A time to build a Sukkot midrash

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Not long ago, Ron and I were in the final stages of home reconstruction. After months of agonizing trips to Home Depot, the house was nearly at completion. Each step of the redo was a process in and of itself. Who would have known that there are over 100 shades of off-white?At last, at last, there was only one more hurdle to jump. The Los Angeles Building Inspector had to approve the construction and provide permits. When he finished his report, I was shocked to see the dreaded words, “Denied.”I looked at the paperwork in dismay. Here’s what I found:

  1. The roof has many holes and it is leaking
  2. The walls are rotting from the inside out
  3. The structure as a whole is unsuitable for a permanent dwelling
  4. The foundation is not bolted, and it will collapse in an earthquake

I thought for a few minutes, and then it hit me: Holes in the roof, unstable walls, structure not suitable for a permanent dwelling, easily collapsible… The building inspector hadn’t examined my house. He had examined my Sukkah!

At the bottom of the report was a note informing me I had a week to remove it from the premises. “Well,” I thought to myself, “As Sukkot is a week long Festival, I have time to make the best of this structure before taking it down.” Now there is a tradition of inviting special guests, or in Hebrew, ushpizin, for a meal in the Sukkah. I thought it would be fun to host an eclectic mix of community leaders. So I sent out “computer E-vites” and eagerly awaited responses. Imagine my delight when Moses, Tzipporah, Jonah, and Maimonides all RSVP’ed that they could attend! It would certainly be a Festival to remember.

Preparations finished, the big night arrived. The doorbell rang, and I went to greet my first guest. Before me stood a young man whose Mohawk rose at least six inches above his head. There were multiple piercings, and his leather coat smelled like oil. Whale oil. “Yo Rabbi,” he said, “I’m Jonah. I really didn’t want to come. I’m not into authority figures and all that. But I had nothing better to do.” (1) Jonah walked right past my outstretched hand and went straight to my fish tank. He just sat and stared at the water.

The door still open, three people then appeared at the entry, two men and a woman. The men were arguing about the placement of my Mezuzah. The woman looked annoyed. One man then extended his hand and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Rabbi Moishe ben Maiman, but you can call me Maimonides. How kind of you to open your home.”

The other man had a large backpack and a sleeping bag beneath his arm. “Shalom, I’m Moses.” He came close and whispered in my ear, “This is my wife, Tzipporah. She’s not Jewish. Is that ok?”

Tzipporah rolled her eyes and gave me a warm hello. All three came inside. Moses threw his belongings onto the floor, and Maimonides went straight out the back door and into the Sukkah.

“Moses,” I asked, “Uh… what’s the sleeping bag for?”

“Oh, I’m spending the week here,” he answered.

“Excuse me?” I responded.

“Well,” Moses began, “According to what God told me, we are commanded to live in the Sukkah during this Harvest Festival.(2) It’s to remember what the ancestors went through when they crossed the desert. All these commandments! As if Pharaoh’s laws weren’t tough enough. So I figured, if it’s going to last a week, I may as well be as comfortable as possible!” He took out some palm branches, willows, pumpkins, and other assorted harvest-related offerings. “Don’t worry,” Moses went on as he arranged his belongings, “You won’t even know we’re here.”

I stared at Moses with my mouth open.

Tzipporah then spoke up, “I don’t think ‘the ancestors’ were all that interested in grass huts, Moses. And what about theses palm branches? Do you really think they had an abundant vegetation out there in the middle of the desert?”

Moses looked up, “You know, I never really thought of that!” Then he looked at me, “Tzipporah is the more intellectually honest of the two of us. Her father, Yethro, is an international consultant. (3)She grew up learning how to mediate in the toughest of situations. And she’s a great mother. Ironically, she’s the one who makes sure our son gets a good Jewish upbringing.”(4)

I looked over to Jonah, who was still staring at the fish.

Maimonides then re-entered the room with a perplexed look on his face. “Rabbi,” I asked, “Is something wrong?”

Maimonides looked at me and said, “Well, I hate to tell you this, but someone has to… Your Sukkah, it’s not kosher.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, according to my authoritative Talmudic code, the Mishna Torah, the Sukkah can not be placed beneath a tree because you must be able to see the sky through its roof. Yet yours is too close to that big Oak, and its braches are blocking the view. The Mishna Torahforbids anything that smells offensive to hang in the Sukkah, but I think I saw a squash so old that it was growing a tail. And the schach, the covering for the Sukkah, it’s supposed to be made of organic material, not a tarp from L.L. Bean.” (5)

I thought to myself, “Oy vey,Maimonides should get a job with the Los Angeles department of Building and Safety.”

Moses spoke up, “C’mon, Maimonides, what are you talking about? All God told me back in the desert was to observe the festival for seven days and build a little hut to live in. Where do you get all these laws from?”

“Moses,” Maimonides went on, “outside of Israel we observe the Festival for eight days, not seven. Why? Because we want to build a fence around the Torah, (6) to protect the law, to make sure we get it right. You never know if your watch stops and we miss the ordained time of rejoicing. And you’re not supposed to physically live in the Sukkah. Now that is a hardship.”

Moses looked exasperated. “My atomic watch keep precise time, thank you. There’s no need to observe eight days anymore! And you talk of rejoicing? You’ve got to be kidding! How can we rejoice with all these restrictions? Further,” Moses gasped, “The Torah specifically commands us to live in the Sukkah! How can we deny that?”

“You think you’re the only one who has a relationship with God, don’t you?” Maimonides shot back, ” Listen, my friend, the truth is that no one understands God’s intentions better than I do. Look at all this stuff you brought. For heaven’s sake! We’re supposed enjoy the Sukkah by having a meal in it, by decorating it, by studying in it. But living in it is not what God intended.”

Moses just looked at Maimonides with disbelief. He then said to Tzipporah, “And I suppose he’s going to tell us next that cheeseburgers aren’t kosher?!”

For the first time, Jonah spoke up, “Do you all realize how ridiculous you sound? Who cares if God wants us to live or eat or study in the Sukkah? It’s all nonsense. Why should we have to live according to these rules anyway? God told me just the other day to go to Niniveh to deliver a motivational speech. You know what I did instead? I went on a cruise. Ok, ok, it didn’t end up quite as nice as I thought it would. I never expected to be swallowed by a fish. But we can’t go around just blindly following these voices we hear.”

