View current news articles, commentary, videos and more having an impact on Jewish culture, politics and religion at Rabbi Silverman's Sites to See
Bein HaMeitzarim: The Three Weeks between the Straits
Between our dates of July 17th to August 7th this summer, we interrupt the "easy living" of the months of warmer weather with the observance of "between the straits," the period of time in the Jewish calendar between which the gates of Jerusalem were breached and the time that Temple itself was razed the ground, in 586BCE, by the Babylonians.
Two events happen Biblically in the Torah, even before the destruction of the Temple. Moses comes down to give the two Tablets of Law to the Israelites and, seeing them dancing around a Golden Calf, smashes the tablets. God, at that time, had wanted to destroy the people, but Moshe advocates and then spends forty more days petitioning God to come among His people. The date, Tamuz 17, is exactly forty days after Moses and the people stood at Sinai and told Moses to go up the mountain. In the next year, Moses sends out the spies to reconnoiter the land. Ten of them come back pessimistic in their assessment and convince the people they cannot conquer the land. God again is furious, but Moses counsels against Him destroying the people who are, after all, the descendants of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs to whom God promised the land. So God requires that this presently pessimistic generation die in the desert over the course of forty years, and that the next generation may enter. One midrashist mentions that the very date the spies come back from their mission and on which the people suffer a failure of nerve is the 9th of Av. “You are crying for nothing!” God tells them at the time. “I’ll give you something to cry about!” So this was determined to be the day on which the Temples would fall. The salient features of these three weeks, then, is shattering, crying, and God's alienation from Israel.
These two dates, 17 Tammus and 9 Av, mark the three-week period in which Nebuchadnezzer and his army seiged and penetrated the ramparts of Jerusalem and eventually razed the First Temple. The Prophet Daniel apparently is the one who establishes this three week commemoration (Tur Orach Hayyim 551 Daniel 10:2). The book of Ecclesiates mentions, in a passage, the “almond blossoms…” (Chap.12:5). Jeremiah, in the first chapter we read on Shabbat of the three weeks, mentions “I see in my vision an almond staff.” The time it takes to see a new bud transform to a blossomed almond flower is twenty one days. This is the time that it took for the bud of siege to bloom into total destruction of Jerusalem. This rabbinic imagery is all the more jarring because it borrows the use of an almond blossoming staff. Such a staff is exactly what God uses to show favor and love to the tribe of Aaron and establishes the tribe as the line of Kohanim that would serve the altar in the book of Numbers (Nu 17:23). The very image of blossoming relationship between God and heaven is used for the measuring of a "blossoming" catastrophe.
Because the eternal flame of the altar and the wine libation ceased from that moment of siege, so we refrain in the three weeks from drinking wine and eating meat (excepting on Shabbat). Some don’t buy new clothing or tools so as not to need to say a shehehiyanu at this semi-period of mourning. Weddings and music are prohibited. The length of time for these restrictions is somewhat fluid. The Ashkenazim are most restrictive. Rabbi Yaacov Asher tells us that the Sfardim observe these customs for the Month of Av and Ashkenazim at 17 Tammuz on. Rashba (1300s Spain) notes in a Teshuva that though it’s customary to stop eating meat from the time of Av on, the Talmud doesn’t forbid it. Rambam’s (12th century CE) formulation in his Mishnah Torah forbids it on the week of Tisha Bav excepting Shabbat. The Selonker Community from Greece had no restriction in regard to wine, only meat. Haircuts, shaving restrictions and bathing restrictions, likewise, start for some on 17 Tammuz and for others as late as the week in which Tisha B'Av falls. Laundering is restricted on the week of Tisha B'Av. Even wearing a full suit on the Shabbat prior to Tisha B'Av (Shabbat Hazon) is discouraged. Bathing also has its increasing restrictions at this time. It is especially prohibited to take leisurely showers and to enjoy swimming at the beach. However, in contemporary times, bathing briefly for hygiene is generally permitted.
This period of time is also seen as "a time of misfortune" in some of the codes. Selling homes and buying them are put off to later dates, and travel for some, especially on Tisha B'Av, is ill advised. Some speak of not walking outdoors between the hours of 10am-3pm due to the "evil force" (ketev Meriri) that may affect young students. Although some communities allow weddings after Tammuz 17 but before the month of Av, especially in cases of widowers who have yet to have children, it is wise not to undertake such a chuppah, since it is “chamira secanta” –a time of serious danger.
Rabbi Yanki Tauber reminds us that the narrow strait, however, is not a roadblock. On the contrary, it is a mechanism for increased productivity. Hydraulic power plants, rockets and garden hoses employ strong pressure in a narrow space to squeeze a greater degree of power and velocity from the element they constrain. The shofar, sounded to waken man to repentance, is also such a device, with its narrow mouth-end pinching the stream of air expelled from the blower’s lungs into the piercing note that emerges from its wide, upward-sweeping sound, that draws, attracts and inspires.
