Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 31 May 2009

For the Orthodox Only

A few years ago, Rav Yonasan Rosenblum wrote a piece on how Shavuos, in contradistinction to Peach and Sukkos, is essentially an Orthodox-only holiday:
Matan Torah is the most important event in human history. Had our ancestors not accepted the Torah, all of Creation would have returned to its original formlessness. Yet most Jews Shavuos have barely heard of Shavuos, the celebration of Matan Torah. In Eretz Yisrael, the contrast between Shavuos and the other yomim tovim could not be more stark. Most Jews celebrate Pesach and Sukkot in one form or another. Almost all families sit down to a Seder. And even in non-religious neighborhoods, many families build sukkahs. On Yom Kippur, the streets fall largely silent, and a large majority of the population fast. In short, the rhythms of the Jewish calendar are felt.
While the situation is not quite as dire in North America - many non-Orthodox communities in larger centres have all-night learn-a-thons, for example - the contrast is there. For all Orthodox Jews, Shavuos is on par with Pesach and Sukkos. Perhaps it's even more appreciate as it involves the least tirchah to prepare for. For the non-Orthodox, it's only selectively known and enthusiatically observed.
There is, however, another day in the Jewish calender that is observed universally by the Orthodox and ignored by most of the non-religious: Tisha B'Av. The reasons for this are simple. Most non-religious Jews don't realize the gap in the religious lives that the absence of the Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt) brings. In addition, the timing of the holiday, in the middle of summer vacation, isn't very pragmatic. As a result, while frum shuls are filled for the reading of Eichah, outside of the Ramah camp system and larger synagogues in larger centres, most heterodox communities let Tisha B'Av pass with nary a murmer.
What is the connection between the two? The Jewish Week, in its latest editorial piece, would like to look at Shavuos as a holiday of Jewish unity:
One powerful message of Shavuot (May 29-30) is that despite our differences in observance and ideology, we share and treasure the same Torah. The concept of one God, the 613 commandments, the notion that each of us is created in the image of our Creator, the weekly observance of Shabbat, along with other key elements, however we may interpret them, are a revealed legacy of the encounter between God and the Jewish people at Sinai.It is important to remember this bond at a time when we are concerned about our shrinking numbers and when divisions among us make headlines. Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor and former president of Yeshiva University, caused a stir in recent days when he asserted in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the liberal branches of Judaism are disappearing. “With a heavy heart we will soon say Kaddish on the Conservative and Reform movements,” he said. “The Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism,” he added. “They are closing schools and in general shrinking.”As for the Reform, they “may show a rise because if you add goyim to Jews, then you will do OK,” a reference to the movement’s decision to include as Jews children of patrilineal descent.Such words are not only hurtful, but at odds with the notion of Klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish people, that Rabbi Lamm has championed throughout his proud career. What’s more, they fly in the face of statistics showing that nearly 80 percent of American Jewry is made up of Conservative and Reform Jews.It is true that Orthodoxy, once consigned by experts to extinction, has grown in recent years, strengthened by ideological conviction and large families. But Rabbi Lamm has been among those who consistently warned against triumphalism among the Orthodox. Part of the problem with the divisions among us is that both traditionalists and liberals seem to be convinced, at times, that the other cannot endure, so why bother to reconcile?The festival of Shavuot, underscoring the one Torah we all hold dear, and its theme of Ruth, the true convert from whom, we believe, will come the Messiah, reminds us that each Jew is precious. We can disagree among ourselves, with respect, but our motive should be compassion, not defeat.
While these are special words, they are also full of fluff. The real message of Shavuos is not about Jewish "unity" but that 50 days after yeztias Mitzrayim God Allmighty revealed Himself to us at Har Sinai and gave us His Torah, re-branding us as an am segulah.
In the many millenia since then, Matan Torah has had a repeatedly rough time of it. While the cloud of God still covered Har Sinai above them, the eirav rav coerced Aharon HaCohen into making the molten calf. Is it any wonder that today Sinai Denial is still in full swing? Indeed, within Reform and Conservatism, it is quite standard to accept the Documentary Hypothesis and deny the revelation at Sinai. You're considered either a fanatic or hopelessly naive if you insist that God spoke to Moshe Rabeinu, a"h.
As the editorial notes, each Jew is indeed precious and that despite our disagreements we must remember that we are one giant family whose love for one another must be paramount. But what unites us as Jews cannot be some airy fairy concept of tikun olam in the form of ecofascism or a common denial of the basic tenets of Chrisianity and Islam, but rather an acceptance that we are a people founded on, immersed in and sustained by Torah. Otherwise, if one denies the significance or even the occurence of the event that it is based on, what is the point of observing Shavuos?


Manya Shochet said...

Hah! Open-minded and scholarly my eye! The Documentary Hypothesis is taught as dogma, like, kiveyachol, Torah miSinai, by both the Conservative and Reform movements.

