Im ein kemach, ein Havdalah? I’m unconvinced.

A debate has raged this week at iWorship, the URJ’s listserve for synagogue Ritual or Worship Committee members, regarding the timing of Havdalah.

In this late stage of halachic development, I’m a little amused and taken aback that such a debate could rage at all. Certainly, the timeframe for Havdalah is well established. It must be done after dark, once three or more stars are visible. Simple, right?

Nonetheless, the following query was brought before the list earlier this week:

After many years of only observing B’Nei Mitzvah at Shabbat Morning Services, our Ritual Committee and Congregation determined a few years ago that Shabbat Minchah B’Nei Mitzvah would be an alternative available to each family. […]

The start time of our Shabbat afternoon B’Nei Mitzvah is 5:30 p.m.  (The service concludes with Havdalah.)  In recent months, three families have asked that the start time be made later, up to an hour later.  The requests have related to spring and fall B’Nei Mitzvah, when the sun sets later.  Until now, we have denied those requests.  Our Ritual Committee now plans to take up this issue. […]

So, my question is really directed at those whose congregations already hold Shabbat Minchah B’Nei Mitzvah.  What time do they start and is there any flexibility regarding the start time?

List members reported, without variation, that, no, in their congregation there was no variance in the start time of Shabat mincha B’nei Mitzvah.

I was shocked, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Growing up in the Reform world, I’m used the mentatlity that Kab Shab must begin at the same time every week, or else the sky will fall. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. Yet, in the synagogue I grew up, where Havdalah was not a weekly occurence, when it did happen, it happened after dark, regardless of the time of year.

In Reform, we all agree that we can exempt ourselves from halachah when we so choose. But we do not do so at whim. We do it for reasons, I hope. Yet no one could seem to give a reason, a Jewish reason, as to why Havdalah should begin in broad daylight.

One rather eloquent iWorship member, one whom I usually agree with, brought up the principle of  “Im ein kemach, ein Torah.” It means, “With no bread, there is no Torah.” The idea behind the saying is that being a Torah scholar is great, but if you do at the expense of your material needs, that’s a problem. It’s a principle meant to keep us from venerating impoverished scholars.

The thought behind bringing up “Im ein kemach” in this discussion was that (I think, I’m still not totally clear on the point!) if syangogues aren’t Bar Mitzvah factories, bowing to every whim of Bar Mitzvah families, and if synagogues don’t have everything start at easy to remember, inflexible times, all of their members will leave and take their money (kemach, bread) with them. I fail to see how this argument plays out logically.

This same list member asked me, on the list, “Who said everything has to make sense?”

If we look back at Reform history, we’ll find that “Does it make sense?” is one of our central questions.  Does it make sense to keep kosher? I don’t think so, therefore I don’t. Does it make sense to wear tzitzit? I think it does, so I do. Does it make sense to begin Havdalah, a ritual about darkness and steeped deeply in the symbolism of light and dark, when the sun is up? No. So what’s the deal folks.

This conversation on iWorship shows us that ritual decisions are being made in synagogues acorss America with not throught being given to their meaning. And I feel like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

When we don’t think about our religion as a religion, when we turn it into a customer service department, we are doing ourselves a grand disservice and we are spitting at our tradition. We’re saying that we think our tradition is pretty, but that it doesn’t deserve any real thought.

And in the end, I’m just not convinced that publishing a different start time every week is going to turn Ritual Committee members into starving scholars.

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86 responses to “Im ein kemach, ein Havdalah? I’m unconvinced.

  1. “Yet, in the synagogue I grew up, where Havdalah was not a weekly occurence, when it did happen, it happened after dark, regardless of the time of year.”

    Mmm… not quite. Every Saturday night function started with Havdallah, dark or not. At least while I was there.

    Small factual correction, but I agree with your position.

  2. I guess the last Havdalah I recall occurring might have even been before your time! I actually can’t think of any individual instance of it, now that I’m thinking about it. I just have this vague childhood sense that that’s how it was. But maybe you’re right.

  3. What’s the problem? If it’s still light out, why not just do Shabbat mincha without havdalah? The bigger problem is in the winter, when they’re doing mincha after dark.

  4. The problem is, what they really want is a Saturday night bar/bat mitzvah. That’s why they want it as late as possible.

