Friday, March 8, 2013

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 8

Israeli Political Watershed, thoughts on "The Gatekeepers," Hummus on Passover? Being a Jewish Mutt, Spring Ahead: Setting our Jewish Clocks

Shabbat Shalom 
Yes it is snowing today, but tonight will be nice, so join us for our Kabbalat Shabbat service at 7:30 (as 200 did last week) and tomorrow morning too, when we'll hear about 300 Ways to Enhance our Seders.  If you are looking for a snowy day thing to do, see Eddie Weinstein's excellent d'var Torah from last Shabbat; and while you are at it, see last week's discussion packet: Aaron vs. Moses:  Who is the Ideal Jewish Leader? So who would YOU pick?  The guy who threw down the tablets or the guy who built the Golden Calf?  And while you are moving the clocks forward,  take a look back at our great winter (despite the weather) ...see our Purim photo albumour Temple Rock  album and our fall-winter album too!

Spring Ahead: Setting our (Jewish) Clocks
As we prepare to leave this snow behind us and move the clocks forward, here's a "timely" blog entry by TBE's Early Childhood Director Ronnie Brockman,  "Daylight Savings as an Opportunity."  
In fact, we are setting our Jewish clocks this weekend too, moving them both back through history and forward toward Passover.  It's Shabbat ha-Hodesh, the "Sabbath of the Month," where we read a special Torah selection proclaiming that the month of Passover is about to begin, and our preparations start in earnest. 
The Torah states that the coming month of Nisan is the first month of the year. Not Tishrei, not Rosh Hashanah, but Nisan.  If the world was created in Tishrei, then why is Nisan considered the first month of the year?

Ramban understood the rationale of this law in the following way:
    "The children of Israel should mark this month as the first, and should count months in relation to this one; the second, the third, to the 12th month. This is to ensure that we remember the great miracle (of yetziat Mitzrayim - the Exodus) for whenever we mention the month, we will (effectively) be mentioning the miracle. That is why there are no names of months in the Torah, but the Torah will say (for example): "And it came to pass in the third month" (19:1) or "In the second month of the second year" (Bamidbar 10:11). This is the same notion as our counting the days of the week in relation to Shabbat. And this is why it says in the verse 'it shall be the first of the months of the year FOR YOU'. In truth it is not the first month of the year (as the world was created in Tishrei), but it is the first month for you as it is a remembrance of our redemption."

The establishment of the calendar is a vital step in pursuit of freedom - all sorts of freedoms, both collective and personal.  A slave is not a master of his or her own time. When I create my own calendar, I control my time: when I work, play, rest and celebrate. That holds true for nations and religions as well.   Just as the Jewish week always revolves around Shabbat, so do the Jewish months always point back - and forward - to redemption from Egypt, to freedom, to release.

And as Shabbat haHodesh ends, we can then set our clocks forward, a ritual that reminds us that soon we will be released, only from Egyptian slavery, but from winter's grip as well.    

A Watershed in Israeli Politics

Yes, it's true that there has been a plague of locusts in southern Israel this week, just in time for Passover.  And AIPAC had a nice, uneventful Policy Conference - uneventful is a good thing if it means that Democrats and Republicans are making nice and not turning Israel into a wedge issue, and AIPAC successfully avoids getting mixed up in ill advised confirmation disputes over cabinet members, while highlighting Israel's extraordinary achievements in technology, it's shared values and strategic military partnership with the US and the common threat posed by Iran.   But that's not the big news.

Just as we move the clocks forward here, the stars seemed aligned for what could be a major change in the relationship between religion and state in Israel.  Because of the rock-solid alliance forged by Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid's party) and Habayit haYehudi (led by Naftali Bennett), one a centrist and pluralist and the other right wing and modern Orthodox, this strange set of bedfellows has put Benjamin Netanyahu in a bind.  He must either form a government with them, and without his natural allies, the Haredim, or give up his chance to be Prime Minister.  And while at another time he might be so bold as to opt for new elections, a certain President of the United States is scheduled to be coming to town before Passover, and that trip would be cancelled if no Israeli government is formed.  So Bibi-Bennett-Lapid it will be, with Lieberman and Livni in supporting roles.  

While there is no hope of this government achieving a peace agreement, it has potential to start meaningful negotiations, and even if not, the inclusion of Lapid and Livni will help to ease Israel's diplomatic isolation.  But the changes that Lapid is demanding in the area of religion and state are nothing less than revolutionary; among them a national "sharing of the burden" (meaning army or national service for thousands of Haredim, plus fewer financial subsidies and needed educational reform in Haredi schools), civil marriage and liberalized conversion requirements and a change in the status of the chief rabbinate.  Lapid is reportedly going for legalized gay marriage as well, but Bennett is balking at that.  He's also looking to have more public bus transportation on Shabbat - and maybe he'll put an end to the scourge of gender segregated buses too.  And then there are the economic changes he is fighting for, including affordable housing for those living in Israel proper (it will be interesting to see how Lapid and Bennett divide that pie among those on either side of the Green Line).