I recall being assured that, although a cursory reading of the text did not make the theory evident, that if I learned enough, and looked enough, I might be able to see its validity myself. Sort of a "lo na'aseh, ve-lo nishmah" kind of thing.

I was also informed by someone who taught at one of JTS's flagship institutions, was that the problem with the idea of hasgacha pratit was that once you started thinking that way, you start seeing it everywhere. Verrrry dangerous.

Shalmo said...

"or a common denial of the basic tenets of Chrisianity and Islam"

Christianity I understand but what tenet in Islam is there you deny

Don't most Jews believe Mohammed is the fulfillment of the covenant with Yishmael

David said...

I would agree that Rosenblum's fluff was (as you put it) "full of fluff." Having said that, I'm not sure that I agree with your reasoning, either. I don't think the lower popularity of Shavuos has anything to do with the fact that most Jews believe that the event on which it is based is completely fictional.

The fact is, those same Jews probably also have their doubts about yetzias mitzraim, and the whole mishegas about 40 years in the desert-- still, as noted, they celebrate Pesach and Sukkot.

Here's the deal: Shavuot doesn't have much of a gimmick. Pesach has the seders, the four questions, etc.; Sukkot has that funny hut. What does Shavuot have? Stay up all night and then have a piece of cheese-cake? Sorry, much as I like cheesecake, that's just not very catchy. The problem with Shavuot is marketing-- plain and simple.

E-Man said...

I am gonna have to agree with David on this one. I think people who would not really believe in Sinai would also not believe in any of the reasons for the holidays. However, Pesach and Sukkot have more of an identity to them, whereas Shavuous does not.

David said...

The follow-up question here, is how to attract more people to the celebration of Shavuot. I do think that cheesecake should be worked into this, but we need to have something catchy, like a cheesecake song that we all sing, or a particular requirement that four different types of cheesecake be consumed while sitting on the roof.

E-Man said...

Cheesecake eating contest would probably be the way to go, no?

Garnel Ironheart said...

We did that at our shul. The winner proudly wore a giant piece-of-cheese hat all the way through Kiddush.

{Sigh. Deep sigh}

Garnel Ironheart said...

Oh sorry, I missed Shalmo's bit.

The tenet I deny of Islam is that ol' Moe was a prophet who spoke to God. Pretty significant, eh?

E-Man said...

Actually Garnel, I believe Islam believes that Moshe spoke to G-D. However, what we Jews disagree on is that supposedly Mohammed was a new prophet, kinda like Jesus. That we disagree on. Oh and Islam agrees that Jesus was a prophet, that we also disagree on.

Garnel Ironheart said...

That's right, E-man. From what I understand, Islamic thought goes like this: God wanted to introduce Islam into the world so he picked a series of prophets, each of whom tried to spread it but the people, in particular us, got it wrong, hence we minsunderstood Moshe and created Judaism. The Chrisians misunderstood JC and created their religion. And then Mohammed came along and got it right.

By the way, as ridiculous as that sounds, a lot of it functions as the basis for Muslim claims to Israel. Mohammed ascended to Heaven, so says the Koran, from "the farthest place" and Muslims have identified that place with Yerushalayim. Also, since all major pro-Mohammed prophets who spoke to God were, in fact, prophets of Islam, David and Shlomo were Muslim, hence Yerushalayim is a Muslim city.

Garnel Ironheart said...

BTW, E-man, check the setting on your site. I keep trying to leave comments but when I do my IE crashes!

E-Man said...

I checked them, nothing is wrong, what do you think I should change?

E-Man said...

I changed it so that comments should pop up, maybe that will help. Let me know if it keeps happening, I will contact blogger.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Boffe, dude. It worked!

Shalmo said...

Garnel what you just wrote above about Islam is quite wrong.

Its not that everyone got it wrong lol, it more that each prophet organizes and teaches people for a specific period, paving a way through spiritually and ethically evolving the people. Though having a formal religion for everyone till the end of days, that's islam.

In Islamic thought religions like Judaism, Christianity and Zorastrianism have a divine purpose in that they saturate this planet with ideas familiar to islamic thought, which eventually makes the global transition into islam more tenable.

You'd be surprised how much Judaism has changed due to impact from islamic thought, but that is a discussion for another time

the word muslim in the Quran implies "he who sumbits to God" which I assume you also believe the prophets did, so in that sense they indeed were muslims

Besides there is no name in the Torah for the people who practice its religion, heck there isn't even a name for the Torah's religion itself. On the other hand in the Quran this religion from God is called Islam, its followers called muslims and its prophets called muslims. And since your Torah does not say otherwise, what argument do you have anyway

But whatever.

E-Man said...

Shalmo, I don't know if you are Islamic or not, but I think it is not Garnel that got it wrong, but you. lol