I don’t normally like to repeat a musing with the same theme as the previous year. This year, I broke that rule – and did so by writing on the same subject without looking over what I wrote last year, just to see where else I might go, might make different choices of focus, etc. I did not disappoint myself. So before you read this year’s musing, read the one from last year: http://migdalorguysblog.blogspot.com/2018/04/random-musing-before-shabbat-otd-on-and.html
Then come back here.
Random Musing Before Shabbat – 22 Nissan 5779 – So What Do I Write About
OK, so this is one of those odd Shabbatot. In traditional Judaism, it’s not odd at all. The rabbis of the Talmud endorsed the practice of adding additional days to calendrical chagim outside of Eretz Israel, thus endorsing the practice of observing the three pilgrimage holidays for 8 days in the Diaspora (and only 7 days in Eretz Israel.) Even though modern technology obviates the concern which prompted the creation of these extra days of observance, the Talmud urges us to keep our calendar as a surety against losing our traditions in the face of persecution.
The Reform movement officially rejects these extra days (with the exception of Rosh Hashanah, which, it can be argued, is a different situation entirely. More on that later.) Thus Reform Judaism as a movement (but not every Reform Jew) recognizes and observes 7 days for the pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot, Pesakh, and Shavuot.
In many years, this does not present an issue. But when the chag begins on Shabbat (meaning that the eighth day will also fall on the next Shabbat) there’s an issue with what Torah reading falls on that eighth day Shabbat. In Israel, where on;y 7 days are observed, the practice is that the next parasha is read, thus Israel and the Diaspora get out of sync for a few weeks. Luckily, there are rules that help us get back in sync, though not that quickly. Brace yourself for a lot of arcane rules that guide the assignment of the parshiyot based on the Hebrew calendar. Skip if you want, but you might find it quite enlightening.
These four basic principles guide the Jewish calendar vis-a-vis Torah readings:
- Parshat B’reishit is always read on the first Shabbat following the 22nd of Tishrei.
- Every Shabbat has a weekly parshah reading assigned, unless it coincides with a major holiday (Pesakh, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, or Sh’mini Atzeret).
- There are seven pairs of parshiyot that can be doubled up (six in Eretz Israel): Vayakhel-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, Acharei-Kedoshim, Behar-Bechukotai, Chukat-Balak (only outside Israel), Matot-Mas’ei, and Nitzavim-Vayelech.
- V’zot Hab’rachah will always be the reading on Simchat Torah (or in Israel, Shemini Atzeret), whether or not it is a Shabbat.
Based on these four understandings, the yearly cycle is then governed by this halakhah from Shulkhan Aruch, Orakh Chayyim 428:4
In a regular (non-leap) year, the Shabbat before Pesakh is always Parshat Tzav. In a leap year, it is M’tzora (or, when Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday, Acharei Mot)
This requires that Vayakhel-Pekudei be combined in most regular years (except when Rosh Hashanah is on Thursday and the year is “complete,” because then there’s an extra Shabbat available between Simchat Torah and Pesakh). They will be separated in all leap years.
On the Shabbat before Shavuot, parashat Bamidbar is always read (except in leap years in which Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday, then it will be parashat Naso).
To make this work, in a normal year three sets of parshiyot in Sefer Vayikra are combined: Tazria-Metzora, Acharei-Kedoshim, and Behar-Bechukotai. (The exception – in Israel, in years when Pesach begins on Shabbat, because then 22 Nissan has a weekly parshah assigned, as it’s a regular Shabbat. In that case, in Israel, Behar and Bechukotai are separated.) All three of these pairs of parshiyot will be separated in leap years.
The Shabbat after Tish’a B’Av the reading is always Parshat Va’etkhanan.
This requires that in most years Matot-Mas’ei is combined. Exceptions – in the disapora leap years in which Rosh Hashanah is on a Thursday, and in Israel, leap years when Pesakh begins on Shabbat. In those settings, Matot and Masei will be read separately. In the Diaspora, years when Shavuot is on Friday and Shabbat, Chukat-Balak will have to be combined.
The Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah is always parashat Nitzavim.
To make this work out (and still have all of the parshiyot read by Simchat Torah), in years when Rosh Hashanah is on Thursday or Shabbat, Nitzavim-Vayelech are combined and read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.
Phew. Now, this system complicates things, so that generally, Israel and the Diaspora remain out of sync until the last of the combined parshiyot in sefer Vayikra. It would be so much simpler if we could get back in sync quicker, but the halakha prevents that.
I’ve made inquiries but haven’t really gotten a serious answer to my question of why Reform simply doesn’t following eretz Israel for a few weeks, since that is a long established tradition and custom not requiring inventing or creating something new.
(It should also be pointed out that all over North America, Reform congregations differ in their practices – some follow the URJ’s newer practice of this “half parshiyot, ” others following eretz Yisrael until things are in sync again, and yet others follow orthodox tradition and read that traditional 8th day on Shabbat reading staying in total sync with all the non-Reform Jews in North America – with the exception of some who follow Yemenite practice, which is another story altogether.)
