Thursday, September 16, 2004

I seem to be in a Yom Kippur state of mind.

The Yom Kippur service is like gas; it expands to fill the space allotted. To wit:

On Yom Kippur 2004, the stars will come out (per Rabbenu Taam*) in my neighborhood at about 8:00 pm. If 2004 is like last year and every year before it, we'll start services on Yom Kipppur morning at 8 am, break for about 25 minutes at around 11 to sell the aliyos**, break again for about 90 minutes at around 3 pm, and then, from around 4:30pm, go straight on till shofar.

In other words, we'll be actively davening (or listening to kriah or maftir) for about 10 hours.

Was it any different in the old country? Let's look at one European city at random.

This year, Yom Kippur in Krakow ends (per Rabbenu Tam) at 7:43. Rav Moshe writes than many in 19 th century Europe had the custom of considering the day as having ended at 90 minutes after sunset, which is 18 minutes later than Rabbenu Tam. If we presume this custom was kept, this year, Yom Kippur in Krakow would end at 8:01

Can we assume that the good people of 19th centruy Poland started their prayers before 8 am? I think we can, with some confidence say, yes. Anecdotal evidence suggests they were praying at 6 am, if not earlier, though they could not have said the Amida before (sunrise) hanetz, which is at about 7am

So did the Krakow services expand to fill an unthinkable 14 hours? Did they break for an hour or two like we do, and pray for 12 hours? Or did their prayers take the same 10 hours as ours, meaning the men and women of the blessed old country enjoyed a delicious 4 hour break?

* One day soon perhaps will discuss how Rabbenu Taam and the Geonim could possibly disagree on something as empirical as the appearence of stars.
** Perhaps we'll also discuss the approriateness of turning the shul into a shuk on the holiest day of the year.


I should point out that, if the residents of old Krakow started at 8am, like we do, and if they didn't keep Rav Moshe's extra 18 minutes, the questions is stronger. (If they followed the Gaonim, rather than Rabbenu Tam, and ended Yom Kippur 22 minutes earlier the question is stronger still.)

Because if the sainted ancestors started at 8 am like we do, and if they took about two hours worth of breaks like we do, it means that they got through the Yom Kippur service 18-40 minutes _quicker_!

In other words, they may have speed-prayed!  

I have more to say on this subject.

Yom Kippur, as you know, can fall as late as mid-October. next year for example, Yom Kippur is October 13.

In mid-October the sun sets in Vilnius before 5:30 pm. The stars are out, per Rabbenu Taam, before 6:30 pm. (To compare, in my neighborhood, the stars are out on October 13 at 7:30 pm)

So, in late october, did the Jews of Lithuania start earlier? Skip the break? Or daven more quickly?  

"Perhaps we'll also discuss the appropriateness of turning the shul into a shuk on the holiest day of the year."

On the plus side, the shul needs the money.

On the minus side, is that a good enough reason for any Jew to embarrass any other Jew in the presence of the entire congregation?

My parents' rabbi was unalterably opposed to the practice of announcing pledge amounts, and I think he was right. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a good way to avoid fundraising completely--as I said, the shul needs the money, and this is the one day of the year when even many unaffiliated Jews show up in shul. Having a Yom Kippur appeal and using pledge cards is a reasonable compromise. Selling aliyot is not. For openers, kavod should not be reserved for the rich. For closers, those without the means to purchase an honor should not be forced to suffer the public embarrassment of being unable to bid.  

We don't sell aliyahs and we don't announce kol nidre pledges. Do we leave money on the table? Certainly. Is it worth it? Without a doubt.  

MoChasid, you and I are of the same mind. I wish the shteeble people saw it the way that we do. Selling aliyos is one of those things that make me see red. Right at this moment, I'm mentally composing a furious post on the subject.  
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