Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Erasing Shavuot

posted by David Klinghoffer

Mount_Sinai.jpg

I’m in Southern California visiting with family and noted something fascinating in the current yearly calendar published by the Reform Jewish temple where I grew up and had my bar mitzvah. The Jewish festival of Shavuot is this coming Friday and Saturday. Glancing through the calendar, I found that every Jewish and non-Jewish holiday was there: the high holy days (Rosh Ha’shanah, Yom Kippur), Passover, also Sukkot, along with Christmas, New Year’s, Election Day, and so on. But no Shavuot! It was simply not there.
To understand the significance of this, you need to know that there are three great pilgrim festival in Judaism, each recalling a stage in the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. They are Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Passover recalls the exodus itself. Shavuot recalls the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. Sukkot recalls the miraculous life and existence of the Jews in the desert for 40 years thereafter.
Arguably, Shavuot is the most important of the three. Without the giving of the Torah, crystallized in the 10 Commandments, the Egyptian exodus would have been of little importance. It’s only the gift of revelation, the Jews’ receiving of our eternal mission, that made the rest of the experience meaningful for later generations like our own.

The liberal Jewish denominations, Reform and Conservative, have jettisoned those parts of the Torah they find undigestible, incompatible with secular and general culture. It’s not a question of individual Jews personally failing here or there as we all do, but rather of an ideological stance rejecting Torah’s authority.
So here is one Reform temple that has seemingly just erased Shavuot from its calendar, as if it never existed — much as the faces of unpopular bureaucrats were once erased from official photos in Soviet Russia. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. Maybe it’s just a typo. Probably it’s just that. But what a chillingly appropriate typo, if such is the case.
P.S., If you demand it loud enough, I will scan and publish the photo from my (very) Reform bar mitzvah of me with the 2 intriguingly attired lady disco dancer who instructed us all in the Hustle. Long Beach, California, 1977.


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Shira

posted May 26, 2009 at 8:59 am


That makes me very sad. Shavuot is my favorite holiday. I attend the all-night tikkun at my shul every year; and the best part is concluding the study and coming outside to count stars and see is it time to davven Shaharit. And then to receive the 10 Commandments. Extraordinarily powerful.



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Harriet J. Brown

posted May 26, 2009 at 11:19 am


Shavuot is one holiday that I know very little about. I know that you aren’t supposed to eat meat and that you are supposed to read the Book of Ruth. But, I don’t really know why.



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Marian

posted May 26, 2009 at 12:09 pm


If it makes anyone feel any better, a couple of years ago, I bought a “Jewish Art Calendar” that turned out to have the date of Yom Kippur WRONG. It was especially embarrassing when, standing before a Jewish judge I have known for years, I begged off from a proposed court date because it was YK, only to be told by the judge that I was off by a week. The calendar, BTW, had been printed in China.



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LazerA

posted May 26, 2009 at 3:21 pm


The Sefer HaChinuch (classic medieval work on the commandments) writes that one of the lessons of the mitzva of sefiras ha’omer (counting the days from Passover to Shavuos) is precisely to teach us that the primary purpose for which God took the Jewish people out of Egypt was to give them the Torah.



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DML

posted May 26, 2009 at 5:36 pm


If the Torah is supposed to be taken so authoritatively, is there a particular mitzvah obliging one to observe Shavuot?



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Sharon

posted May 27, 2009 at 10:11 am


Did you even check to see if this was just a human mistake? I also take issue with your use of the phrase “very Reform Bar Mitzvah”. There is no such thing as “very Reform”; perhaps, very traditional, very liberal, very secular, etc. If you are uncomfortable with your roots, that is one thing–but there’s no reason to dis a movement because of your own personal preferences.



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Larry Lennhoff

posted May 27, 2009 at 10:56 am


This is especially odd since traditionally the Reform movement had their ‘confirmation’ ceremony on Shavuot.
Also, while there is a custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, meat is not forbidden. In fact, those who hold that you must eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov feel this applies to Shavuot as well. In my household we have the unusual custom of making kiddush and motzi in the dining room, moving to the living room for an ice cream sundae bar (seperate shehacol food blessing said over the ice cream) and then return to the dining room to eat some more bread and finish the rest of the (meat) meal.
We read the book of Ruth on Shavuot for several reasons.

King David was said to have been born and died on Shavuot. David is directly descended from Ruth.
Shavuot is zman mattan Torateinu – the time of the giving of the Torah. As the paradigmatic ger tzedek (convert), Ruth’s story also reflects someone accpeting the Torah.
The main action of the story of Ruth is set during the same season as Shavuot.