    My bigger question is: if a congregation doesn’t normally do mincha, why are you doing private b’nei mitvah Saturday afternoon in the first place? Shouldn’t a congregation celebrate a child becoming an adult member of it by actually having at least some of the congregation present, not just invited guests?

  5. “When we don’t think about our religion as a religion, when we turn it into a customer service department, we are doing ourselves a grand disservice and we are spitting at our tradition.”

    So, I do agree with you that the idea of religion really just being customer service is kind of disgusting. However, as uncomfortable as it may make us feel, isn’t that really what we are doing? We are trying to sell our religion to the masses. We want Jews in our synagogues, camps, hillels, etc. If it weren’t all about customer service, wouldn’t we just cater to the needs of the few committed people involved?

  6. R.BDS, good point.

    Kelly, we can only make it about customer service so far. We’ve got to know what lines we’re not going to cross in service of the BM Machine.

  7. My bigger question is: if a congregation doesn’t normally do mincha, why are you doing private b’nei mitvah Saturday afternoon in the first place? Shouldn’t a congregation celebrate a child becoming an adult member of it by actually having at least some of the congregation present, not just invited guests?

    Eh. I think everyone benefits this way. Assuming that the bar/bat mitzvah service is going to be substantially about the child and that this isn’t going to change (though I’d be happy to see that change), if I’m just some guy going to Shabbat morning services, I’m going to be happier if it’s about Shabbat rather than about some 13-year-old whom I don’t know. (If the congregation is small enough that everyone knows each other, then it’s a different story, but those generally aren’t the congregations where Shabbat mincha b’nei mitzvah are common.)

    Rabbi Yoffie addressed this in his 2007 Biennial Sermon: “With the morning worship appropriated by the Bar and Bat Mitzvah families, our members who come to pray with the community often sit in the back of the sanctuary and feel like interlopers in their own congregation. … Bar mitzvah is the occasion, symbolically at least, when a young person joins an adult community of Jews. But you cannot join what does not exist. A regular community of worshippers, who would be best suited to mentor the child, is not even present. At the average bar mitzvah what you almost always get is a one-time assemblage of well-wishers with nothing in common but an invitation.”

    So if the bar/bat mitzvah is a private service in the afternoon, it doesn’t solve the problem in regard to bar/bat mitzvah itself, but it at least minimizes the damage to the rest of the congregation and allows Shabbat morning to be unscathed.

  8. Interesting that the discussion about customer service should come along when we have just read Yitro, where Moses gets scolded by Tzipi’s dad for keeping the customers standing around, because he thinks he has to wait on everybody.

    I agree with R.BDS in challenging the privatized bar mitzvah. I agree with Ben that the privatized bar mitzvah at mincha protects those who come for Shabbat worship. As the person who raised the point about kemach, I am well aware that many synagogue decisions are made based not so much on their financial implications per se as on the fear that the customer will walk. And as the person who raised the point about things making sense, I’m equally aware that there is no inherent logic that carries from one synagogue decision to the next. (After all, didn’t Emerson tell us that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds? And who is to determine which consistencies are foolish?)

    And back to original ikar — Ben has it right. If it’s too early for havdalah, don’t make havdala. Believe me, neither the bar mitzvah family nor their guests are going to notice its absence.

  9. Larry, you said: “As the person who raised the point about kemach, I am well aware that many synagogue decisions are made based not so much on their financial implications per se as on the fear that the customer will walk. And as the person who raised the point about things making sense, I’m equally aware that there is no inherent logic that carries from one synagogue decision to the next.”

    Yeah. So are you validating that or are you troubled by it. I boldly declare that you should be troubled by it.

  10. I have, as they say, fought the good fight — or to be more accurate, have aligned myself with rabbis whose standards were high and have done my best to see to it that their views were upheld and did not become matters of contention. And through my involvements beyond my own congregation, I have tried to carry the message of congregational governance as sacred work, to be carried out Jewishly. So I have not had to be “troubled by it” on a personal level. While the fact that pragmatism trumps principle throughout the Jewish world, not just in the Reform movement, is also troubling, I’m beyond losing sleep over it. So I blog, and I list-serv, and I vent.

  11. Keep on venting Larry. R.BDS is correct that the congregation at which the Reform Shuckler grew up we frequently have havdalah before the sun sets. As someone who occasionally organized such events, I did think about doing havdalah at the right time. Unfortunately, to make the event work at some times of the year, doing havdalah early worked better.

