores, in some parts of the community, it is still common. I’m not sure what the Masorti movement thinks it will accomplish by joining with the SPCA -Tel Aviv, ince the parts of the community that are practicing kapores aren’t the parts likely to care what the masorti movement does, but all in all, it can’t hurt.
In the story from which I took this post’s name ( an adapted tale based on the original story by Sholom Aleichem) the author in fact points out that the practice of taking a chicken (male for men, female for women) swinging it over one’s head to “catch” one’s sins, and then slaughtering it, is not exactly halacha ( Jewish law). And while in general one ought not to depend on fiction for accurate portrayals of Jewish law, in this case, it happens to be correct. Not only is “Where is it written?” a good response, but where it is written, the rabbis aren’t too happy with it, considering it (Like many folk customs which have become embedded in Jewish practice) akin to idolatry, or at lest very improper.
And reasonably so, while it might be a midat chesed (act of mercy) to buy a chicken which one will then donate to the poor to eat (although that does raise some questions about how that came about… really? We’re giving our sins to the poor to eat? Hmmm. I hear a sin eater story in here somewhere for those of us familiar with that southern custom), the problems with the ritual as a whole are numerous. For now, let’s set aside the problem of tzaar ba’alei chaim – the requirement not to be cruel to animals (in this case, by packing them in itty bitty crates sitting around in the sun all day until it’s time for them to be grabbed and swung around by the feet) and concentrate on the symbolism of the custom itself.
While there seems to be some kind of yearning for authenticity as played by certain elements of the Jewish community which favor dress styles not native to Israel, but rather early modern Europe, I’ve never been able to fathom why people attach their sentiments to these kinds of customs (including within the community, but without it as well). There’s somehow a sense that it looks or feels more authentic – but how could it be? If Judaism and our peoplehood is based upon our connection to God through God’s commandments, as the Torah tells us, then one couldn’t possibly repent by swinging a chicken around.
I far prefer the formulation of the Talmud (Brachot 17a) (See the bottom of the post) which likens the fat that one loses during a fast to the fat offered as a sacrifice in the times when the Temple stood. That makes far more sense to me.
Most importantly, if w are repenting, we cannot hope to shed our sins elsewhere without the ful act of teshuvah that goes with it. Whether we are speaking of ourselves as individuals, our individual communities, or Israel as a whole, our own sins cannot be displaced by any symbolic act, whether we’re talking about swinging a chicken or saying that the other party involved has done bad things and so they have to repent first. NO, we are responsible for the sins of ourselves, and the sins of our people. If we wish for peace, we have to act first to recognize and admit our sins; to make reparation to those whom we’ve harmed; to confess to God – because in doing so, we humble ourselves and take into our hearts that our acts, whether accidental or intentional, whether preemptive or retaliatory, were wrong; and then to not do it again when the opportunity presents itself.
Stop building settlements, stop demolishing homes, stop blaming others for acts over which we have agency. Goldstone isn’t our enemy, and taking on against him, as the Rabbinical Assembly has just, entirely ridiculously, done, will not bring peace.
As long as we treat acts for which we need to repent as thought they were public relations bloopers which can be addressed if we only change our spin, there will not be kaparah, atonement, no matter how long we fast on Yom Kippur, no matter how many chickens we swing. We have to do the work ourselves.
(From the Yom Kippur Haftarah Isaiah 58:2-7)
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.
When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me.. (Brachot 17a)
Though elements of each of these years of RH and YK have been fine, I’ve never been satisfied with the overall experience. Whether it has to do with where I go or with my willingness or unwillingness to repent remains to be seen.
I’ll begin tonight with Erev RH services at Chavurat Lamdeinu, my usual place of davening these days.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be at a Unitarian Church where a certain gospel music composer I happen to know will be helping to lead a service that will incorporate a number of gospel tunes. As far as I can tell, this service is not listed anywhere online. If you’re interested in going, it’s at All Souls Unitarian Church between on Lexington between 79th and 80th at 10:30 a.m. Let me know if you’re gonna bet there so I can we can say hi.
If the gospel crowd isn’t doing a tashlich thing, I’ll head over to the Brooklyn Bridge or something else equally iconic and do tashlich.
And, finally, for Yom Kipur day, I’ll skew more traditional than my norm for a change. As noted, I’ve skewed to the left before when I tried out the Reconstructionist shul, but I’ve never tried something more traditional than what I’m used to. To that end, I’ll be heading back in to Manhattan for Kehilat Hadar‘s traditional-egal take on YK. As one fellow refugee of the Reform mainstream recently told me, “I like Hadar for YK because that’s the one time in the year when I want to feel as frum as possible.” Yeah. We’ll see how I feel about that when I’m still standing around in services trying not listen to my stomach.
Expect posts throughout this season of renewal and repentance chronicling my High Holidays Sampler Plate Adventure.