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a Big Deal.  If Lapid could accomplish this, and then top this agenda off with some meaningful electoral reform, the messiah might not come, but he might make good on his prediction that he'll become Prime Minister in 18 months. 

There is little Israel can do to control what's going on in its turbulent neighborhood right now; but there is plenty Israel can do to change what is most problematic about Israeli society.  

All the while, they and the US will keep a mindful eye on Iran.

"The Gatekeepers"  

Last week, I noted that "The Gatekeepers," Israel's Oscar nominated documentary, was opening locally at the Avon.  I saw it and think it should be required viewing for every American Jew.  I wouldn't mind if Obama and Netanyahu watched it together (Netanyahu already said he wouldn't see it).  There is absolutely nothing anti-Israel about a film featuring "60 Minutes" style interviews with six of the past seven heads of the Shin-Bet - the seventh is dead.  These interviews are gripping, as the leaders come to grips with the past five decades of Israel's existence, the moral challenges of fighting a permanent war in unbearable conditions - of being both the occupier and the besieged. And although it's a documentary, it is also a gripping, edge-of-your-seat drama.

We see the life and death decisions they've had to make.  Do you drop a one ton bomb on an apartment building in the middle of Gaza when you know that the entire leadership of Hamas is meeting there?  Or do you compromise and drop a quarter ton bomb?  Israel chose the latter and while the second floor of the building was destroyed, the meeting was taking place on the first, and the Hamas leaders lived to fight another day. 

They say shocking, haunting things.  Avraham Shalom, the veteran of the group, compared Israeli occupiers to Germans in World War Two.  Yes, you read that correctly.  He went on to clarify that he was not comparing what Israeli soldiers do to what Nazis did to Jews, but rather what the Germans did to the Dutch or the Czechs or other peoples they occupied.  Thank you very much.  Imagine if anyone else were to say that.  But, although one might easily refute that hyperbole, the film shows how, step by step, the occupation has come eerily close to fulfilling Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz's famous prediction back in 1968, that Israel, if it remained an occupier, would become a "Shin Bet state, with all that this implies for education, freedom of speech and thought, and democracy."

The film takes a dark turn in describing the growing phenomenon of Jewish fanaticism, leading to the plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock and later, the murder of Prime Minister Rabin.   The perpetrators of these crimes have been glorified by many in Israeli society and, when compared to non Jewish perpetrators of terrorism, they have gotten off far too easy.

There were shocking revelations about Palestinians too, like the Palestinian leader who told one of the security heads (who was flabbergasted that he was claiming victory when Israel had crushed the Intifada), "Victory for us is making you suffer."

Does anything hopeful emerge from this film?  Absolutely.  It shows that Israel's security chiefs are moral, rational people, imbued with Jewish values regarding the sanctity of life and the pursuit of peace.  Israel is not an apartheid state and most Israelis yearn for a two state solution.  But the corrosive effect of these past few decades is undeniable, and these six Shin Bet leaders, step by eye-popping step, show us how and why it happened.

Pesach is Coming

Plan to join Cantor Mordecai, Rev Kate Heichler, the New World Chorus and myself, along with a host of others from many faiths, at our second annual Interfaith Seder, here on March 21.  See the flyer here. Last year's seder attracted well over a hundred people, and the theme for this year is compelling: "From Egypt to Sinai, Selma to Sandy Hook: Liberation from a Culture of Violence."  


With an "early" Passover sneaking up on us quickly, it's easy to be caught off guard regarding Seder preparations.  As in years past, I'd like to compile a list of households with space at the table for guests who might be looking.  If you have room at your table, please indicate how many spaces and for which night(s), whether you can accommodate children and any other information that would be helpful to know.  I would get back to you with names of prospective guests to invite, as the need arises.


Find the complete 2013 Rabbinical Assembly Passover Guide at this link.
Find a Search for Hametz guide with study materials here.
Read about the laws and customs of hametz here.

Call Me Ashke-sphard, the Jewish Mutt

Everyone has their favorite Passover store.  When I am in Boston, as I was this week, I love to go to the Butcherie on Harvard Street.  For Passover, they have the best knishes and a great variety of baked goods and appetizers.  But I was not prepared for the extent of the offerings with Kitniyot (legumes), something that you see everywhere in Israel, but I really haven't seen so much here. 

Let me cut to the chase, they had hummus.  If I'm willing to go Sefardic, the hummus is mine! 