Jonah looked at Moses and said, “Don’t you ever think that maybe, just maybe, you misinterpreted some of the things that God said to you? Judaism isn’t only about what comes down to you from above. Judaism is about how to deal with people on this earth. There’s a lot you can learn from Tzipporah.”

“And before you get too high on yourself, Maimonides,” Jonah continued, “Your ‘definitive’ code of law has room for improvement as well. Other voices have a right to be heard.(7) The two of you spend so much time spewing off hot air that you can’t even hear what you are saying. Why don’t you just be quiet and listen for a change.” (8)

Moses retorted, “Jonah, it’s ok to question, but we can’t run away. We have to face and even challenge the tradition. We can’t just pretend the traditions don’t exist.”

The room grew silent. My four guests all stared at me, and I had no idea what to do.

Just then, we heard a voice sobbing from outside. I opened the door to find a young man, probably no more than twenty years old, dressed in colorful rags and quite emaciated. “Can I help you,” I asked as I led him inside.

“My name is Joseph,” he said. “My family, my eleven brothers and sister, have abandoned me, and I have nowhere to go. I was looking at your Sukkah from the backyard and thought that yours might be a home that provides shelter. I’m a good worker and can help you to build anew from the inside out.” (9)

I looked into this poor boy’s eyes and I saw that his heart was filled with hope and dreams. I then looked to Moses, Tzipporah, and Maimonides. Here we were arguing over the structure of the Sukkah and the laws of Sukkot. Yet we had ignored what belongs at the heart of the Festival. Sukkot is about building order into a world filled with chaos. It’s about a communal journey to strengthen ourselves as individuals and as a people.

Our Sukkah is physically open to the outside world, making it impossible to ignore those without shelter. Sukkot reminds us to give structure to our lives, but not a structure so permanent that we can’t question it. While on Yom Kippur, we put ourselves in God’s hands, during Sukkot we take the world into our own hands. And while on Yom Kippur we tear ourselves down, on Sukkot we begin to build once again.

I set an extra seat around my Sukkot dinner table, and the five of us enjoyed a true Festival meal.

And when they left, I watched as their images blended into the endless mysteries of time. I watched and I thought to myself, “Next year I’ll keep it simple.”

As we read in Ecclesiastes during Sukkot, “There is a time to break down and a time to build up.” (10) Friends, our world has seen enough of breaking down. Yom Kippur in and of itself is about breaking down. Let’s come together to build up, to reach out, to embrace the spirit of Sukkot, and to breathe new life into old rituals. Let us work toward a true “Sukkat Shalom,” a shelter of peace and of wholeness.

You see, Sukkot is only partially about building a structure. The true meaning is about building a community. One person at a time.

Ken Y’hi Ratzon.

FOOTNOTES

(Click on the BACK button to return to your position in the text)

  1. Based on Jonah’s running away from God/ responsibility. Connection to YK
  2. Lv 23:42-43
  3. Based on Ex. 18:15-22
  4. Based on Ex 4:24-26, Tzipporah is the one who circumcises their son
  5. Shulchan Aruch, Orah Hayyim 629-631
  6. Pirkei Avot 1:1
  7. The Mishna Torah does not express the minority view, just the Halacha
  8. Based on Jonah Story: He has fulfilled God’s command to tell the people to do Teshuva
  9. Based on Joseph Story Gn. 37
  10. Ecc. 3:3
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A leading roof and rotting walls … likely to collapse during an earthquake
It is at Sukkot that the Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting, is dedicated. RABBI ROBERT JACOBS of Bet David looks forward to Succot and Simchat Torah

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RABBI ROBERT JACOBS talks about Judaism and the notion of a linear time. PLUS: Some of the rituals around the High Holy Days.

V’samachtem b’chagecha Rejoice at the Festival

Sukkot is known in Jewish literature as heChag – the Festival, although it is only one of the three pilgrimage festivals of the year. The others, Pesach and Shavuot, share with this seven day celebration both literal agricultural meanings and metaphorical religious meanings as part of the annual cycle that traces Jewish peoplehood from physical liberation through Divine revelation to Sacred Communion with God.The Sacred Communion is the special identity of Sukkot, for if Pesach recalls the Exodus from Egypt and its slavery, and Shavuot records ma’amad Har Sinai – standing at Mount Sinai – it is at Sukkot that the Ohel Mo’ed – the Tent of Meeting – is dedicated and put into use.That act of dedication of a tabernacle in which the Ark of the Covenant stood, and where Moses entered regularly through the 40 wilderness years, was the place where God and people would meet. In a continuation of that glorious tradition, King Solomon rehearsed the events of that dedication. It is relatively easy to review these texts as weekly Torah Portions Vayakhel and Pekudei (Exodus 22:1-40:35), and their respective traditional Haftarot (I Kings, chapter 7 & 8). Much later in Jewish history – 165 BCE – the re-dedication at the Feast of Lights – Hanukkah – also found this celebration so compelling that it became the model for that much younger semi-holiday.

Sukkot has a specific structure that is outlined in Leviticus 23:33-36:

“God spoke to Moses saying: ‘Say to the Israelite people: On the 15th day of this seventh month, there shall be the Feast of Booths to Adonai [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days shall you bring offerings by fire to God. On the eighth day, you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to Adonai; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.”

For Progressive Judaism, which follows the Israeli calendar around the world, there are two Festival days separated by the intermediate days of the festival – chol haMo’ed. The rules of the Festival days, which by tradition are two distinct holidays – Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret-Simchat Torah (see below) – are less rigorous than those for Sabbaths, including both Yom Kippur – whatever day of the week it might fall on – and the Intermediate Sabbath of the Festival during either Sukkot or Pesach.

In the citation above, the sacred occasion observed on the festival limits working at one’s occupation. On Sabbath, that limitation is expanded to “no manner of servile work”. The Sabbath restrictions are known as 39 melachot – the kinds of labour used in building the Ohel Mo’ed and its trappings, often expanded into related actions and activities, as well as the making of any fire. On Festivals and Rosh Hashanah, the tradition offers eruv tavshilin, a virtual start to preparation of food which allows cooking to take place and transfer of fire from an existing flame.