While I can understand the logic of not following orthodox practice, I’m not sure I understand the choice to not follow Israel. There’s a part of me that wonders if this is a remnant of assimilationist tendencies from early Reform in which we sought to be like our “Christian” neighbors – only in this case, the neighbors we are seeking to be like are our fellow non-Reform Jews in North America. Let me explain that, since on its face it makes no sense. Reform creates this “half parasha” which hardly seems an attempt to be like our Conservative and orthodox neighbors in North American galut. However, the ultimate result of doing it this way puts us back in sync with our local Jewish neighbors in just a week, rather than the weeks that following the Israeli reading calendar would require until we’re back in sync again. So perhaps we’re placing the desire to be more quickly back in sync with traditional/orthodox North American diaspora Jews over following an already established tradition of readings when only 7 days of a chagim are observed as they are in Israel?
Marat ayin? Which is easier to explain to non-Jews in North America. Reform being out of sync with all the other North American Jews for a bunch of weeks, or just a week?
Personally, I think I favor following the practice in eretz Israel. We have determined that there is no need for 8 day chagim, just as it has been tradition of long-standing (even from Biblical times) in Israel to observe the Torah mandated 7 days for these holidays. A full week. 87 days. The number of completion, the number of days of creation (we’ll set aside the controversy of whether or not G”d’s “finishing” on Shabbat actually represents work done by G”d on the seventh day or not.)
Being the gadfly I am, when I raised this question on some online fora, I couldn’t resist adding a fourth option for Reform. Follow Israel, follow Diaspora, make up these “half-parshiyot” to get Reform back in sync with other North American Jews faster, or why not simply create entirely new readings for these Shabbatot when they occur? Now, I don’t personally think that’s a great option, but I wonder if it was ever considered?
As a movement, we’ve considered and reconsidered all sorts of things. Things once removed without much objection from the siddurim of the movement have found their way back in. In early iterations of Mishkan T’filah, the second paragraph of the Sh’ma/V’ahavta was offered as an option (with some more objectionable text in a smaller type size.) That eventually got shot down, but at least it was considered. Plus the proponents at least got a partial victory with the restoration of the first section of the third paragraph (the tzitzit section.)
I mentioned earlier how many Reform congregations still follow the practice of observing two days of Rosh Hashanah (even though on the RJ website they state that most observe only one.) Why two in Israel ?It’s complicated, but the simple explanation is that it is the only holiday that falls on the first day of a month, the time of the new moon. In biblical Israel, there was no fixed calendar. Each new month was declared based on the sighting of the new moon (or to be more specific, the absence of a visible sliver of moon.) Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, as most holidays started on other days of the month. However, since Rosh Hashanah would have started immediately with the appearance of the new moon, and the witness could not report this until the next morning or later, the court had to simply assume that the 30th day after the new moon of Elul was the 1st of Tishrei, and thus Rosh Hashanah. If they were wrong, and it turns out the next day was Rosh Hashanah – well, they had already declared that day as Rosh Hashanah, and therefore couldn’t send out messengers throughout Israel to announce that fact. The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that this practice actually dated back to the time of the prophets (though this doesn’t make a lot of sense.) Once the rabbis established a fixed calendar (around the 4th Century CE) some Jews still living in Israel wanted to go back to a single day of Rosh Hashanah. However, it was determined that two days would be observed – one to honor the biblical commandment, and the other to honor the tradition of the Talmud Yerushalmi.
As I did with the arcane rules about the assigning of the Torah readings based on the calendar, I could go into far greater depth about the two-day Rosh Hashanah (and frankly, I originally did in earlier drafts of this musing) but I decided if you were really interested in al this, you could do your own research. Don’t want to burden you with too much information.
An argument that has sometimes been used in modern times to justify following the two-day practice for Rosh Hashanah is that it makes certain in years when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, that the shofar can still be heard, as that is a mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah. This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in Reform settings, where musical instruments are already routinely used on Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah. So we’ll allow the use of instruments, but we won’t blow shofar on Shabbat? Talk about picking and choosing. (Again, customs differ, and some Reform congregations do blow shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat.)
I remain conflicted as to what to write about for this Shabbat – thus I wrote about what has me conflicted, as a sort of cartharsis. Now I have to decided what I will write about for the next few weeks. I guess, by failing to write about Acharei Mot this Shabbat I’ve made my choice already. I’ll be following Diaspora Ashkehnazi custom, at least for this year.
So while I explored some of the same things, this year’s musing had a somewhat different focus than last year. It’s interesting to consider what led me down these different paths, what things are happening in my life that influence my writing choices. Thanks for indulging me.
©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Shabbat 22 Nissan 5778 – OTD: On and Off the Derekh
Pesakh 5778 – Odds and Ends
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5777 – Valley of The Donald
April 11, 2015 – Cop Out
Pesakh 5775 – Day Off (Literally)
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5773 – The Whole House of Israel
Pesach 5772 – Don’t Believe This
Pesach 8th Day 5772 – The Bread of Freedom
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 – Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 – Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis