Torah Schedule Mysteries Revealed!

Some of you have noticed that there is disagreement at the moment about which is the proper Torah reading for the week right now. The calendar from the Jewish funeral home says one thing, the weekly email from a Reform synagogue says another! Let me try and unravel this for you.

The Torah is divided into 54 parshiot [weekly readings.] The Mamre Institute website has an excellent table listing all the regular weekly Torah readings, along with their haftarah readings and the special holiday Torah readings. (Their website is also my go-to Hebrew Bible online. The translation is a bit archaic in some ways, but you can set it up so that both the Hebrew and English are visible at the same time.)

 

Every year, we read the Torah once through, beginning and ending on Simchat Torah. On leap years, like this year, we adjust the calendar by adding an additional month of Adar – four more weeks! In those years, every Torah portion gets a Shabbat all to itself.

On “regular” years, when there is only one month of Adar, some of the portions are doubled onto a single Shabbat. In those years, you get combined portions, like Veyakhel-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, or Acharei Mot-Kedoshim.

Add to that that sometimes a holiday falls on Shabbat, crowding the Torah portion onto another week. Again, when that happens, we normally double things up with another portion.

All of this is generally transparent to most Jews, because we just look at the calendar and it tells us what to do. “Read Parashat Behar this week!” or “Read the Torah portion for Shabbat during Passover this week!”

Yes, that’s complicated. But that’s not all. Jews have historically followed a practice in which chagim (holidays mandating no work) are observed for one day inside the Land of Israel and for two days outside the Land of Israel, in the Diaspora. The reason for this was communication technology: when holidays were set by moon observations from the Temple Mount, and word of them was communicated by signal fires, Diaspora communities had to estimate the day of the holiday and then adjust when they finally received the word. To safeguard against mistakes, they took to observing all the chagim for TWO days (for instance, the first and last days of Passover are a single day inside Israel, but are doubled in the Diaspora.)  Holidays that aren’t work-is-forbidden days (Chanukah, the middle days of Sukkot, etc.) were never doubled.

Many Reform congregations in the United States follow the Israeli calendar, because Hillel II came up with a calendar in the 4th century that made worries about communication obsolete. Reform Jews observe one day of each chag, just as Israeli Jews do. Rather, I should say some Reform Jews do – some Reform synagogues observe only one day of chagim but follow the Diaspora calendar of Torah readings.

This year (5776) (aka 2015-2016) we have a leap year, so no combined parashiot. However, in the Diaspora calendar, the second day of the end of Passover fell on Shabbat, so that had a Passover reading instead of Acharei Mot, which Israeli and some Reform Jews were reading. The two schedules will not come back together until the Diaspora calendar doubles a Torah portion on August 6, Matot-Masei. Then the discrepancy will end.

I wish I could have made this simpler for you. The real rule, as with so many other things, is to follow the minhag [custom] of your community. If your rabbi is following a particular schedule of Torah readings, that’s the right one for your synagogue.

In my weekly listings, I’m following the Diaspora schedule of readings, even though I’m a Reform rabbi who doesn’t celebrate double chagim. Or, if you prefer, because I decided to do it that way!

SIMPLE SUMMARY: The schedule for reading Torah portions is the subject of disagreement at the moment. Consult your rabbi for what to read this week. Whatever’s going on, it will resolve itself after August 6, 2016. Welcome to Judaism!

 

Yom Ha-WHAT?

Image: The signing of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948. Public Domain.

This week we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

First, here’s how to say it: yohm hah-ahtz-mah-OOT. 

Yes, it’s a mouthful. If you repeat it ten times, you’ll have it.

We celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut on the fifth of Iyar (ee-YAHR), so it’s another Jewish holiday that appears to move around on the Gregorian calendar. It falls sometime in April or May every year.

It marks the day in May 1948 when the Jewish leadership, led by David Ben-Gurion signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence, eight hours before the end of the British Mandate of Palestine. Four hours after the signing, Egypt bombed Tel Aviv and Israel’s War of Independence began. Within hours the armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq invaded.

The text of the Declaration of Independence is available on the website of the State of Israel. Every Jew should read it.

  • In 2016, Yom Ha’atzmaut begins at sundown on May 11.
  • In 2017, Yom Ha’atzmaut begins at sundown on May 2.
  • In 2018, Yom Ha’atzmaut begins at sundown on April 19.

