Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rosh Hashana 5776

Day 1 - 2:00 p.m. 20 minute break. Short speech
Day 2 - 2:00 p.m. Ditto

Break was cake and juice. I didn't do too much reading, but did glance at a few chapters of The God of Old (Kugel).

FUN FACT TO KNOW AND TELL: According to "Life is With People," a cultural study of Eastern European Jews, our shtetle-dwelling ancestors also spent the day after Rosh Hashana discussing the length of the service the quality of the chazan, and so on.

The Koren machzor is wonderful. The translation is better, and more readable than Art Scroll's. Also, the commentary's focus feels more down-to-earth. Unlike ArtScroll, Koren doesn't take magic for granted. It discusses history skeptically and honestly and frequently provides wisdom from non-traditional sources. The discussion of charity that accompanied Unetanh Tokef, for instance, included a brief retelling of a Y.L Peretz story. When I read the Art Scroll commentary I feel like I'm in the company of a smart Rabbi who doesn't share my sensibilities. Koren, on the other hand, feels like it was written by a smart person, who happens to be a rabbi, and is also someone I'd like to get to know a little better. I'd ask for a second date with Koren, while I think I'd dismiss a shadchan who set me up with Art.

ABOUT THE SERVICE ITSELF: Prayed for the first time in many years in one of those places that put a heavy emphasis on warmkeit and heimish-ness. After so many years in a structured and well organized synagogue I felt and saw the style differences in many small ways but overall it was still a Rosh Hashana service and still satisfying (aside for the new place's maddening indifference to time, I mean. Why print a schedule if you're just going to ignore it?)

Notwithstanding the general excellence of the service I still have half a post written describing the worst people in the world on Rosh Hashanah. They include the guy who keeps ramming his chair into your table, the morons who keep saying boruch hu uvaruch shmo during musaf (and the jerks who shush them) and the parents of the kids who were allowed to nearly ruin a letter perfect Kedusha with their noisy games.

Perhaps in keeping with the spirit of the season I won't finish writing it.

ANNUAL LAMENT: The Rosh Hashana kiddush-break is an abomination. In previous years, I've prayed at places that finished at 2 p.m and later, but only because the congregation indulged in 30 or 45 minutes of snacking and gossiping. Why is that necessary? How is that in keeping with the spirit of the day? Without the break we'd have been home for lunch shortly after 1!! This practice, like so many other pimples on the face of contemporary Judaism, was adapted from the Hasidim by pick-and-choose Jews who want to take it easy. Authentic Hasidim have a legitimate reason to break on Rosh Hashana after Torah reading. They finish after 3 p.m because they daven more slowly and because the pre-prayer preparation they make results in a later start time. Going until 3 p.m without refreshment is a hardship. If my shul went until 3 I'd also want a fast snack along the way. But those of us who begin at 8 or 8:30, daven at an ordinary pace and would otherwise finish at lunch-time have no need for it. We've adapted it, I bet, because that's what the Hasidim do, and "every one knows how holy they are."

[Note: I don't mean to suggest there's anything wrong with picking-and choosing. We all do it. The problem isn't picking-and-choosing. The problem is the failure to acknowledge it. I have no objection to the hybrid Judaism all of us practice today. What I object to is the idea that this hybrid is in any way "authentic" or superior to other expressions.]

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