    Here is the thought process. I was scheduling adult ed programs that included Havdalah, dessert and an education program. We learned that starting with Havdalah set the mood well. People were calmed and connecting to each other as a result of the havdalah service. It seemed to put them in a “learning mood.”

    Doing havdalah in the middle of a program would be disruptive: some people would leave after havdalah and miss part 2 of the presentation. If we did havdalah after the program, some people would leave and miss havdalah.

    So I concluded that to get the most people to experience the most stuff, we had to do havdalah at the start of the program even if it was too early.

    In the grand scheme of things, this seemed like the best option and one I was willing to live with. Is that the “Jewish thing to do?” I don’t know. But we did some good adult ed.

    Speaking of havdalah, recently we had a Jewish scholar of Islam speak at a dessert & havdalah program. We invited our Muslim and Christian neighbors to attend (thru our local interfaith organization.) It was really nice to see a young Muslim woman wearing a Palestinian scarf (it had the pattern of Arafat’s k’fiah) singing along with the lai lai lai parts of Debbie Friedman’s music.

  12. I find myself perfectly comfortable with the description of Havdala at the beginning of a Saturday night program as a mood-setter and community-builder. In that context, it marks an end and a beginning.

    That’s different from a sort of arbitrary Havdala as the punctuation mark for mincha, where it marks only an end.

    Does that make sense? Or, as a certain wise man once said, who says it has to make sense?

    Maybe the difference is that in the first instance we speed up the clock for the sake of heaven. In the second instance, heaven does not seem to be a factor.

    So, David, does this make me a sell-out?

  13. It’s not about selling out. It’s just about giving it thought. I’m a little more OK with the version Harold is talking about because thought went into the decision. In the case of the example being brought before us on the list, none had half as much thought being put into them.

  14. We learned that starting with Havdalah set the mood well. People were calmed and connecting to each other as a result of the havdalah service. It seemed to put them in a “learning mood.”

    Did you also do this for programs that took place on Wednesday nights? If not, then we agree that there are times when havdalah is not appropriate, and we’re just quibbling over where the line is. Are there other possible ways to set this mood that aren’t time-dependent?

  15. Very good point BZ.

  16. Well said, BZ. You could have everyone sit around with mood lighting and sing some nigunim and a couple of songs, but that would seem a little out of the blue.

    So the question is, how many hours away from twilight does Havdalah have to be before it too seems out of the blue?

  17. I grew up reform and became ‘orthodox’ after my bar mitzvah and it’s now 10 years later and i still am. i dont like labels though. i just have a question: the whole point of havdallah is to distuingish between shabbat and the weekday, and obviously this can only be done once shabbat is over, so it seems very illogical to be making havadallah on shabbat afternoon. imagine if on shabbat morning, in the middle of the service, havdallah was made. it really makes no sense. i understand that in reform judaism, there is not a sense of obligation to follow every single halacha, but when things start becoming illogical and not making sense, shouldn’t the rabbis of the reform movement stand up and make a policy and say ‘reform congregations should not perform the havdallah ceremony until after shabbat is over’.

    i just have one other question that i think would be good for you guys to answer, because you guys seem to be the involved and observant type reform jews, which i have much respect for you.
    the question is, do you think reform judaism with its basic rejection of the idea of Torah from Sinai, in a literal way, is really sustainable into the next or next 2 or 3 generations? if the torah is not really given to us by G-d and we never entered into a covenant with G-d at Sinai, then why should we be jewish at all?? growing up in a reform jewish day school and having my bar mitzvah and confirmation in a reform temple and now looking at my peers, i see many of them barely involved in any jewish life most of the year and many of them dating and marrying non-jews. it seems they werent really given any good meaningful reason to appreciate their judaism. this is a question that I have asked many times and really never received any satisfactory answer for. i appreciate your time and patience, thank you.

  18. Do we think Reform Judaism is sustainable to the next 2 or 3 generations? It seems to me one of the reasons for the growth of Reform Judaism is that our 19th and early 20th century ancestors didn’t think their inherited Judaisms were sustainable in America. Well, the survival and flourishing of Orthodoxy and Reform’s continued position as the largest stream of affiliated Jews in the country suggest that there are many paths to sustainability.

