A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
Remember the joke? An old curse says, "May you live in interesting times." Thanks to the corona virus we're in the middle of as "interesting" a time as any of us can remember. However, it's good to be mindful of another adage to set against the "curse:" "Never fail to take advantage of a good crisis. Make of it a growth opportunity." This opportunity, like many before it, grows out of a challenge to preserving Jewish community. (I'm clapping my hand to my forehead and exclaiming, "Oh no! Not another growth opportunity!")
Judaism has been beset by growth opportunities for a long time. Remember back to when the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The rabbis were facing the necessity of preserving a tradition whose central means of worship was no longer there. By chance or foresight the mechanisms were already in place. Synagogues and batei midrash, where Jews gathered to perform the mitzvot of prayer and study, had been in operation for many years. The rabbis and lay leaders, drawing on the experience of multiple Jewish teachers and communities, set about analyzing and formalizing public and private (at home) observance. Synagogues were built so that worshipers faced where the Temple once stood. Torah scrolls were put in an aron kodesh reminiscent of the holy of holies in the Temple where the ark of the covenant once sat. In homes, on Shabbat, the dining table with two hallot on it represented the altar and the bread stand that stood in the inner sanctum. The menorah lit by the priests became two lamps or candles lit by the mistress of the house assuming the role of priestess. In place of worship limited to priests in a (no longer existing) Temple, the rabbis democratized Judaism, putting family and community at the center of Jewish observance.
Closer to our time, following World War 2, Jews no longer lived within walking distance of synagogues. No surprise, Jews weren't coming to services! The Conservative Movement's Committee on Law and Standards, looking back to their teachers from two millenia before, decided that public worship, convening the community, was a primary need greater than the halachah that prohibited driving on Shabbat. In 1950 they issued a t'shuvah, a position paper saying that families who lived farther than walking distance could drive to the synagogue, but only to the synagogue, on Shabbat.
Now we are coping with quarantine measures that prevent us from gathering a live Jewish community in our sanctuary. But the need for community is still great! Referring to a paper from the Conservative Movement's Rabbinic Assembly and comments from other colleagues, I proposed that for these times, in this community, our gathered faces in a video conference could constitute a minyan for the recitation of Mourners Kaddish. Wednesday morning there were thirteen faces in our Zoom window by the end of the morning service. I recited El male rachamim for two yahrzeits, began reciting kaddish yatom with the mourners, and thought, "How fascinating to live in such interesting times!"
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