The same is true of the strictures of Tammuz 17 and Av 9 and the two thousand years of physical exile and spiritual darkness they mourn. Twenty centuries of suppression have wrenched the Jewish soul through the funnel of exile, revealing its deepest convictions and provoking its highest potentials. From these terrible straits we have never ceased to seek God, and it is this seeking that will yield the "Divine expanse" of ultimate redemption and the perfect world of the messianic age. The jury is out on how long that will take and who primarily ushers it in (humanity or God). But even if that tarries for many years, let’s remember that narrow straits etch character and narrow straits allow us to rise above; narrow straits help us to understand that faith is both a refuge and reservoir or hope. Please join us as we, along with all the Jewish people, mourn the loss of the grandeur of the Holy Temple and the exiles of our people. Even as we are mindful and grateful of our reconstituted statehood, we are conscious of how far we are from a redemptive time.
Our reading Eicha will occur this year on night of August 6th at 8:30 pm, just after Shabbat. We will read the Torah and chant the traditional songs of lament the following morning at 9 am, in an in-person service. PLEASE LEND YOUR ATTENDANCE to these special days of observance. Read More
It's your moment to step up
וַיְצַ֣ו מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיַּעֲבִ֨ירוּ ק֥וֹל בַּֽמַּחֲנֶה֮ לֵאמֹר֒ אִ֣ישׁ וְאִשָּׁ֗ה אַל־יַעֲשׂוּ־ע֛וֹד מְלָאכָ֖ה לִתְרוּמַ֣ת הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ וַיִּכָּלֵ֥א הָעָ֖ם מֵהָבִֽיא
Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” So the people stopped bringing
At the end of the book of Exodus we encounter the one, and probably only time, where a Jewish leader had to ask the Jews to stop donating! Talk about your abundance mindset! Imagine having enough so much gold, and silver and animal skins that you had to start turning people away. I, for one, can tell you, that here at the East Northport Jewish Center, we are still accepting as many dolphin skins as you are willing to donate (and can procure without upsetting the people at PETA too much.)
Oy! To live in such a time where everyone wanted to participate, and give, and the only real issues you had was in which tent you piled all the crimson thread, and in which tent you piled all the royal purple threads. Alas, we do face challenges, and it is easy to look back to this story from our past and be wistful. Heck, we don’t have to go back quite so far. We can look back to the boom in the founding and growing of synagogues post World War II, or even the huge numbers of involved congregants we, along with most other congregations had in the 1980’s and yearn for “The Good Old Days.” But, if you’re hoping I have the answer to bringing back the days of hundreds of congregants attending Shabbat services every Shabbat and jam packed tribute booklets for a “Man of the Year” dinner, alas, I don’t have those solutions. But maybe those aren’t necessarily the challenges we should be struggling to achieve. Similarly, I’m really not sure what we would do with even ONE dolphin skin, let alone hundreds. But what are the challenges we can and should address as we hopefully approach the light at the end of this pandemic? What are the main places we should focus our strength and energies? I’ll give you a hint. Let’s start with what we’re good at. When I was struck by an automobile on the way to shul, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and affection and support from our congregants—both those whom I have weekly or daily interactions with, as well as even those who some might consider “three times a year” Jews, yet nevertheless felt the very Jewish need to fulfill the obligation of Biqor Holim, via e-mails, phone calls, or the delivery of delicious delicacies hand-cooked, or provided by our community’s one and only Kosher eatery: Pastrami ‘N Friends. (Talk to our President Robin Kain if you want to purchase gift certificates!) When I was unable to lead services, the Rabbi was not left to fend for himself, but our congregants stepped up to help lead, either via our Zoom offered minyanim, or our in-person hybrid Shabbat services. We are a community of doers and givers. We are truly the heimish community, who might actually have needed a Moses to tell them when enough has been given. (I should add, that, our freezer is now full, and there’s only so much corned beef I can consume at one time, but thank you for the continual offers!)
Sure, if you read the Pew report, it sure seems like doom and gloom, and I’m not going to bother to repeat the statistics that portray a very real and very scary outlook for our future, not only at ENJC, but as Jews, nay as ANY organized religion faces in the years to come. But instead of focusing on the negatives, let us double-down on our positives. What gifts can YOU bring to the East Northport Jewish Center? What skills do you possess that might be helpful to our community? What hidden talents might brighten someone’s day? Do you know how to read Torah or Haftara? Can you deliver a sermon or D’var Torah? Can you lead any part of our services? Let’s take a step forward here. Are you willing/able to learn new skills to help our community? Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to make Gefilte Fish, and he can start a global empire under the Mrs. Adler’s label! If you can read Hebrew, I can teach you how to lead a prayer service. Whether the relatively short 15-minute evening minyan we host each weeknight, or either parts of the Friday and/or Saturday morning services. It’s never too late to learn how to chant from the Torah or Haftara. Not so skilled in Hebrew? Thanks to such resources as the website Sefaria, it is easier than ever to write a D’var Torah, and I would be happy to show you how to research a week’s Torah Portion and bring insights from your own life into a message to deliver to the congregation.