This section of Leviticus continues with more instructions for Sukkot (Leviticus 23:40-43):

“On the first day, you shall take the product of the goodly [hadar] trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of Adonai for seven days in the year; you shall observe it is the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens of Israel shall dwell in booths in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I Adonai, your God.”

Based on these verses, four species native to the land of Israel are customarily carried in procession and waved during the reading of the Hallel, Psalms 113-119, throughout Sukkot and culminating on Hoshanna Rabbah, the concluding intermediate day of the festival on which special pleas for redemption-hoshannot-are to be recited. These four species referred to as the lulav are generally agreed upon as being:

  • Lulav – palm branch
  • Aravah – willow
  • Hadas – myrtle
  • Etrog – citron

They are bundled together, and in Midrash, viewed as representing the body and soul of each person: spine (lulav), eyes (shape of the myrtle leaves), lips (shape of willow leaves) and heart (shape of the etrog). Together, they symbolise the complete connection between Jew and God, between human and nature.

In the Booth-sukkah-it is also customary to recite blessings in this series:

Upon entering the booth:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who makes us holy by commandments and commands us to dwell in booths.

Upon taking up and assembling the four species:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who makes us holy by commandments and commands us to take up the lulav.

Before taking a ‘meal’- a minimum amount of the size of an olive:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who brings forth bread from the earth.

The first occasion on which any of the above occurs:

Blessed is the Eternal our God, Ruler of the World, who has kept us in life, sustained us and brought us to this joyous time.

For those blessed with the luxury of outdoor space, a sukkah can be constructed at home. The booth is a temporary structure with a minimum of three “walls” which can be no less than three handbreadths wide. The booth may be free-standing or use existing walls. Critical is that the stars are visible through the grass-covered roof. The rugged will camp out in this open space; others might use it only at meal times. In any case, the experience of a meal in the sukkah with blessing, songs and good company is a unique experience of public proclamation of Jewish identity and pride.

The days of dwelling in the sukkah end at Hoshanna Rabbah when the four species are carried for the final time. Although the sukkah is left standing, on the separate Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah Festival, life returns indoors to home or synagogue sanctuary. The emphasis shifts then to the cycle of Torah reading, which apparently was fixed through the Italian tradition about a thousand years ago.

On one evening, the last words of Deuteronomy are read by a Chatan Torah – Bride/Bridegroom of the Torah followed immediately by the reading of the opening words from Genesis read by a Chatan B’reishit – Bride/Bridegroom of Genesis. Whether these two chatanim are male or female, it is a high honour to represent the community in its quest to proclaim aloud the centrality of Torah and its covenant.

Simchat Torah is especially to be marked by the physical act of following the Torah scroll as the hakafot-circlings with the Torah-are accomplished. Dancing, singing and rejoicing are all the order of the day, inside and outside the sanctuary, and in many communities even into the courtyards and streets of the town.

luluv-etrog
The lulav and etrog consist of palm, willow and myrtle branch, and a citron.succah4

The succah is walled on three sides and has branches across the top.

succah5

The sky should be visible through the foliage of the roof.

Towards a Succot Midrash

As Rabbi ZACHARY SHAPIRO of Temple Akiba in Los Angeles ponders a construction problem, he receives some unexpected guests …

Shavuoth – Feast of Weeks or Pentecost

ON THE 50th day after Passover, Deuteronomy 26 specifies that each person is to bring to the Priest an offering of the first fruits of the year, and upon transferring the offering, to make confession:”My father was a fugitive Aramean, He went down to Egypt with meagre numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labour upon us.

“We cried to the Eternal, the God of our ancestors, and the Eternal heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Eternal freed us from Egypt by a might hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. God brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, God, have given me.”(Deuteronomy 26:5-10.

As we conclude the Counting of the Omer, the harvest season is ended and the agricultural cycle continues; we also mark the end of the period of anarchy in the great march of our Israelite forebears from Egypt and slavery and into the wilderness. Yet this first period is without Law, without ceremony, and without a clear understanding of the nature or requirements of the worship that Moses proposed to Pharaoh early in the Book of Exodus.

Torah teaches that on the first day of the third month – the month we call Sivan – the people encamped in the Wilderness of Sinai. And on the sixth day, the great revelation at Sinai took place. Midrash Rabba connects the sixth day to Genesis 1: 31. Humans created on the day six of creation are to receive the revelation of Torah at Sinai on the sixth of the month, a further step in explaining the purpose of creation.

Other Midrashim explain:

  • The selection of the Jewish people (all other people rejected the restrictions of Torah, Jews were compelled by the mountain held over them like an inverted washtub)
  • The choice of the place (God took a piece of Mount Moriah – the Temple Mount – and tore it off like challah from dough and placed it in the wilderness)
  • The choice of the first letter of Torah. Bet, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is closed above, below, and behind but open to the front. We are only permitted to speculate about what follows the bet, not what precedes it.

No less controversial through all ages is the nature of the revelation that is celebrated on this festival called Yom Matan Torah – the Day of the Law-Giving. Whether it was the words recorded in Exodus 20, or Deuteronomy 4 (The Ten Commandments) or the written Torah, or the whole of Torah-written and oral – it emerges as the great encounter of the Jewish People with God that sealed the Brit-Covenant that binds us even now to be a light to all nations and exemplars of humanity created in the image and likeness of God.

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Counting the seven weeks to Shavuoth

THE seven weeks between Passover and Shavuoth are marked in tradition by the ceremonial Counting of the Omer. There are several interpretations that apply to this Biblical injunction:

  1. 1. Sefirat ha’Omer is detailed in Leviticus 23:15-17 as part of the harvest of the grain that was so central to life in ancient Israel. Each harvest day, the first sheaves were set aside as offerings to God, and entrusted to the Kohanim. We are offered insight into the laborious and protracted process of this harvest by the extension of the activity through a week of weeks, to the fiftieth day. That festival day is known as Shavuoth or Pentecost. It is notable that the counting begins at the eve of the 2nd Day of Pesah.
  2. 2. The harvest begins on the first day spent outside slavery in Mitzrayim – as ancient Egypt is called in the Torah. The newly liberated were still to cross Yam Suf (“Red Sea” or Sea of Reeds), and weeks away from the revelation of Torah. That great moment is associated with the end of this period of counting, Jewish tradition assigning to the festival of Shavuoth ma’amad har Sinai – the revelation at Sinai.
  3. 3. Megillat Ruth – the Book of Ruth – records the title character returning from Moab as a young widow with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi at the time of the barley harvest. Ruth’s journey to the fields of Boaz as a gleaner (cf. Leviticus 19:9-10), her sojourn in the harvest booth, and her meeting with the relative of her deceased husband and father-in-law, lead to her role in Jewish consciousness as the direct ancestor of King David, from whose house the Messiah is to descend.

