Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Doing It on Time: Parashat Emor

The Jewish and American communities are abuzz with all of the ethical and practical implications of Osama bin Laden's death. As is the case whenever something occurs in middle eastern politics, debates regarding Israel's future are amplified. However, I want to address an issue that was extremely controversial in the time of the Mishnah (100 C.E), but has become less controversial today: the calendar.

To a certain extent, it is one of the few things that we can more or less agree upon. Some of us may celebrate hag sheni, the second day of festivals in the diaspora, and others of us may not. However, on the whole, we agree when Shavuot, Passover, Hanukkah, Purim, Yom Kippur, etc. begin. When we celebrate these holidays, (in Hebrew moadim מועדים), we come together to be part of a larger Jewish community that transcends geography, denomination, and all of the others things that traditionally divide us.

The term moadim literally means "appointed times." We are given instruction about moadim in this week's portion, Emor (Leviticus 23:4):

23:4. These are the Lord's appointed [holy days], holy occasions, which you shall designate in their appointed time: ד. אֵלֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם בְּמוֹעֲדָם:

Often we think it is more convenient to celebrate holidays when they fit best into our schedule. We want to move holidays to the weekend or to a day when there is not a conflict with a secular commitment. However, part of being a Jew is foregrounding a sacred calendar in order to come together with the entire congregation of Israel in celebration and discussion. We disagree about so much, but at least we can agree about when to meet to enact our sacred story together. It is this communal structure and standard which affords our religious community authenticity and integrity.

This week let us think about maintaining our communal life and standards, remembering that we are part of a much larger Jewish people. Our calendar connects us not only to Jews around the world, but to the practices of our ancestors, without whom we would know nothing of our tradition. Most importantly, it brings us together, every Shabbat and every festival to see each other face to face, regardless of how easy or hard it may be in the face of our differences.

Shabbat Shalom.