As we hopefully have more and more in-person events back in our community, it’s time to think about other activities we can be doing at the ENJC. Before the pandemic, we had wonderful sessions on learning to play mah jjong led by our dearly departed congregant Jodi Saperstein, as well lessons in canasta. I hope to be teaching a group on how to play bridge, with the help of Renee Rubin soon. Howie Lewin gave a great talk on researching family lineages, that contained only a merciful few of his terrible puns. We had a growing pickleball contingent coming on Sunday afternoons before we had to close down for insurance reasons. What other skills or knowledges can you teach or offer to our ENJC family? Of course, we can’t always expect that we’ll be able to implement every idea, and just because you are an expert at swallowing knitting needles, doesn’t mean that Sue Kazazz will necessarily be able to fit into our schedule, but it never hurts to let us know. What we do here at ENJC is give back, and help each other, so let us focus our gifts to improve the lives of our members.
וְעָשָׂה֩ בְצַלְאֵ֨ל וְאׇהֳלִיאָ֜ב וְכֹ֣ל אִ֣ישׁ חֲכַם־לֵ֗ב אֲשֶׁר֩ נָתַ֨ן ה׳
חׇכְמָ֤ה וּתְבוּנָה֙ בָּהֵ֔מָּה לָדַ֣עַת לַעֲשֹׂ֔ת אֶֽת־כׇּל־מְלֶ֖אכֶת עֲבֹדַ֣ת הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ לְכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֖ה הֹ׃
Let, then, Bezalel and Oholiab and all the skilled persons whom God has endowed with skill and ability to perform expertly all the tasks connected with the service of the sanctuary carry out all that God has commanded.
Neither Bezalel, nor Oholiab were known to be especially pious Jews. They weren’t priests. They weren’t Rabbis, or especially learned in Jewish rituals. It’s doubtful they could have sung even Adon Olam in a tuneful way (possibly because it would be thousands of years before Adon Olam would be written). But they were skillful. Bezalel is noted as being highly artistic and skilled. But even that isn’t a barrier to participation. Bezalel’s assistant, Oholiab, is not mentioned as having any particularly extraordinary skills at all. He was a doer more than a leader, he knew when and where his help was needed and he volunteered. Now is the time for all of us to volunteer to bring ENJC out of this pandemic and into the future. The Rabbi and I don’t need you to be Moses or Aaron. If you’re a Bezalel, and bring special skills, great. But even if all you have is a willing and giving heart and want to help, or even just become more involved as a participant at ENJC, now is your moment. Read More
There are no words that convey our outrage, grief and our exasperation at the loss of 21 in Uvalde,TX, 19 of which were children 10 yrs old and less, with their lives, dreams, plans, joy and comfort robbed from them and their families forever. My prayer is that every resource goes to these bereft sons and daughters, parents, siblings grandparents and loved ones, so as to help them emerge from this tragedy and somehow honor and memorialize their children by moving forward and continuing in spite of unbearable grief. God, our precious parent, give the surviving families the gift of resilience.
But our prayers and petitions must also be for our politicians, local, state and federal, our courts and our law enforcement agencies, to find the courage and maturity to formulate sensible gun laws such as universal background checks, waiting periods, red flag legislation, and laws that put stricter age limits on the purchase and use of semi automatic weaponry. Our country is the only country in the world with this problem. We are not any more or less mentally ill than other countries. We are here because of the lax regulation and access to these weapons. In my opinion this too should be the prayers we offer as well: prayers for the resolve to legislate laws to protect our treasured children. Below find the statement of the Rabbinical Assembly.
–Rabbi Ian Silverman
Rabbinical Assembly Heartbroken by Shooting in Uvalde, Texas
Following the killing of 19 schoolchildren and two adults in Uvalde, TX, and the wounding of others, the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, issued the following statement:
This event is simply heart-breaking. Children must be more precious to America than its guns.
While our hearts and sincere prayers go out to the people of Uvalde, especially the families of the victims, thoughts and prayers have never been enough; it is past time for action. It is the lack of action that has brought us Sandy Hook and Parkland and too many other mass shootings to list. And now Uvalde.
It is high time that United States politicians, currently obsessed with reelection campaigns, put aside partisanship in order literally to save lives. They must firmly and immediately enact meaningful gun reform legislation. The same with mental health reform.
As we have said all too often – and too recently – we offer our deepest condolences and support to all those impacted by this despicable attack and reiterate our vehement condemnation of gun violence.
The Rabbinical Assembly has spoken out many times against gun violence in the United States. We unequivocally call upon lawmakers to immediately take all available measures to ensure the safety of the public and to limit the availability of guns. As our tradition reminds us, 'Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor' (Leviticus 19:16).