Shalom, Salam: A Listening Tour of Twitter

Image: An Israeli-Palestinian peace poster. By I, Makaristos [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

I follow a lot of people on Twitter. Many of them are people whose beliefs challenge me. By following them on Twitter, I get leads on readings that sometimes will lead to a shift in my thinking. It’s a great way to learn, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Recently I decided that I needed to review my thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so I began following people on both sides, from the far left to the far right. My Twitter feed filled up with voices like @naomi_dann and @j_t_rex on the left, members of Jewish Voice for Peace, and voices like @GushEtzion and @GolanShahar on the right. I followed Palestinian voices like that of @AliAbunimah. I tried to find individuals as well as organizations. I subscribed and I listened, and I read articles the twitterers suggested.

Unfortunately, I had to un-follow a lot of people, too. If someone indulged in name-calling or demonizing people they didn’t like, I unfollowed immediately, because on Twitter, followers are prized. I did not want to encourage bad behavior. I was interested in learning, not in filling my mind with sewage.

What did I learn? I learned that I have very little taste for either the far right or the far left on this subject, because both of them seem to have lost all compassion for one side of the dreadful situation in the region. People on the far left seem to have lost track of the fact that generations of Israelis were born in Israel and it is their home. People on the far right seem to have lost track of the fact that not every Palestinian is a terrorist, and that they have a right to live in peace. I don’t see qualifiers on either side that suggest that ordinary people on both sides are suffering in the present situation.

Torah demands that we see “the Other” with compassion. The Haggadah reminds us of this when we spill ten drops of wine at the seder in memory of the Egyptians who suffered from the plagues. The Jewish philosopher and Talmudist Emanuel Levinas built his entire philosophy around his experiences during the Holocaust, and he writes again and again that there is an ethical imperative to choose compassion in our treatment of the Other.

Just as God is called compassionate and gracious, so you too must be compassionate and gracious. – Sifre Deuteronomy 49

Some attempt to justify hatred of Palestinians by citing the case of Amalek. Amalek was an ancient tribe who attacked the weakest of the Hebrews as they traveled through the wilderness at Riphidim, and God decreed their destruction by Israel. (Num. 24:20; Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19) However, they reappeared in the Books of Judges and of 1 Samuel. The Book of Chronicles says that the last of them were destroyed by the tribe of Simeon during the reign of King Hezekiah. (1 Chr. 4:42, 43)

Still, there are clues in the name of Haman the Aggagite in the Book of Esther that he was a descendant of Amalek, and the legend has persisted that every time there is a great enemy of the Jews, it is a reappearance of Amalek. So in modern Israel even 13 years ago, I saw bumper stickers suggesting that Palestinians are Amalek. Some of the people I followed on Twitter made the same claim, and cited the commandment to “blot out Amalek” (Deut. 25:19) as a justification for violence against Palestinians as a group.

I have absolutely no difficulty with the rule of law, holding individuals responsible for their actions by way of a legal system. However, I reject the idea that every enemy faced by the Jewish people is “Amalek” and therefore anything goes.

Both sides of the dispute over the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River are suffering. In any given incident, there may be more wrong on one side or the other, but it does not justify the demonization of either group. Nor does it justify the teaching of hatred to children, whether they are Palestinian children or the children of Israelis living in the West Bank.

After all my Twitter reading and listening, I came back to my uncomfortable seat as a moderate. I reject the anti-Zionist position as a vicious fantasy based in antisemitism. I reject the far-right position that fantasizes about a “Greater Israel” in which Palestinians would be second-class citizens and that seeks to realize that fantasy via the establishment of more settlements. I reject both positions because they are both based in an utter lack of compassion for the situation of the other side.

May the day come soon when both sides choose to sit at the table at one time to find a genuine solution to a situation which is a nightmare for both.

 

Jerusalem LGBT Pride Murder Impacts the Reclaiming of Zion Square

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Psalm 126:5

The murder of Shira Banki z”l is not forgotten. Instead, we have this news from Israel, as reported in Melanie Nathan’s excellent world LGBTQ news blog “O-blog-dee-o-blog-da.”

While nothing can restore Ms. Banki to her family and nation, perhaps change is possible. The dedication of Zion Square in Jerusalem to such change is a step in the right direction.

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da

Zion Square Zion Square gathering, Jerusalem.

Zion Square, one of the landmarks of Jerusalem in Israel, is set to undergo a redesign project, embracing pluralism and tolerance, evolving through circumstances and the passionate activism of several organizations and individuals.

Diverse organizations, ad hoc groups and activists have worked together to bring this extraordinarily progressive plan to fruition, by meeting each Thursday night for over a year and a half, in Zion Square, where they have engaged in informal dialogue and created visibility.

