Friday, October 14, 2005

Hooray for conservatives!

When I decided to spend Yom Kippur at home in South Orange, NJ, I was not expecting a riveting, spiritual experience. I've been a member of the same shul, Congregation Bethel, since birth. To my knowledge, I've spent all of Yom Kippurs there (including when it was on my sixth birthday...I couldn't even have a cake!) except the one year I was in Israel for the holidays. Having to compare all of your other Yom Kippur experiences to one spent in Jerusalem is like forcing someone to eat packaged gefilte after they've experienced the fish of a Satmar woman.

But my experience this year was less than usual.
The rabbi started off at Kol Nidrei by talking about what it means to be Jewish. For some it is simply food...for others it means culture and a strong connection to Eretz Yisrael...and for others it is a way of thinking and living.

This point is expressed in a mishna (Sanhedrin 10:1) The quote within the quote is from Yishayahu 60:21 "kol yisrael yesh lahem chelek le'olam ha'ba, she'ne'emar: 've'ahmech kulam tzaddikim, le'olam yeershu aretz, netzer ma'ta'ai, ma'a'seh yadai le'heetpa'er.' " In other words "All Jews have a part in the world that's coming. As it is said[in Yeshayahu]: 'All within your nation are righteous people, they will inherit the land forever. They are the branch of My planting, a work of My hands in which to take pride." (If you want a quick way to find this, it's in the Artscoll Youth Edition of Pirkei Avos.

So many ideas in this mishna! Perhaps one is that when referring to all of Israel as "Tzaddikim" it does not mean each individual by himself is a tzaddik , rather we are all tzaddikim only when we identify as individuals part of a larger group. Compare it to a bunch of grapes (Yeshayahu much?). As a bunch, grapes make the ideal snack...but a lone grape, even if it's the best grape you've ever had, will not fill your stomach. We are not tzaddikim(righteous people) unless we agree to be tzaddikim together. Perhaps our individuality is most powerful (and practical) when we apply it to strengthening an entire group as opposed to just ourselves.

After 35 years at Beth El in South Orange, Nj the senior rabbi decided to retire. The shul had to find someone new.

We are a traditional community where many shul members are rabbi themselves and many families are shomer shabbat and kashrut (To punch some of the many stereotypes/problems of conservative Judaism in the face). I would even say that some members lean towards a ritually orthodox lifestyle.

The new rabbi is an extraordinary individual, a person who's received awards for talmudic scholarship and tikkun olam. She came to the community last (Jewish) year. When I first heard that there was a woman who was interested in the position, I thought to myself "They'll never hire a woman." After trekking through a jungle of interviews, committees, and trial Shabbats, she was offered the job and accepted it. She is the first woman in historical Judaism to hold the position of Senior Rabbi in a shul with over 500 hundred members.

I was shocked that they gave her the position. Surprised and so proud that my community was moved by an individual and brave enough to jump off the cliff of sexist tradition. As a result of the Rabbi's immovable courage, scholarship, and yiddishkite, I know that many of us (including myself) have become better individuals, continuously educating ourselves in Torah, and more inspired to learn.

This goes to show that if one of us is a tzaddik, we're all tzaddikim.

3 Shpeils


Blogger BrownsvilleGirl said...

I started learning with a very knowledgable woman (who teaches at Stern) on a weekly basis when I started at Hunter. The first thing we did was the Netziv's introduction to Sefer Beresheit. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes. Fortunately, someone on the internet explains this very Netziv in a dvar Torah. So, because it's so relevant to what you've written, and because I think you'd like it a lot, I will paste what Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, in Los Angeles, California has to say:

In the introduction to his commentary on the Book of Genesis, the Netziv states that the Rabbis of the Talmud surnamed the Book of Genesis “Sefer Ha-Yashar,” the “Book of the Upright.”

The Talmud's reasoning behind this name is that the Patriarchs, beginning with Abraham, were “Anashim Yesharim,” “upright, just and honest people.”

The Netziv points out that Abraham was specifically not described as “righteous or pious” (tzaddik or hassid), because these terms are too limited in scope to accurately and fully describe the greatness of Abraham's character.

To be “righteous or pious” implies a specific aura of religious behavior towards God, too often emphasized as the ultimate expression of Jewish life.

The Netziv tells us that Abraham was not given these titles, because Abraham's actions and deeds come to teach us that the prerequisite to “religious righteousness and piety” is to be “Yashar” -- upright, just and honest.

Was Abraham righteous and pious, asks the Netziv? He was as righteous and pious a man as Judaism has ever known. His piety towards God and devotion to God were amply displayed in his ultimate “test of faith,” the story of the “Akeda” (Binding of his son Isaac).

But before being a “tzaddik and hasid” towards God, says the Netziv, Abraham was first and foremost a “yashar” towards his fellow man. Abraham was a “tzaddik and hasid” who also cared about the plight of the gentiles in Sedom, daring to challenge God's judgement on their behalf. Never once do we hear Abraham referring to gentiles as “goyim,” nor do we hear him attacking the philosophical beliefs of other human beings.

Why did God choose Abraham as His covenantal partner? Because Abraham's personality reflects the principle that the ultimate expression of being a true “Man of God” lies in being a “yashar” -- an upright, just and honest human being. The classical expression of being a Jew, Abraham teaches us, involves upright and moral behavior as a prerequisite to the observance of ritual mitzvot.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, October 14, 2005 4:51:00 PM  


Blogger D.B. Cooper said...

i remember when being "conservative" meant u believed abortion should be restricted to wire hanger-wielding womyn in bathtubs - the way it oughta be!

Friday, October 14, 2005 5:18:00 PM  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the idea that we cannot be tzaddikim unless we work as a group. Jews, all Jews, even the ones we disagree with, must work together and accept each other in order for Judaism to thrive. It’s a great thought for Yom Kippur. It’s not just about us as individuals growing and being forgiven, but we need to want our neighbor to be forgiven also.
On a similar note, my rabbi spoke right before neila. The main idea of his speech was that the greatest people are the people who don't judge, who just let things slide. He had a story too but I liked the idea better than the story he used to get there.
I think these thoughts can complement each other to teach us that as a community Jews should stop picking on each other and we should all work together for a change. Maybe then we could really accomplish something.

Friday, October 14, 2005 5:20:00 PM  

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