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Martin

posted May 27, 2009 at 11:06 am


David, it’s easy to see how angry you are at those of us who observe our Judaism outside of Orthodoxy. Some of us have what we think of as good reasons, beyond the rejection of “undigestible Torah”. If you like, we can talk about those reasons some other time. But for the moment, please know that in the congregation to which I belong, a Reform synagogue in Kingston, NY with a female rabbi (oy, such a shande, right?), we will observe Shavuoth over three days of Torah study and related services. Our congregation is mixed and open. A lot of us are drawn closer to our Judaism as we are drawn closer to each other, although we don’t always see things the same ways. We are a vibrant Jewish community. You would be welcome at our services, and you might even feel comfortable there, although we don’t separate by gender any more than we do by race or political ideology. Anyhow, I’m sorry that your hometown shul behaves otherwise.



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jestrfyl

posted May 27, 2009 at 12:32 pm


I am awed by all the theological give an take here on this holiday. It will be fuel for our Bible Study tomorrow – comparing Shavuot with Pentecost. But to be honest, I am more intrigued to see these photos from your Bar Mitzvah!



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elizabeth a. cohen

posted May 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm


I have only one thing to say about this and it’s that all types of reformed thru liberal judaism have no clue what Judaism is at all. A Rabbi once told me that the most misunderstood religion in the world was Judaism; and it’s misunderstood by the Jews themselves.
Perhaps if we, as Jews, study what G-d had intended in the first place these blogs and debates wouldn’t be necessary.
Liz



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elizabeth a. cohen

posted May 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm


Martin
If reformed Judaism understood what God was talking about and had a clear, a very, very clear understanding of the Torah there would be no female rabbi’s, and I say that with respect.
Liz



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Carl John Pizzo

posted May 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm


what joins us is far more important then what seperates us.



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Your Name

posted May 27, 2009 at 3:52 pm


Have not read other comments yet so have no idea if I am repeating anything. If you REALLY wanted to know why the holiday was not there you could have called the temple or the editor, so I would guess not is more like it! I have known of many Reform temples and they are often different from one another by region. I asked the local temple, and it is as liberal a one as you can get-they serve brunch on Yom Kippur!! They do celebrate this holiday and the office people were started at the idea. You would find that just about all Jewish houses of worship celebrate the giving of the 10 commandments but only the Orthodox, and so called Conservadox, would also say it was celebrating the giving of the Torah, since they believe it was written much later on.



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Your Name

posted May 28, 2009 at 1:12 pm


Shir and Elizabeth a. Cohen’s comments give credence to some rabbis’
belief in the lesser intellectual capability of women.
Staying up all night studying is not only silly but wrong. The RAV, e.g., was against it!
When you pray, you need to be conscious and alert, in order to have full intentionality. How alert can you be to doven shacharit (morning prayer) when you have been up all night?!!
There is the religion of culture -esp. among the haredim- and the religion of the canon (Torah and Talmud, as reflected in the Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Aruch). Only the latter is genuinely authentic. Customs can enrich- they can also strangle and obscure, and even violate the actual halachah. And the ultra-Orthodox, esp. the Hasidim, are culpable for the latter: they “innovate” as much as the Reform. Except at least the Reform admit it.



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leora

posted May 28, 2009 at 10:36 pm


Your Name…. seems like the rabbis liked staying up all night on other days as well–remember the Haggadah? :-) If college kids can do it, why can’t staid old rabbis and pious Jewish types pull it off once in a while? Chag Sameach~



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leigh

posted May 30, 2009 at 7:46 am


“The liberal Jewish denominations, Reform and Conservative, have jettisoned those parts of the Torah they find undigestible, incompatible with secular and general culture. It’s not a question of individual Jews personally failing here or there as we all do, but rather of an ideological stance rejecting Torah’s authority.”
…well put. I am disappointed in the Reform movement’s cynicism of Torah’s divinity, and faith/belief in Hashem.



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Uriel Levi

posted June 1, 2009 at 11:04 am


The point here – which was made as non-derogatory as possible by David – is that an idea or a person or even a holiday which is inconsistent with a movement’s philosophy or ideology cannot be whitewashed or erased by that movement. If that ideology wants its adherents to grow and its movement to grow – it must be rigorously intellectually honest. This is – without question – how the history of political and religious philosophies have evolved throughout the history of Mankind.
Reform Judaism has been progressing( Yarmulkes & Hebrew & other traditional Jewish practices have “re”-introduced) but let the movement struggle (really struggle) with Animal sacrifices and the Biblical commandment of family purity( just to cite two fundamental examples) and I guarantee Reform Judaism will progress even further.



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