With Pesach approaching, Jews of Sephardic extraction, particularly in Israel, will be able to get away with things that would make most American Jews turn karpas-green with envy. They get to eat the rice and legumes ("kitniyot") that Sephardi Jews have always eaten, foods that their more stringent Ashkenazi cousins have avoided.  Cleanup is also not as difficult as in an Ashkenazi kitchen.  All of this, and the only drawback is having to do "hagba" (lifting the Torah) with those heavy, encased Torah scrolls. So where do I sign up to become Sephardi? A few years ago, the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel came out with a rabbinic ruling indicating that it was OK for Ashkenazi Israelis to adapt a Sephardi posture with regard to kitniyot on Pesach (see the ruling here). The feeling was it would make sense to relax the practice in order to allow all Jews in Israel to "break bread" together on the holiday, so to speak.

Here, is a list of those items considered "legumes" for Pesach purposes:

Anise, Ascorbic Acid (May be Chometz), Asparatame (Nutrasweet), Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Buckwheat, Calcium Ascorbate, Canola Oil, Caraway, Citric Acid (May be Chometz), Chickpeas, Confectioners' sugar with corn starch, Coriander, Corn, Corn Syrup, Cumin, Dextrose, Fennel, Fenugreek, Flax Seeds, Hemp, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Oil, Kasha, Kimmel, Lecithin, Lentils, Licorice, Lucerne, Lupine, Malto Dextrins (Chometz or Kitnios derived), Millet, MSG, Mustard, Peanuts, Polysorbates (May be Chometz), Popcorn, Poppy Seeds, Rice (Vitamins added may be Chometz), Sesame Seeds, Snow Peas, Sodium Citrate (May be Chometz), Sodium Erythorbate (May be Chometz), Sorbitol (Could be Chometz if outside the U.S.), Soy Oil, Corn Oil, Soy, String Beans, Sunflower Seeds, Tofu (from soy), Vitamin C (may be Chometz), Wild Rice, Xanthan gum (May be Chometz). NOTE: Flax seed and Hemp seed are not Kitniyot and can be used after checking for other grains. 

Imagine what you could do with sesame seeds at your Seder.  Imagine just saying "Sesame Seed Seder" five times fast. 

But Israel is Israel, with a majority Sephardi population, and America is America, where the European legacy prevails. So a few years ago, when I offered the Masorti ruling as a valid Passover option, and when I said that, as a vegetarian, I would be adopting it myself,  people went ballistic.  It was as if I had just sanctioned the eating of pork, except that a number of certified pepperoni pizza eaters were among those who scoffed at the impudence of my OK to eat kitniyot.  Despite the resistance of these inveterate Ashkenazim, it's clear the distinctions are dissolving. For the pattern of the past several centuries of Jewish life has been to create acute cultural divisions, pump lots of anger into these feuds, and then to see them run out of gas within a few generations.

We Jews divide like amoebas, but our internal conflicts tend to dissipate quickly. The Litvaks and the Galicianers, bitter enemies in the Old Country, now lie down like the lion and the lamb; the Zionist Revisionists and Laborites have shared unity governments, and today's Hasidim act more like their former arch enemies, the Mitnagdim, than did the original Mitnagdim two centuries ago, who defined themselves by the fact that they hated Hasidim. As for the religious denominations, growing numbers of Jews shun the old labels, choosing to identify themselves as "post-denominational," "Reformstrucative" or "Renewal-Orthoprax." Rarely do the labels matter anymore because the sands of Jewish identity are shifting too quickly.

So call me Sephardi this year when Pesach rolls around. Call me Sephardi when I say the Kaddish ("YIT-gadal") but Ashkenazi when I say "Good Shabbos." I like to combine a Sephardi diet with an Ashkenazi soul; my blood churns Ladino hot and my humor spouts Yiddish irony. I daven Orthodox, hum Hasidic, philosophize Conservative, innovate Reconstructionist, meditate Kabbalist and do social action Reform. I'm Likud on terrorism and Yesh Atid on pluralism. I'm Meretz meets ha Bayit haYehudi; and they do meet - in me. I'd have been a Zealot on Masada yet a Pharisee in Yavneh a Saul supporter on Gilboa and a Davidite in Jerusalem. I've got the Gaon of Vilna in my mind and the Baal Shem Tov in my heart. Dig deep enough and you may even find that I've got a little Karaite in me, too.

In short, I'm a Jewish mutt. All of Jewish history culminates in each of us. We all are the synthesis of Torah and time. Seemingly irreconcilable opposites are reconciled in the intractable, complex matrix of the individual Jewish soul. 

So good Shabbos to you, a zisen Pesach ... and please pass the hummus.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Interfaith Seder

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