Friday, February 18, 2011

Warning. Warning. Judaism is about to become more complicated

Remember when Judaism was simple? Of course you don't. But it's true. Once Judaism was easier. You could celebrate the major holidays with nothing but a trip to Jerusalem and a tailgate on the Temple grounds. Davning, at first, didn't exist, and then for eons was mercifully shorter than it is now. (Psukei dzimra arrived during the mideival period, and Kabbalas Shabbos is not much older than the United States of America.) Rabbis spoke only twice per year. Chanuka was a simple candle holiday with no parties or presents and you weren't required to invite the whole neighborhood to watch your son's first haircut. You could eat g'broks with no questions asked.

Well, bad news. The same forces that conspired to make original rituals more complicated, and old practices more expensive, have set their sights on Purim Katan, the minor holiday that falls on the 14th day of Adar I.  For ages, the only rule for the day was no fasting or signs of mourning. Simple right? Well, my money says that within the next twenty years all that will change. Why do I say this? Because this year Twitter is telling me about Rabbis who've this year ordered their flocks to send shloach manos, and people who made seudot. This time around these extra practices aren't "required", but that's how all the insidious new customs start. I assure you no-one thought an upshurin was "required" at first either; now if announce that you plan to skip it, your frumkeit gets questioned.

Here's how this happens:

Year 1:
Insane and insecure people start doing something for insane or insecure reasons.

Year 20:
The children of the original insane and insecure people pass the thing to their own children because its what "our ancestors did." Rabbis start to yell and protest.

Year 25 and on:
The effect snowballs as insecure people see other people doing something that looks frum, and want in.  Also, the new thing catches on with well-meaning people who "want to be on the safe side", or say "it can't hurt." Rabbis become reluctant to yell and protest but some brave ones continue to complain.

Year 50
A genius Rabbi invents a religious justification for the insane and insecure thing. [With upshurin the retro-reason relates to how we can't take fruit from trees for the first three years, and a verse somewhere that says men are like trees. Not making this up.]

Year 75
Even though the new thing caught on from the bottom up, Jews who know the new thing is a new thing start pretending that it was actually imposed for "reasons" by the Rabbis. Other Jews start to deny that the new thing is a new thing, and instead discover elaborate proofs that the new thing was observed thousands of years ago. [According to the Hasidim Moshe had an upshurin. Not making this up either]

Year 100
The new thing has become mainstream! All the angry opposition voiced by halachic authorites against the new thing has died out.

Year 150
Someone on Twitter (you know who!) says those halachic authorities who opposed the new thing "are not from our mesorah" and insists that the new thing was created for a reason by rabbis who carefully followed the precise halachic guidelines known to us today.

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