Friday, October 15, 2004

The big pediatrician writes from Israel:

... Saw something in Mea-Shearim today that made me think of you. I was in one of the schools where I saw a mural depicting Matan Torah (the revelation on Har Sinai) Moshe and the Elders are all wearing shtreimels and long black coats. Off to the side, in the corner, are two men without shtrimals. They appear to be wearing knitted kippas. I asked an adminstrator: Who are those men? With a sligh blush, the man answered: Dasan and Aviram!*"

Of course, I think the BP is lying. He does that. If he deigns to send a photo I will post it.

*Dasan and Aviram were co-conspiritors in Korah's rebellion against Moshe, who are often cited by Scripture and Midrash as Moshe's chief critics.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

And now for my 100th post, (but who besides GoldaLeah has actually read them all?)

That's right true believers and loyal friends, with this entry, baynonim has posted 100 times. After all this blogging about my local prayer houses, I can't think of a better way to celebrate than this. It is a description of a shul that I think I would really like.

Thanks Cara.
Simchas Torah in the Shteeble: Marvelous Mixing

Regular readers will remember (all together now) that my neighborhood has two places to pray, a shteeble and a shul. The shteeble is a less divided than the shul, but though the shteeble has far fewer factions, the gaps between the different groups are wider, and most obvious on Simchas Torah. (Simchas Torah in the Shul is described here)

The Rabbi owns the shteeble, so during the year the liturgy follows his custom, without exceptions. Differences among the congregants, which exist, are kept invisible and largely ignored. We say yotzros, mumble the haftarah, daven sefard, and of course, the Young Israel tunes, (1) , are not sung, even though only the hard-core hasidim (all 9 or 10 of them) seem to want it this way. The rest of us are, to varying degrees, unsatsified: Most of us don't say yotzros, many of us daven ashkenaz, and a few of us wouldn't mind a little bit more singing. Others wish the davening was more structured, and still others wish it were looser and even less formal. Still, we all hold our nose, so to speak, for the sake of whatever else the shteeble offers us.

On Simchas Torah, everyone gets their chance, and the differences kept undercover throughout the year, become obvious and visible. It's really quite amazing. For example:

* During shachris, the Young Israel ex-pats interrupt the Chazan to lustily sing their songs, and no one minds. (If they tried that during the year, they'd be expelled, probably)

* The Rabbi has a ridiculously long prayer that he says before hakafot, a prayer even the other hard- core Hasidim don't recognize, and no one groans, no one minds. (During the year, most of us leave the sanctuary during yotzros, another ridiculously long prayer said by almost no one on certain holidays.)

* The yeshivish people commandeer the beginning of each hakafah to sing? hum? lament? moshe emes in a singularly mournful tune, and no one minds. (Inovations(2) the Yeshivish people have suggested for the regular services have been roundly rejected)

* The group, noted anthropologist Burry Katz (3) calls black-hatters enjoy an early kiddush, and make their own, early minyan for musaf and no one minds. (Their early(4) maariv minyan was banned, and we lock the kitchen door to keep them from making kiddush during davening during the year.)

The metaphor for all of this marvelous mixing is the way the shteeble performs ha'Aderes v'ha'Emunah, a prayer-poem said or sung after the sixth hakafa. The poem lists various attributes, and the refrain assigns these atributes to God. Traditionally, part of the refrain is a Yiddish question. The leader asks: suzemetz, suzemetz / to who? to who? and the crowd answers in Hebrew l'chayeh olamim / for the sustainer of the world. There are (I think) 7 verses, and traditionally 7 different people are called to read the verse, and to lead the refrain.

I don't know how it started, but in the shteeble we call people who are capable of asking the refrain's question in different languages. The siddur is passed to a guy in a knitted kippa who asks in Hebrew (l'mee, l'mee) to a South African who asks in Afrikaans, to a Frenchman, to a Yemenite, and on and on. Everyone gets a chance. Everyone is represented. Everything we do, no matter that it's different, really is l'chayeh olamim. And for Simchas Torah, at least, all the different groups feel perfectly at home in the shteeble.

1 - Young Israel tunes are mostly Western European or early-American compositions that are asigned, by tradition, to specific parts of the liturgy. Hasidim, and those who arrived in America after WWII, (along with those who've been influenced by the Hasidim and the latecomers) sing much less of the liturgy, and tend to disdain the Young Israel tunes as "modern," though some of these tunes date, at least, to the 18th century.

2 - The yeshivish people, for example, wanted to start davening earlier so that krias shma would be finished by the halachic deadline. This request was a non-starter, for the hasidic rabbi.