  19. Your thoughts on havdalah, Lenny, are my thoughts exactly!

    As for your comments on sustainability, I’ll say this: There is nothing wrong with Reform ideology, in its pure sense. It is Reform thought as corrupted by intellectual laziness and and Reform communal life as corrupted by lameness and a crap aesthetic that drives people away. If we can start making sense internally and daven without the lameness we’ve accrued, I think we may just be here to stay.

  20. One of the most absurd experiences I had working at a Reform Movement camp was worrying about getting sunburned during Havdalah. But with the stars in the night sky not arriving until several hours after the bedtimes of 7 year olds, there are different practicalities at work.

  21. thank you for interesting and honest replies to my question.

    J, i worked at orthodox overnight camp and the younger children who went to sleep on shabbat evening before shabbat ended and missed havdallah would hear havdallah sunday morning when they woke up before eating breakfast. maybe you can suggest that as a more logical solution…

    Davidamwilensky, are there things being done to try and change the problems you described? If so, do you think that the majority of members of reform temples, who only really show up a couple times a year, will start going to services more often or infuse their daily lives with more jewish living because of changes to the davening?
    my humble opinion is the ideology of the reform movement itself is problematic not merely the asethetics of the davening. the ideology of the torah and traditional judaism being mythical entities made up by our ancestors and handed to us in which we are allowed to selectively choose which customs, laws, and mitzvot to follow is simply not sustainable because people will choose not to follow any of it, and they would be correct as well.

    hinneni, even if reform has the largest amount of #s as a movement, what is the % of those who are actually involved in meaningful daily jewish living as compared to the orthodox? also, how many of those members are non-jews who are married to jews and who did not convert? i think taking into account those factors would offer a much different version of the demographics.

  22. Lenny, your original question dealt with sustainability, not with demographics, and my answer was meant to demonstrate sustainability. A Reform Jew in an inter-faith marriage who is a Reform Jew in a synagogue affiliation is an indication of sustainability.

    Regarding the degree of commitment and involvement among the nominally affiliated — you’ve hit on a subject that reflects the greatest change I have seen (admittedly from a distance) in Orthodox congregations from those of sixty years ago. In prior generations, there were plenty of people who identified themselves with Orthodox synagogues – but who were at those synagogues only for HHD, yizkor and yahrtzeit. In today’s Orthodox synagogue, I believe that former gap has been largely erased — partly because those who weren’t willing to make a full commitment took their more limited commitment to the less demanding milieu of the liberal denominations. To the Orthodox, I say kol hakavod. But I know that the Reform and Conservative congregations of America are peopled by those whose grandparents belonged Orthodox.

    But having said that — it’s not the issue under discussion. It’s nice for you that, having been raised Reform, you’ve found satisfaction in Orthodoxy — just as it’s nice for me that, having grown up in a kosher, shomer shabbat environment, I’ve found satisfaction in the Reform environment, including in sharing the dialogue over the liberties we can take with sun-time vs. clock-time in establishing the cycles of our Jewish days and rites.

  23. Lenny, if it didn’t make sense, people wouldn’t believe it. The fact of the matter is that if I believed in Torah Misinai, I’d be Orthodox. But I don’t. Yet, I still yearn for meaning in my life. So this is what I do.

  24. And J, that’s hilarious!

  25. hinneni and davidamwilensky – true dat to everything you said

    on a completely unrelated topic, and perhaps the blogger can comment on a future post, my concern is that i worry about the future of the jewish world in terms of where the reform movement is heading with patrilineal descent and other divisive issues, it seems like there will be a split in the jewish people, with one group accepting the traditional halachik standards of definition of who is a jew, and another camp with their own standards, and the two communities wont be able to marry into each other because the traditional group won’t know who is jewish in the other group, it will be a sad day
    to avert the crisis, reform judaism should no longer accept patrilineal descent and should be honest to all those people who have been told they are jewish that they are not actually jewish and that there is a whole world of orthodox judaism that believes in the standards of halacha, prospective converts who are thinking of cocnverting reform should be at the very least made aware of that and why their conversion wont be accepted by the orthodox…
    these two issues seem to be the issues that no one in the establishments of the jewish community, both orthodox and reform wants to talk about… but its going to tear apart the jewish world in the near future

    • So the vast majority of the world should bow to the stringencies of a vast, if loud minority?

      I’m not sure I follow the logic, Lenny.

