Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chatan Torah - Ateret Kehillah

Lincoln Square Synagogue started a "new tradition" this year at Simchat Torah. After decades of having three chatanim chosen from the men of the community, and several more or less feminist rabbis, they finally decided to find a way to honor women of the community on Simchat Torah. Their solution: Ateret HaKehillah / Ateret Torah, two new "honors" bestowed on women of the community at the nighttime Simchat Torah service.

My mother, Wendy Baker, (naturally) was one of the first women so chosen, to be Ateret HaKehillah, as she has been "the chesed lady" since Rabbi Berman's tenure in the mid-1980s. She has run weekly food recycling efforts, three food drives and two clothing drives each year, recycling tons of food and clothing each year, recruiting volunteers from the synagogue and its teens (who need chesed-work credits for school), drivers and shleppers two evenings a week, etc. She was also one of the founding members of the LSS Women's Davening Group, the first ongoing WTG ever, and has served on both its board and the shul board. She spends several hours a week learning at Drisha and at the shul's classes. At her summer C-nagogue, she has taught parsha and pirke avot classes, served on the board, and has done as much as possible to encourage halachic observance and traditional prayer. All in all someone who has really done what she can for herself, her communities and God.

For the occasion, she stood up while the rabbi explained her accomplishments. Cantor Goffin composed a poem, in the spirit of the Reshuyot (flowery summons to the Torah) for the Chatanim, based on verses and Rabbinic statements. He sang it to the traditional tune for the Reshuyot, a "Missinai" tune that we also use for the Holiday evening kiddush. The poem for the event was also presented (framed, on nice paper) to my mother as a plaque. The honorees then co-sponsored a kiddush/lunch for the congregation, as is also traditional for the chatanim.

My mother was thrilled, despite my ill-considered attempts to harsh her squee (as my wife might say). I mean, it's a new thing, and interesting to honor women in parallel with the chatanim, but she was using terms like "historic" and "groundbreaking" to describe it, and I just don't see it that way. Shuls honor women at dinners, in newsletters, etc. all the time. But putting it in as part of the service, with a (homemade) liturgy, I think before the Atah Horeisas, makes it more than just yet another announcement, or something done outside the context of the sanctuary.

I posted my mother's part with her permission, but didn't post the other woman's part. If there's interest, I'll scan and post that as well.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Authentic Pnimiyus Hatorah - not

This started as a response to the ongoing thread on parshablog reacting to my earlier post. It got a bit long for a comment box, so I'm moving it here.

In terms of pnimiyus (inwardness, secret meaning of) haTorah - we don't have any of it authentically, it has been reconstituted several times through history, and who are you to decide it's avoda zara?

As another poster noted, we don't have the Biblical nister, it wasn't written down. What other nistarot (hidden wisdoms) have we had?
  • The postbiblical period had something like occultism - see the books of Enoch or Jubilees or whatever. That morphed into:
  • Heichalot mysticism, loosely based on Ezek. 1. Heichalot mysticism ceased to work around the time of the Churban, and was finally given up in the early middle ages. Rambam in Guide III says that the old nister is lost, so he'll create a new:
  • philosophical nister, based on what he learned from his teachers. Meanwhile, in France and northern Spain,
  • Kabbalah was developing, in the sense of 10x4 or 5 mysticisms. (sefirot, olamot, partzufim).
  • Then it was resystematized/remapped in the 1500s by the Ari and his circle.
  • Then it was redigested/remapped by the Chasidim in the late 1700s.

We are so far removed from anything "authentic" that we have nothing.

So if something a) fits the facts of halacha, with only minor k'neitching, and b) fits the basics of Jewish belief, why shouldn't it work? be allowed?

It seems that people want there to be a pnimiyus haTorah, even if the hoi polloi don't grasp all the details. They have their folk religion to fill in the gaps between practice and law, between life and ideals. Angels and demons fill in the gaps between the ineffable God and the mundane world.

Superstition may be distasteful to those of us raised on Mod-O philosophism, but it was real to many of our grandparents and great-grandparents, not to mention the Chasidim (see Lis Harris' book) and my non-religious sister (raised in large part by a semi-traditionalist superstitious grandmother).

People need something to put meat on the bones of halacha. I think midrash tried to do that, and worked for a long time, but by the middle ages it faded, or morphed (via late midrashim like TDBE) into kabbalism.

I've got a lot of inchoate thoughts on spirituality and religion, and need some work to put them into order.