In the 19th Century, Reformers moved away from many of the traditional restrictions placed upon Jewish society during Sefirah-the counted days. Reviewing the three interpretations of the period as outlined above, perhaps their motivation can be understood as a rejection of the role of the Kohanim in Jewish life-a common theme in Rabbinic Judaism.

In the period just after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Roman legion under Titus (70 c.e.), the Priests were limited to the 1st Aliyah to Torah in Synagogue, Pidyon haBen (Redemption of the First Born), and Duchen (the Priestly Benediction). Even these prerogatives were dismissed by Reformers.

The second interpretation, dealing with the agricultural aspects of life, was likely dismissed during the urbanization that has typified the past 200 years. The third, associated with the ancient messianic hope, fell away as rationalism, positivism and optimism about the human role in progress became predominant explanations of this world in the Jewish community.

Our own consciousness, however, might call us to re-evaluate their decision on the basis of the second and third interpretations. As our awareness of ecological concern for the state of the world grows, and as we perceive the fragility of food supplies, adequate harvests and the importance of meaningful work for every person, turning back to regular acknowledgement of the significance of the harvest is a means of calling us to mindfulness of God’s role in the most mundane aspects of life.

It is notable that the newly published Siddur Mishkan Tefilah that has been edited to supersede Gates of Prayer includes the brief ceremony for counting the Omer, traditional at evening services on weekdays and Shabbat.

Tradition – and Minhag South Africa – urge us to refrain from joyous celebration throughout the sefirah with the exception of Roshei Chodesh Iyar and Sivan (First day of each month) and the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B’omer); many in the Progressive community also add Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) to this list.

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Why does this night draw even the unobservant?

The Universality of Pesach

The annual celebration of the Israelite’s liberation from slavery in Egypt is one of the most popularly observed festivals in the Jewish calendar. Most Jews who are not particularly observant during the rest of the year will attend a Pesach seder and will refrain from eating bread. The seder with all its ritual and tradition is appealing to old and young alike.

The question to be asked is: why does Pesach, especially the first night evoke such commitment from Jews who do not ordinarily observe the tenets and traditions of Judaism? Many who make a point of attending or even hosting a Pesach seder do not observe the weekly Shabbat or celebrate the festivals of Shavuot and Sukkoth.

The answer can be found in the universal message of Pesach – the message of the importance of human dignity and freedom. Pesach is not only a celebration of the physical redemption of the children of Israel from the tyrannical rule of Pharaoh, it is also a celebration of spiritual and intellectual freedom.

The conflict between Moses and Pharaoh symbolises the clash between the life-affirming God of Israel and the culture of ancient Egypt that deified the king and revered the dead. While the ancient Egyptians left the legacy of the Great Pyramid of Giza our ancient ancestors gave the Tanach to the world.

The pyramids, being great feats of human ingenuity are nothing more that tombs of the pharaohs; the Hebrew Bible is a record of the Israelites’ relationship with God and a source of inspiration to thousands of generations of Jews, Christians, and indeed Muslims (the narratives of the Quran are based on the Tanach).

It is no accident that the symbols of ancient Egypt and ancient Israel are diametrically opposed. The pyramids are concrete symbols of the tyrannical views of the Pharaohs who held the power of life and death over their subjects. Any individualist tendencies were forbidden and knowledge was the exclusive domain of the Egyptian priests.

In contrast the Hebrew Bible is the repository of life-affirming ideas that are fluid and applicable to life and the world in succeeding generations. The sacred texts represent the dynamism of God and life. The narratives provide lessons for all human beings, regardless of their social status, ethnicity or faith.

The laws and precepts of Torah are motivated by the desire to sanctify society, to promote the spiritual and intellectual growth of its individual members, thereby fulfilling the notion that we are created bezelem elohim, in God’s image.

Our ability to create is a manifestation of our godliness, a characteristic which must not be stifled by any ruler or master. Thus the history of the nation of Israel as a people began with the liberation from servitude to a Pharaoh of Egypt and the subsequent forging of a covenantal relationship at Mount Sinai with the God of Israel, a God who demands no abdication of the mind but only that we refrain from doing to others that which we would not want them to do to us (Shabbat 31a).

Bound by this “Golden Rule” of Rabbi Hillel the individual Jew is free to express his or her own personality and discover his or her own relationship with the Source of Life. We are encouraged by our tradition to study and critically analyse the sacred texts, the world and life in general. The rituals and traditions of our people are to be used as conduits to holiness and are not there to enslave us.

Because Torah is a “Tree of Life” and because the story of Pesach is a celebration of freedom and life it resonates with all Jews, and indeed with all human beings. Rabbi Ben Zoma taught (Berachot 1:5) that one must recall the Exodus from Egypt twice a day (morning and night) during the recitation of the Shema. Since the liberation from physical and intellectual enslavement to Pharaoh is the paradigm for the eventual redemption of humanity from tyranny and oppression the sages deemed it necessary for us to remind ourselves of our people’s deliverance twice daily.

All peoples who have experienced bondage and intolerance can relate to Pesach. It is no coincidence that the black slaves of the southern states of the United States of America in the mid 19th century viewed themselves as modern-day Israelites suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. The Afro-American spiritual written to inspire the salves in their struggle for liberty and made famous by Paul Robeson is entitled “Go down Moses” and was based on Exodus 8:1.

While the Torah limits the celebration of Pesach to members of the covenant (Exodus 12:48), a limitation which was extended by the rabbis to the Pesach seder, there are some rituals connected to the seder that have universal significance.

The spilling of wine (symbol of joy) for each of the Ten Plagues demonstrates our sorrow that the Egyptians had to suffer before the Israelites were allowed to leave. This interpretation is based on a midrash in which God chastises the angels who wish to emulate the Israelites by singing praises to God for drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds (Sanhedrin 39a).