      • your question is based on a false assumption.
        this case of defining who is a jew is not a ‘stringency’, it is a clear halacha.
        also, like Larry said, reform in Canada and Israel do not agree with patrilineal descent, so I would dispute that it’s the vast majority’.
        Taking into account sephardic Jews, conservative judaism, all the different types of orthodox judaism all over the world, everyone disagrees with the patrilineal descent of the US reform movement, i think theyre actually a minority on this issue.
        but even if they were the majority, yes they should bow to ‘halacha’, not stringencies, but halacha, in order to be honest to people who have a jewish father but a non-jewish mother and also to have respect for the rest of the entire jewish people and since Reform believes in G-d, Torah, and Israel, then they should want to maintain the unity of the people of Israel as well.

      • Lenny writes:
        but even if they were the majority, yes they should bow to ‘halacha’, not stringencies, but halacha, in order to be honest to people who have a jewish father but a non-jewish mother and also to have respect for the rest of the entire jewish people and since Reform believes in G-d, Torah, and Israel, then they should want to maintain the unity of the people of Israel as well.

        I see that your view of “unity” is like the Republican view of “bipartisanship”.

  26. There is another way to solve the so-called problem of patrilineal descent, and that is for those who do not currently accept that someone who identifies and practices as a Jew is more authentically Jewish than someone who does not but can trace a female bloodline.

    It’s unfortunate that you won’t accept the bloodline of Moshe Rabbenu or of Ephraim and Menashe. But it is not the Reform movement that insists on meaningless chumrot — nor does the Reform movement fail to explain that its authenticity is not validated by by people whose validation it does not need or seek.

    Patrilineal descent has furnished the operative definition of who is a Jew for the U.S. Reform movement for almost a quarter century. Our Canadian and Israeli chevra tend not to agree with us on the issue. But the threatened split in the Jewish world hasn’t happened yet — maybe because we don’t want to marry one another anyway!

    We believe that Judaism is about God, Torah, and Israel. If you choose to believe it’s about genetics, gey gesunter heyt.

  27. on a completely unrelated topic, and perhaps the blogger can comment on a future post, my concern is that i worry about the future of the jewish world in terms of where the reform movement is heading with patrilineal descent and other divisive issues, it seems like there will be a split in the jewish people, with one group accepting the traditional halachik standards of definition of who is a jew, and another camp with their own standards, and the two communities wont be able to marry into each other because the traditional group won’t know who is jewish in the other group

    First of all, the Reform movement isn’t “heading” anywhere with patrilineal descent — as Larry says, there have been no new developments on this issue in 25 years. Second of all, as this post argues, any such “split” is unavoidable (unless the Orthodox world changes its standards or the Reform movement gives up conversion, neither of which is going to happen), and the Reform movement’s decision to accept “patrilineal descent” does nothing on its own to exacerbate this.

    Anyone who needs to convert under the auspices of a particular denomination can do so. And if, at some point in the future, the bloodlines get so mixed up that conversion becomes standard for all Jews as a matter of course, I would consider that a positive development.

    reform judaism should no longer accept patrilineal descent and should be honest to all those people who have been told they are jewish that they are not actually jewish

    Also, Orthodox Judaism should be honest to women that they are actually obligated in all the same mitzvot as men, and Christianity should be honest that Jesus isn’t actually the son of God.

    • “Also, Orthodox Judaism should be honest to women that they are actually obligated in all the same mitzvot as men, and Christianity should be honest that Jesus isn’t actually the son of God.”

      the women and girls that i have come into contact with in the orthodox community are highly educated, knowledgeable, and dedicated to their judaism just as the men and boys are. they pray daily, keep kosher, say blessings when eating, observe shabbat and holidays, study torah on very high and advance levels including talmud study. perhaps the main difference is they dont wear tzisit and tefillin, but they dont seem to bothered by that…
      orthodox judaism is definitely completely honest to womehn that they are obligated in all the mitzvot as men are, as you say. but according to halacha, they are exempt from positive time bound mitzvot… they are permitted to these if they so wish, but there are reasons for tallit and tefillin not to be worn by them…
      the average orthodox female high school graduate from the yeshiva system along with a year of studying in seminary in israel is more knowledgeable in torah and has more skills in torah study than the average reform rabbi who graduated from HUC, male or female…
      today YU yeshiva university has a 2 year advanced talmud program for women, also Nishmat trains women to be experts in Jewish law and give advice and halachik answers to other women on many issues that women dont feel comfortable answering their rabbis. women are more observant, more active, and participate more in judaism in the orthodox community than any other community if you factor in shabbat and kashrut and holidays observance, daily prayer and daily torah study and a whole host of community related and kindness, visiting sick activities and other chesed stuff

  28. And while we’re at it, I hate to make this all about circling the wagons, but we’ve got to think about what non-Jews think. Someone with a Jewish grandfather and no matrilineal credentials is usually good enough for antisemites.