3 - A joke. He's not noted. He's not an anthropologist. He's just a blogger with a chip on his shoulder who often hides brilliant, inarguable points within his long-winded, slanderous rants.

4 - The shteeble ends shabbos at 72 minutes. The black-hatters, I assume, have important movies to watch on Saturday evening, and can't be bothered to wait, so they organized a maariv minyan at 50 minutes. It was banned because it disrupted the shalosh shudas, or the third shabbos meal.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Confidential to the correspondent who wanted Rabininc advice.

I'm not a Rabbi, but I think you might consider two things:

1 - Read Nathan Englander's, The Gilgul of Park Avenue. It is a short story, that sort of tells your story and makes some important points.

2 - Find a real Rabbi, not a blog Rabbi, and find out what your minimum religious requirements are. Run from shtick. Then, look inside your heart, and determine your maximum religious desires. How observant do you want to be? Finally, balance the two, in a way that puts burdens on yourself, and no one else.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Last week, before Simchat Torah, I wrote this:

An argument is raging in the shul, by email of course, about how best to celebrate Simchas Torah:

The drinkers want a long kiddush.
The Yekkis want 7-minute hakafos, and they want them timed via stop-watch, by a gabbai authorized to enforce the time limit using pistols, if necessary.
The caterer wants kiddush after davening, not after layning.
The octo and nonagenarians want raisins in the stuffed cabbage.
The women want to dance.
The teetotalers want to ban the booze
The whiskey-snobs want to ban blends.
The old-timers want things the way they always were.
The newcomers couldn't give a hoot.
The YU alums want to liven things up by importing YU boys for the holiday.
The natives are insulted at the suggestion that it isn't lively enough.
The proceduralists want a board meeting, and are shocked (!) shocked (!) that shul policy is being discussed and set via email.

At least the emails are polite.

So what actually happened? No one argued in shul, I am happy to report. Even the Yeckis kept their pistols holstered when the hakofot passed the ten and even 15-minute mark. The drinkers appeased the teetotalers by keeping themselves under control. The alta cockers got their raisins. The woman who wanted to dance went to the social hall, closed the door, lowered the blinds, and, for all I know, slaughtered a goat. Kiddush was after davening, but cake and whiskey was available after layning.


Another problem, we avoided was, what I guess could be called, the "battle of the bands."

There are several factions in the shul and each faction has its own anthem. The YU boys, for example, don't consider their hakafot complete without a lathered round of Simcha l'Artzecha. The West Coast crowd, for reasons known only to themselves, favors Emes, Emes she' Ata Rishon. The psudeo-chasidim don't like songs with words. Some of us think Carlebach was a 20th century Mozart, and some of us think he and his songs have no place in a shul. Also, we didn't all go to the same camps or the same youth groups or the same schools. As a result, we don't all know the same songs. Starting a song, therefore, to accompany the hakafa can be difficult; after all, it's no fun when part of the group refuses to sing, or frowns blankly at the song selection.

Nonetheless, it worked out and delicate negotiations were not required. Sure, some of the psudeo-hasidim sat for Carelbach on principle, no one but the YU boys altered the last words of Simcha l'Artzecha to glorify R' Yitzchak Elchonon's school, and only the non-hasidic-Brooklyn ex-pats risked whiplash throwing their kids into the air for Moshe Emes. But there are seven hakfot, and, in all, more than 100 minutes of singing and dancing: Plenty of time for every petty sub-faction to do its own thing, and plenty of time for all of us to sing and dance and celebrate Judaism and Torah together, as one kahal, as one congregation. Which is what happened.

If we could overcome our differences, and respect -no, revel in - our diversity for one day, maybe there’s hope for us yet?

Tomorrow: How was Simchas Torah, around the corner, in the shteeble?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

A follow-up thought to the anti-king screed that appears at the end of this post:

It is difficult--no, impossible--for a twenty-first century man to think about the messiah without noting, like the filthy anarcho-syndicalist peasants in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, that the world no longer stands in need of sacred kingship. "I am Arthur, your king," intones Arthur in that excellent film, to which the peasants cackle: "I thought we were an autonomous collective!"

Does anyone else find it difficult to read our Jewish prayers, with their call for the resotration of the Davidic line, without remembering that some two and a half centuries ago the French decided to consign the divine right of kings to the guillotine?

(Our king will be different you say? Ok, so the messiah's first task is to convice mankind of this fact. It won't be easy: mankind's track record with kings and princes does not inspire trust. And anyway, why are you so certain that our king will be so much better? Haven't you read the Book of Kings? After Solomon, it was all downhill, wasn't it?)


Some thoughts on Simchas Torah later in the week. I hope you're still with me.

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