The midrash and the ritual of the aseret makkot at the seder teach that God does not rejoice in the suffering of the wicked, since God is the God of all. The ritual of the cup of Elijah, expresses the Jewish hope for the universal redemption of humanity when all men and women will be free from persecution, oppression and discrimination.

Thus the festival of Pesach, while a specifically Jewish celebration of the deliverance of the people of Israel from the despotism of Egypt, is also a festival that addresses an issue that is of paramount importance to every single human being that resides on planet earth.

As we sit around our seder tables may we remember that we are part of a universal humanity and that we have much to share with our fellow human beings. I wish you all a Pesach Kasher VeSameach.

08-moses-pesach
Painting by Gabriella Jacobs of Pretoria.

Calendar of
festival dates

Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.

A Pesach recipe for everyone

The seder discussion for a progressive Jewish family should be not only about the ancient journey from slavery to liberation, but also about the personal journey of our own liberation

A compact paragraph embracing our beliefs

Pesach is a time for us to ask where we came from, where we are going, and what our life journey means

Haggadah: As much an archeology as a book

The Pesach haggadah is a multi-layered text, embracing some traditions thousands of years old — and some very recent, writes Rabbi Greg Alexander

Oranges and water cups at Pesach

Two powerful feminist additions to Pesach custom, worth considering for your next seder: Miriam Cups and oranges

The orange plate and the cup of water

As you are preparing your seder plates this year, take a moment to consider two customs that may or may not be new to your home. The first is placing an orange on the seder plate next to the other symbolic objects. There are two “accepted” reasons for why this is done, both involving Susannah Heschel – a prominent feminist teacher of Torah and daughter of the famous theologian and human rights activist, Abraham Joshua Heschel – and you choose the one that you like.The first is that she was invited to speak in a certain synagogue and was heckled by a man in the congregation who protested that “a woman on the bimah is like an orange on the seder plate”. She subsequently placed an orange on her seder plate that Pesach.

The “real” reason, supplied by Heschel herself, is that in the early 1980s, she was trying to find a ritual way of symbolising the struggle by Jewish lesbians and gays for recognition in mainstream Judaism. One Haggadah suggested placing a crust of bread on the seder plate (to symbolically protest the notion that “gays and lesbians are as welcome at the seder as bread”).

She found the idea interesting, but felt that since placing bread on the table makes the whole seder chametz, that was exactly what she didn’t want to be saying about gays and lesbians. So at her next seder, she divided an orange into segments and offered her guests one each for all the different kinds of Jews who have been marginalised – gays and lesbians, widows, agunot (women who are “chained” to their previous husbands) etc. The orange symbolised the fruitfulness that Judaism would be missing if it kept these people outside, and the seeds that were inevitably spat out as one eats a segment of an orange were for spitting out all the phobias (xenophobia, homophobia, etc.) from Judaism.

Whichever you find more appealing, the fact is that the orange has popped up on seder plates all over the States, UK, Israel and now here in SA, and it’s starting to become a normative feature cuddling up next to the karpas and charoset.

The second recent custom is the filling of the cup for Miriam. This is based on a midrash on two verses in B’midbar/Numbers. In the first verse (Numbers 20:1), Miriam dies, and in the second (vs. 2), it immediately states that there was no water for the Israelites and so they come to challenge Moses and Aaron. Noting that the water seems to disappear the moment that Miriam died, the midrash explains that Miriam had a magical well that would follow the Israelites on their journeys – so that they had a continuous source of water. But it was sustained only by the merit of Miriam herself, and when she died, the well disappeared.

Water is a key image in the Torah and rabbinic literature, symbolising life and Torah, and Miriam was the provider of both for the children of Israel. The custom is to place a cup on the table and fill it with water, not wine, to recall her role in the exodus, and also to make some small recompense for the fact that women seem to get such short shrift at the seder (Moses, Elijah, lots of male rabbis – not too much mention of women at a traditional seder).

So, wherever you are this Pesach, at home or at Aunty Adele’s, why not try out making this seder night different from all other seder nights with the addition of two powerful new minhagim?

miriamcup

An elaborate, hand-painted Miriam’s Cup by Israeli artist Yair Emanuel. The cup, which comes with a matching plate, shows dancing women.

This cup, and a number of others, can be bought from the website JewishGifts.com

Calendar of
festival dates

Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.

Haggadah: As much an archeology as a book

The Pesach haggadah is a multi-layered text, embracing some traditions thousands of years old — and some very recent, writes Rabbi Greg Alexander

A Pesach recipe for everyone

The seder discussion for a progressive Jewish family should be not only about the ancient journey from slavery to liberation, but also about the personal journey of our own liberation

A compact paragraph embracing our beliefs

Pesach is a time for us to ask where we came from, where we are going, and what our life journey means

Miriam’s cup: links

A number of websites provide information about Miriam’s Cup. Here are two we recommend:

www.miriamscup.com An entire website devoted to the topic

www.ritualwell.org Ritual Well is a feminist Jewish website

Haggadah: Less a book than an archeology

One can often be excused for thinking that Jewish practise fell to earth from Sinai fully formed, yet this is far from the case, and with Pesach around the corner, the seder is a perfect example.One of my teachers, Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, used to say that the Pesach Hagaddah is less a book than an archaeological dig. If you go to most Israeli archaeological sites you will find that they uncover layer upon layer of building. As the earliest inhabitants moved on, the desert sands covered up the buildings and the next generation comes along and builds anew, and so on until you have a multi-layered “tel” that sometimes spans thousands of years going straight down in one place.

The Haggadah is a similar work, with the Hallel psalms dating back to the earliest days of Biblical Judaism, and songs like Chad Gadya and Adir Hu unknown to Haggadot until the early Middle Ages. Familiar pieces like Mah Nishtanah are almost a quotation from the Mishnah (Pesachim 10:4) until one sees that in the Mishnah there were three (different) questions and our Haggadot have, of course, four. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that new rituals are finding their way into today’s Haggadah, and a great example of that is Miriam’s Cup.

We are all familiar with Elijah’s Cup, but many seder tables today have another cup, one for Miriam the prophetess and sister of Moses and Aaron. The custom is based on a midrash (Ta’anit 9) that during her lifetime, and because of her special merit, the Children of Israel drank water from a miraculous well that followed them as they wandered through the desert. When she died, their water disappeared immediately. (B’midbar 20:1, 2)

We often think of Moses as the hero of Pesach, but Miriam has a huge part in the Exodus story. She prophesied that Moses would be born, she guarded the infant Moses as he floated down the Nile, and she sang the song of victory at the Sea of Reeds, taking the women with her as they danced and played timbrels in celebration. In fact, our tradition says, “If it wasn’t for the righteousness of women of that generation we would not have been redeemed from Egypt” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 9b).

