Oct 4, 2012

Reflections from #Masorti UK on Hol Hamoed #Sukkot

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Chag Sameach from everyone at Masorti Judaism!

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Hol Hamo'ed Sukkot

By Chazan Jaclyn Chernett

In our Haftarah, the prophet Ezekiel warns of the events leading to the day of Armageddon – the final war bringing about the end of the world as he knew it. It is preceded by the terrible mythical Gog, the destroyer from the North, from a land called Magog, spreading the worst kind of hellish devastation which would lead to a purification of the land and, to some, the messianic age which, in Ezekiel's vision, was a new Temple in Jerusalem bringing with it a new order.

Gog and Magog are central to apocalyptic literature, bizarre and mystical writings of the end of time, which emanated from the destruction of the first Temple and the exile. It is reflected in the writings of some of the prophets and later in some of the apocryphal and other literature that did not form part of the Hebrew Bible but were taken into Christian teachings onwards into the middle ages.

In a cursory glance at Gog and Magog on the internet, I came across some Islamic articles. According to the Qur'an, Gog and Magog are both people, Juj wa Majuj. One writer identifies them as Jews, Christians, Hindus and pagans and the ongoing battle with them signifies the victory of Islam. Another writer identifies Gog and Magog as the Khazars who, he says, are Ashkenazi Jews, the Zionist enemy. He exonerates Sephardim. And there are more and I won't describe them here. Needless to say, it does not make happy reading.

The promotion of fundamentalist notions that lead to hatred are dangerous and destructive. How much more so with the internet and social media providing instant spread to millions of people!
The writings of Ezekiel are indeed weird and mythic. In his frenzy, trying to know the mysterious ways of God, he saw bizarre visions. Many Jewish commentaries exist with regard to these eschatological ideas and indeed about Ezekiel himself. Most important, the message of the Hebrew prophets was ultimately that of hope and world peace.

The point of this is that Judaism's eternal genius is its insistence on interpretation and re-interpretation for every age.

So here we Jews are on Hol Hamo'ed Sukkot, celebrating the beautiful harvest of ripe produce, God's bounty. We have come through the Days of Awe, soul searching and hopefully cleansed. We are reminded about the frailty of life as we sit in our ramshackle huts, looking at the sky. If there is ever a message for us at this time it must be to share the prophetic dream of world peace.
Abraham Joshua Heschel (God in Search of Man) quotes the Shir Hakavod (An'im Z'mirot): "My soul desired in Your shelter to know all Your mystery" but then Psalm 131: "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in things too great or in things too marvellous for me". It isn't for us to know the mysterious ways of God.

Chazan Jaclyn Chernett is a member of Kol Nefesh Masorti and a Vice President of Masorti Judaism


Masorti FAQs

By Rabbi Chaim Weiner - Part 3

What are the Parameters of Change?

When we presented the Masorti view of halacha, we saw that the idea of "change" is central to the thinking of the Masorti movement. Many of those who are opposed to Masorti challenge us over our willingness to adopt changes. They claim that any change, no matter how small, undermines the framework of halacha. They view an openness to change as a kind of slippery slope, where changes start small but become ever greater and more radical as time passes. How does Masorti answer this challenge? This challenge must be considered carefully. One of the main attractions of tradition is the sense it gives that we are part of something greater than ourselves. It is tremendously satisfying to know that we are observing a tradition in much the same way that our parents, grandparents and ancestors have. There is a comfort that comes from the familiarity of tunes and practices, of words and rituals that a great religion such as ours can give. Any tradition which is too open to change risks losing one of the most important things that it has to offer.

However, ignoring change is also a dangerous route to follow. A society that does not adapt to the changes around it becomes irrelevant, and is doomed to disappear. The Masorti position is that there is a need to balance these two demands. Change is not a goal in and of itself. Changes are only adopted when necessary. But when it is necessary, the halacha must adapt itself. The halacha does have the ability to adopt change and has changed in the past. It is the ability to address itself to change that has kept the Jewish tradition alive through the centuries.

How can these two needs, the need to maintain a tradition and the need to adapt to change, be balanced? 

There is no clear answer to this dilemma. Different thinkers within the movement have answered the challenge in different ways. It is my opinion that the answer lies in the way we determine both when a change is necessary and what the limits of that change can be.

Changing Jewish practice is not a whim, and does not happen at the spur of the moment. Change can be introduced only as the result of a serious, deep rooted and compelling change in society. Only when society has changed significantly from what it was in the past is there a reason for Jewish practice to take the change into consideration. The classic example of this is the change in the status and role of women in our society. The role of women has changed so much as to call into question many of the assumptions regarding women that underpin the thinking regarding their roles that defined the halacha. This is a case where change is an imperative.

Even where change is mandated it does not mean that every change is allowed or even desirable. Here there must also be guidelines. We are guided in the direction we choose in our change by the sources of Jewish law. Once we have decided that our practice will be different from what it has been until now, we must go back to the sources, find legal precedents, understand the principles that have been established and be guided by them. This is the way that we guarantee that we remain faithful to our covenant even when we have adapted our practice to changing circumstances.

Finally, in deciding how to reflect the changing society around us, we must be biased in the direction of tradition. If there is no reason to introduce change, one must leave things as they are. Rapid change undermines tradition. Time must be the test. Only those issues that have been on the communal agenda for a long time, reflecting basic changes in society, are worthy of being considered. Halacha does not adapt to every passing fad.

In short, Masorti tries to be open to change when it is necessary, but equally opposed to change when it is not. When we change, we move within the precedents of our tradition. It is our belief that this approach, rather than being a slippery slope, is a ladder to an ever greater commitment to Jewish tradition and observance by ever greater numbers of Jews.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner is Av Bet Din of the European Masorti Bet Din and Director of Masorti Europe

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