According to an article in Haaretz, “Gay pride murder inspires grassroots movement to reclaim Jerusalem landmark”:

The Jerusalem municipality has decided that, as a major component of its call for a competition for a planned redesign of the square, Zion Square will be turned into “a place that promotes connections, tolerance and mutual respect.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.12.24 AMThe decision to brand and design the square this way was motivated in large…

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Anti-Zionism / Anti-Semitism

 

Rabbi John Rosove is a distinguished rabbi in Southern California. While I do not have the pleasure of knowing him personally, I am a longtime reader of his blog and I regard him as a senior rabbi from whom I learn, all the time. This week he posted this piece about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. It is so well-written, so clear that I know I cannot possibly explain the issues any better, so I’d like to share it with you.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Ruth Adar

This past week I heard a young UCLA alumna say on a radio talk-show (KPFK FM) that it is not anti-Semitism when she said that the State of Israel has no right to exist. The program was addressing the run-up to the upcoming decision of the UC Board of Regents related to the debate on […]

via An Open Letter to a UCLA Alumna who confused anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism — Rabbi John Rosove’s Blog

Chaim Herzog: Irish-Born Jew

Image: President Chaim Herzog (in grey suit) and his wife Ora wish fellow Israelis a happy Sukkot in the sukkah at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem, Oct 4, 1992. Photo by Sa’ar Ya’acov, some rights reserved under Creative Commons 3.0.

Chaim Herzog was born in Belfast, Ireland on Sept 17, 1918. He lived to become the sixth President of the State of Israel.

We tend not to think of overlap between the categories “Irish” and “Jewish” but in fact Ireland had Jewish presence as far back as the 12th century. When Britian expelled its Jews in 1290 they also had to leave Ireland, but there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the country from the 15th century to the present day.

Herzog was the son of Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog and his wife Sarah Hillman Herzog. Rabbi Herzog served as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

Chaim Herzog made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] in 1935. He enlisted in the Haganah during the Arab Revolt, and in 1938 moved to England to study law. After completing his law studies, he volunteered for service in the British Army in WWII in 1942. He was an officer in the Normandy Invasion and saw the horrors of the Holocaust first hand as he was part of the force that liberated the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen.

In 1947, Herzog was released from the British Army and returned to Israel. He joined the Haganah’s intelligence unit and served as chief of security for the Jewish Agency. During the War of Independence he served as the intelligence and operations officer of the 7th regiment of the newly-formed Israel Defense Force (IDF) and took part in the battles to break through to Jerusalem including the bloody battle at Latrun.

Herzog served in many different roles in the government and military of Israel. Notably he served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN from 1975-78, when he made perhaps his most famous speech, denouncing the UN Resolution 3379, the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution.

In 1981 he was elected to the Knesset and served there from 1981-1983, when he was elected by the Knesset to the Presidency. (For an explanation of Israeli government roles and terms, see Government of Israel: Vocabulary.) He was the first President of the State of Israel to make a state visit to Germany and the first to make a state visit to the United States.

Chaim Herzog retired after two terms as President and died in 1997. He is buried on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem.

 

 

What is AIPAC?

I got this tweet yesterday, and I know it is a concern for a lot of Jews. However, in keeping with my tagline, “Basic Judaism spoken here,” let’s start with a basic question: What is AIPAC?

AIPAC (pronounced “A-pack”) stands for “American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” It is a lobbying organization that promotes pro-Israel policy to the Congress and the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government. It has over 100,000 members in the U.S. According to its website, “The mission of AIPAC is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.” Membership in AIPAC is open to anyone regardless of religion, age, political party, or race.

AIPAC is not allied with any political party in the U.S. or in Israel. In the U.S., its annual policy conference invites speakers from both major political parties. It does not rate or endorse candidates for political office, and it is not a PAC (political action committee.) AIPAC members are encouraged to educate their elected officials about the importance of U.S.-Israel ties, and the national organization provides a network for accomplishing this work.

At this writing, AIPAC has confirmed the following speakers to its 2016 policy conference on March 20-22: Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton, Republican Candidate Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Robert Menendez, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and behavior has made him a controversial invitee. For more about the controversy, I recommend reading the Reform Movement response to the announcement that he will be a speaker.

AIPAC advocates support for the government in Israel elected by the voters of Israel.It is not involved in Israeli elections, nor does it endorse Israeli candidates or parties.

Critics of AIPAC see it as exerting undue influence on the Congress, and some extreme critics paint it as a group that actually “controls” Congress. It is a lobbying group like many others, made up of and supported by U.S. citizens who want to make sure that their viewpoint is represented in Washington. In that respect it is like the American Association of Retired Persons or the National Rifle Association. We may agree or disagree with the goals of a particular lobby, but under current rules, lobbying is what it takes to get the attention of the Congress.

To learn more about AIPAC, take a look at their website.