So many people have now begun to take on the custom of placing a cup for Miriam alongside the cup for Elijah. Why not try it this year – choose a lovely goblet, or a decorative vase, fill it with water, and place it in a prominent place on the table.

As Miriam’s Cup is still a new addition to the seder, its use is not fixed. Some fill Miriam’s Cup at the very beginning of the seder. Miriam, after all, appears at the very beginning of the Exodus story (watching over her brother Moses in the Nile). Starting with Miriam’s Cup is also a way of letting people know right from the beginning that your seder is going to be a fully inclusive one. Also, since Elijah’s Cup comes at the end of the seder, it is nice to use the two cups as a frame for your seder and begin with Miriam.

Others fill or raise Miriam’s cup after the recitation of the Ten Plagues and before dayyenu, which carries the story of the Exodus through the crossing of the Red Sea and into the wilderness, moments during which Miriam played an important role. Others use Miriam’s Cup along with Elijah’s Cup towards the close of the seder, with Elijah representing the herald of the messiah, and Miriam, a prophet urging us to do the work to bring about redemption.

Another suggestion is to close the seder by passing around Miriam’s Cup for every one to take a drink, and commit to carrying the seder’s themes with them beyond the night of the seder. You can either fill your Miriam’s Cup with water from a jug, or you can invite everyone at the table to pour some water from their drinking glasses into Miriam’s Cup. Everyone contributing water emphasizes that we each have a role in reviving the stories of women and in sustaining the Jewish people on our journey. Feel free to use any one or any combination of these ideas for incorporating Miriam’s Cup into your seder.

Whichever way you choose to do it, you are connecting your seder to the generations that have come before and adding another layer to the dig. Chag Sameach.

miriamcup

Hand-painted Miriam’s Cup by Israeli artist Yair Emanuel, illustrated with dancing women.

This cup, and a number of others, can be bought from the website JewishGifts.com

Calendar of
festival dates

Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.

A Pesach recipe for everyone

The seder discussion for a progressive Jewish family should be not only about the ancient journey from slavery to liberation, but also about the personal journey of our own liberation

A compact paragraph embracing our beliefs

Pesach is a time for us to ask where we came from, where we are going, and what our life journey means

Oranges and water cups at Pesach

Two powerful feminist additions to Pesach custom, worth considering for your next seder: Miriam Cups and oranges

One compact paragraph embracing our beliefs

“This is the bread of affliction … let all who are hungry come and eat … this year we are enslaved, next year may we be free..” is the traditional statement opening the telling of the story at the Passover Seder. It is a significant statement because of the belief system that it teaches in such a compact paragraph.“This is the bread of affliction…” directs our attention to the timeliness of celebrating life’s events. Week by week through the year, as Shabbat comes, that day of rest is a marker in time as well as a marker of time. We set the day aside because it underscores the other attitudes the rest of the week teaches. At each season-Passover, Shavuoth, Sukkoth, and for the Holy Days in their turn, it is timeliness that reminds us of the stages of the journey of our living.So we speak of the Exodus from Egypt in a timely way, at the moment when the Matzah and all the accoutrements of Pesach are spread on our table, and discuss the journey. And our discussion should be not only the ancient journey from slavery to liberation – hopefully it is also the personal journey of our own liberation.
As we grow, we are nourished-even by (the bread of) affliction; and our growth opens a world of new possibilities to us.

” … Let all who are hungry come and eat … “ directs our attentions to the kinds of hunger that can motivate us in our lives. What is it that we crave-that moves out life story through successive ascents of fantasy, reality, spirituality and finally into action.

Whom do we crave to share this journey with? Parents, children, siblings, more distant relations-and the stranger whom we have yet to encounter-the “other” whose life resonates with our own all should be understood as our companions on the journey through the wilderness. Of course, on a practical level, that statement is about opening our homes to let others share in the wonder of a Seder-even for Elijah who foretells a time when journeys are less arduous.

“This year we are enslaved, next year may we be free … “ calls us to look beyond the moment and its suffering. We seek to uncover all the places in our lives that are fermenting, transforming us and binding us in place rather than letting us grow and expand into our full humanity. It is the freedom that tradition teaches as the escape from forced labour, from idolatrous worship and more globally from falsehood.

The stages of life journey are the essence of the Passover night. These are some questions whose answers can help any family tell its own story at the Seder and give that evening a greater depth:

  • Where did we come from?
  • How did we get here?
  • Where are we going?
  • What meaning does this journey have?

So, look for your own answers-on a basic level, on a metaphorical level, on a humanitarian level. And next year, may we all be free,
Chag Kasher v’Samei’ach – Best wishes for a joyous and appropriate festival celebration.

08-moses-pesach
Painting by Gabriella Jacobs of Pretoria.

Calendar of
festival dates

Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.

A Pesach recipe for everyone

The seder discussion for a progressive Jewish family should be not only about the ancient journey from slavery to liberation, but also about the personal journey of our own liberation

Haggadah: As much an archeology as a book

The Pesach haggadah is a multi-layered text, embracing some traditions thousands of years old — and some very recent, writes Rabbi Greg Alexander

Oranges and water cups at Pesach

Two powerful feminist additions to Pesach custom, worth considering for your next seder: Miriam Cups and oranges

A Pesach recipe for all to share

‘This is the bread of affliction… let all who are hungry come and eat… this year we are enslaved, next year may we be free…” is the traditional statement opening the telling of the story at the Passover seder. It is a significant statement because of the belief system that it teaches in such a compact paragraph.”This is the bread of affliction…” directs our attention to the timeliness of celebrating life’s events. Week by week through the year, as Shabbat comes, that day of rest is a marker in time as well as a marker of time. We set the day aside because it underscores the other attitudes the rest of the week teaches.

At each season – Passover, Shavuot, Sukkoth, and for the Holy Days in their turn, it is timeliness that reminds us of the stages of the journey of our living. So we speak of the Exodus from Egypt in a timely way, at the moment when the Matzah and all the accoutrements of Pesach are spread on our table, and discuss the journey.

And our discussion should be not only the ancient journey from slavery to liberation – hopefully it is also the personal journey of our own liberation. As we grow, we are nourished – even by (the bread of) affliction; and our growth opens a world of new possibilities to us.

“…Let all who are hungry come and eat…” directs our attentions to the kinds of hunger that can motivate us in our lives. What is it that we crave – that moves our life story through successive ascents of fantasy, reality, spirituality, and finally into action.

Whom do we crave to share this journey with? Parents, children, siblings, more distant relations – and the stranger whom we have yet to encounter – the “other” whose life resonates with our own. Of course, on a practical level, that statement is about opening our homes to let others share in the wonder of a Seder – even for Elijah who foretells a time when journeys are less arduous.

“This year we are enslaved, next year may we be free…” calls us to look beyond the moment and its suffering. We seek to uncover all the places in our lives that are fermenting, transforming us and binding us in place rather than letting us grow and expand into our full humanity. It is the freedom that tradition teaches as the escape from forced labour, from idolatrous worship and more globally from falsehood.

The stages of life journey are the essence of the Passover night. These are some questions whose answers can help any family tell its own story at the seder and give that evening a greater depth:

  • Where did we come from?
  • How did we get here?
  • Where are we going?
  • What meaning does this journey have?

So, look for your own answers – on a basic level, on a metaphorical level, on a humanitarian level. And next year, may we all be free.

Chag Kasher v’Samei’ach. Best wishes for a joyous and appropriate festival celebration.

matzoh

Calendar of
festival dates

Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.

A compact paragraph embracing our beliefs

Pesach is a time for us to ask where we came from, where we are going, and what our life journey means

Haggadah: As much an archeology as a book

The Pesach haggadah is a multi-layered text, embracing some traditions thousands of years old — and some very recent, writes Rabbi Greg Alexander

Oranges and water cups at Pesach

Two powerful feminist additions to Pesach custom, worth considering for your next seder: Miriam Cups and oranges

Israel turns 60

08-may-jeru-view
THE State of Israel came into existence on 5 Iyar 5708 (corresponding to 14 May 1948) ending nearly 2000 years of Jewish homelessness. In Progressive Judaism the annual commemoration of this enormously significant change in Jewish status is held to be a religious holiday, a fact made clear through the inclusion of a festive service including Hallel in the 1975 Sha’arei Tefilah – Gates of Prayer and other siddurim – prayer books used throughout the movement’s branches.

The birth of the Jewish State was not understood to be the fulfilment of the messianic hopes of Jews through the ages. Rather it is the result of the political success of the Jewish national movement that has its roots in the Nationalitätsfrage – National Identity Question – posed in the late 19th Century during the reign of Emperor Franz Josef, King of Hungary and Emperor of the Holy Roman (Habsburg) Empire in East Central Europe.

Prior to Theodor Herzl’s 1896 publication of the small tract Der Judenstaat – The Jewish State – others had written of the necessity of a return to Jerusalem to reconstruct Jewish life and identity for modernity.

Herzl’s genius was to visualize and seek to implement a popular movement whose aim and focus were to be the settlement of Jews in a land of their own. The Zionist movement that developed insisted that the only feasible location would be in Ottoman-ruled areas of Jewish identity, especially west of the Jordan River and in ancient Judea.

While Herzl believed the main supporters would be the integrated Jews of Western Europe, broadest appeal was found among the Jews of the Russian Empire and Poland, as well as other eastern communities. There was little interest or contact with the long-existing communities in Islamic lands.

The confluence of events between the First Zionist Congress that was called to Basel, Switzerland in August 1897 and the agreement of the United Nations to the Partition of the British Mandate of Palestine on 29 November 1947, includes two World Wars, the destruction of European Jewry and a program of land acquisition, social experiment and political development that laid the foundations of a democratic, socialist-leaning Jewish government that expanded upon the Jewish Agency for Palestine’s work as a shadow government during the British Mandate under the leadership of David ben Gurion. He became the first Prime Minister of the new state.

Jews arriving from Europe were not a new phenomenon in the Holy Land. Over the generations, with the exception of short periods during which Jews were prohibited from living in the Holy Land, a Jewish population was a consistent presence. In the 19th Century groups such as Chovevei Tsiyon – Lovers of Zion, and colonies like the viticultural settlements of Zichron Ya’ akov and Rishon L’tsiyon – Remembrance of Jacob, First in Zion – were joined by urban settlers who created “west”Jerusalem outside the wall of the ancient city, Tel Aviv, and Haifa as major centers or settled kibbutzim – socialized farms – beginning with Degania Aleph (1908).

Modern water and sewerage, industry, road building and land reclamation-reforestation were taken up by the Keren Kayemet Le’umi – the Jewish National Fund. Private entrepreneurs laid the foundation for a modern economy. The bustle and growth of the 1920s and 1930s attracted settlers from neighbouring and less developed areas east of the Jordan and north of Mount Hermon.

The Islamic community under the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem consistently refused recognition to the burgeoning Jewish population. During the 1930s, successive plans for the Partition of Palestine – as the British League of Nations Mandate was known – were offered for acceptance. In every instance, the Arab delegation refused to accept such a plan.

While small groups, such as Brit Shalom – Covenant of Peace – led by Martin Buber and Ernst Akiba Simon sought to create a bi-national entity, the instability of Lebanon where power was shared after 1929 by Maronite Christian and Moslem factions is illustrative of the overall rejection of this idea. An impasse was reached that is marked by the issuance of the 1941 White Paper that severely limited further Jewish immigration.

The end of World War II and establishment of the United Nations in 1945 left the British as the unwilling stewards of the Protectorate – the successor name for League of Nations Mandates. Moved by the general anti-colonial tenor of the times, the British were anxious close out their responsibilities in Palestine, too. A growing restlessness in the Yishuv – Jewish Community in Palestine – and the increased activities of radicals such as the Stern Gang (including later Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin) led to the United Nations call for the Partition of Palestine on a status quo basis between Jews and Arabs. In a dramatic vote cast on 29 November 1947, the members of the United Nations General Assembly accepted the plan with the Soviet Union casting the deciding vote.

An arms embargo had been imposed on Palestine as the British prepared for their departure. Although there is some scholarly debate on the subject, it appears that 1) the British withdrew in such a way as to leave many of their strongholds in Arab hands; 2) The surrounding Arab nations (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) formed a block in an effort to wipe out Jews from the lands they had bought and settled; 3) Arabs living in areas of Jewish strength took refuge out of the line of fire, and were housed in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip (under Egyptian control), and the “west bank” traditionally known as Judea and Samaria (under Jordanian control), while others fled to safety in Syria and Lebanon.

Responding to the many areas of vulnerability, Israel fought for the independence guaranteed by the 29 November 1947 UN Partition resolution. A valiant struggle against the odds led to the remarkable result of the June 1949 cease-fire that left all borders subject to negotiation, an on-going state of conflict with the neighboring states, and painfully for Israel and the Jewish world, Jerusalem divided and Jews blockaded from access to the sacred sites of the ancient walled city which were occupied by the Jordanians. Jews from long-established communities in Arab lands quickly made their way to the new state. Their numbers greatly increased the Jewish population in a short period.

In succeeding years, the Israelis met continued refusal to recognize their legitimacy as a state from the Arab world. The 1956 blockade of the Suez Canal, and the assertion by President Gamal Abdel Nasser that guns had been erected as Sharm-el-Sheikh effectively closing the sole Indian Ocean access of Israel from Eilat in the Gulf of Aqaba, led to the three-day Sinai campaign that established the fame of General Moshe Dayan.

Although all territories conquered were returned to Egypt under pressure from the US, UK and USSR, the ascendancy of the IDF – Israel Defence Forces – was clear. Just over a decade later, a parallel stalemate led to Israel’s surprise attack in what is known as the Six Day War. Jerusalem was re-unified, the Sinai Peninsula and Gaze once again taken from Egyptian control, and in the north, the Golan Heights that Syria had used as a platform for regular shelling of settlements and farms were captured with lightening speed.

In a complicated way, this expansion has proven to be a mixed blessing for Israel. Since these were occupied territories – as many had been since 1948 – settlements and development within them is at best questionable. At the same time continued refusal of Palestinian elements to accept the 1947 Partition Plan or other successive offers led to repeated stalemates. The surprise attack on Yom Kippur 1973 was a huge crisis; although the Israelis ultimately fended it off, the human price was enormous. Similarly, the late 1980s and the late 1990s saw rising tides of terror attacks that have proven painful.

It is to the credit of Israel as a parliamentary democracy that through all these decades there have been Arab members of Knesset – Israel’s 120 seat Parliament – and provision of an array of governmental services to all citizens of the State without regard to religious identification.

The problem of the non-citizen Palestinians was effectively transferred to their own control through the 1993 Oslo Accord, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority as a governmental authority under the leadership of Yassir Arafat. The failure of the former Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to effect necessary economic development or to suppress terrorism among its citizenry have led to increased security measures that often further inhibit the lives of Palestinians. It also led to a victory in the most recent round of elections for the insurgent Hamas, whose refusal to give up violence has led to their labeling as a terrorist group.

Today, for Israeli citizens, life is a bustle in a state with a rapidly developing economy that has brought innovation in many areas – agriculture, high technology and water conservation, to mention a few – and exports foodstuffs, flowers and ideas to many countries. A culture center of great fervor, recent years have seen Israeli victories in the Eurovision contest and other areas of cultural life. With a population exceeding 7 million, housing projects have done away with all temporary/refugee quarters for Jews who return by right under the Law of Return.

There are some anomalies that the Progressive Movement has sought to remove: through the work of IRAC – the Israel Religious Action Centre – strides have been made enabling the growth of T’nuat Hayahdut HaMitkademet – The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism – despite the refusal of Misrad Hadat – Ministry of Religion to recognize non-Orthodox Jewry, which is a holdover from the British Mandatory period and its establishment of a Chief Rabbinate. With synagogues, kindergartens and higher educational opportunities, growing numbers of Israelis are joining forces in expanding and consecrating Jewish religious pluralism in Israel.

There is much to celebrate at Israel’s 60th anniversary, which will be observed around the world – including South Africa – on 7 May 2008, the Hebrew date slightly altered so that celebrations do not conflict with the sanctity of the Sabbath. The holiday is preceded by an evening of rememberance, Yom Hazikaron l’chayalei Tsahal – Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers of the IDF – that will be marked at evening on 6 May 2008.

Whether we agree with the policies of the current Israeli government or find loyalty in disagreeing, most Jews today ally themselves with the State of Israel and its mission of offering a place of safety and a welcome to all Jews.

Early in the history of Progressive Judaism, some believed that political Zionism lacked necessity as Jews had become citizens of the nations in which they lived. During the 20th Century, this position was shifted by the tragedy of the Holocaust – as German Jews were instantaneously transformed into Zionists when the Nazis came to power. In the 21st Century, it is to be hoped and believed that we can at once be lovers of Zion and citizens of the nation that issues our passport.

Spiritually, the presence of Zion as central metaphor for Jewish life can not be turned aside. Whether we conceive of Messianism as a phenomenon of real time or metaphysical time, it is through prayer and religious observance that we can invoke the presence of the Shechinah – the immanent Divine Presence. Making common cause with Jews who call Israel their primary home, we share in a common destiny and fate as a Jewish nation and people, a body of faith and fate.

08-may-jeru-view2

Yom Hashoah: Never forget

A third of all Jews were murdered in the dozen years that followed Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 … while the world remained largely indifferent.

Calendar of
festival dates

Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.

A Pesach recipe for everyone

The seder discussion for a progressive Jewish family should be not only about the ancient journey from slavery to liberation, but also about the personal journey of our own liberation

A compact paragraph embracing our beliefs

Pesach is a time for us to ask where we came from, where we are going, and what our life journey means

Haggadah: As much an archeology as a book

The Pesach haggadah is a multi-layered text, embracing some traditions thousands of years old — and some very recent, writes Rabbi Greg Alexander

Oranges and water cups at Pesach

Two powerful feminist additions to Pesach custom, worth considering for your next seder: Miriam Cups and oranges

The universal festival

It is the universal message of Pesach which makes it the one festival that appeals to unobservant Jews … and even to non-Jews

Seven weeks of counting the Omer

The eve of the second day of Pesach begins the “Counting of the Omer” which ends on the 50th day with Shavuoth. Rabbi Robert Jacobs explains the reasons