    • why should we care what non-jews or anti-semites think?? thats pretty ridiculous, letting them define our own standards and laws and practices. doesn’t seem to make any sense.
      why should we care about what anti-semites think more than thousands of years of jewish history and jewish law have thought????

      • why should we care what non-jews or anti-semites think?? thats pretty ridiculous, letting them define our own standards and laws and practices. doesn’t seem to make any sense.

        Why should we [Reform Jews] care what Orthodox Jews think?? thats pretty ridiculous, letting them define our own standards and laws and practices. doesn’t seem to make any sense.

  29. Larry,
    “There is another way to solve the so-called problem of patrilineal descent, and that is for those who do not currently accept that someone who identifies and practices as a Jew is more authentically Jewish than someone who does not but can trace a female bloodline. ”

    ‘those who do not’ it is not a group of people, but the halacha itself that defines who is Jewish. if someone with a Jewish mother eats a pig on yom kippur, he is still Jewish, if someone whose mother is not Jewish fasts on yom kippur, that does not make him Jewish.

    How exactly do you define your own definition of ‘someone who practices and identifies”? what is practicing and identifying? according to your own definition, the majority of reform Jews then who attend shul only twice a year, is that practicing enough?? who gets to decide? are there guidelines and standards universally followed? who made them up? why do reform rabbis have the authority to establish their own new standards of defining who is Jewish when there already exists a halachik definition?

    You write, “It’s unfortunate that you won’t accept the bloodline of Moshe Rabbenu or of Ephraim and Menashe. ”
    Once the Torah was given at Sinai, the law came into effect. see talmud bavli masechet kiddushin 66b and 68b for the source of matrilineal descent as being the determinor. it is very clear there, as well all of the commentaries agree and cite the halacha as such.

    “But it is not the Reform movement that insists on meaningless chumrot — nor does the Reform movement fail to explain that its authenticity is not validated by by people whose validation it does not need or seek.”

    one must be careful to distuingish between ‘chumrot’ and ‘halacha’. I agree with you that chumrot, stringincies, are often not necessary and sometimes practiced to the excess in certain parts of the orthodox world. but the matrilineal descent issue is a halacha, not a chumra…

    the problem is that for reform judaism to come up with its own definitions of who is a Jew, is that it is affecting the entire jewish people. if reform rabbis wish to use microphones and instruments on shabbat and drive to shul on shabbat, that is an internal issue that affects their own community, but when they start telling non-Jews that they are Jewish, they are dealing with an issue that extends beyond their own communities, because those people will have children one day who might not be Jewish, and maybe meet a guy or girl from a conservative or orthodox synagogue and want to get married there, then the rabbi will do some research and realize the person isnt actually jewish and needs to convert, even though the person thought they were jewish their whole life… thats a big problem

    “Patrilineal descent has furnished the operative definition of who is a Jew for the U.S. Reform movement for almost a quarter century.”

    I dont see how that makes it right!! Just because alot of people are doing something for a long time does not make it right. The entire Jewish people accepted matrilineal descent for the past 3,300 years since the Torah was given as the definition for who is a Jew. So according to your own reasoning, that should be much more important than 25 years and by only one group of Jews who everyone else disagrees with.

    “We believe that Judaism is about God, Torah, and Israel. If you choose to believe it’s about genetics, gey gesunter heyt.”

    Interesting, you don’t believe that God gave the Torah to Israel. You separate all 3 things. The problem with your version of things is that you can keep deciding new standards every time there is a need for it. According to the Torah itself, which you believe in as you say, that the law is that it passes through the mother.
    I do not believe Judaism is about genetics, I believe it is about G-d, Torah, and Israel, as you do. But when actually studying the Torah, specifically talmud masechet kiddush 66b and 68b it is clear that genetics is a part of the whole, just like kashrut, shabbat, holidays, tefillin, chesed, charity, visiting sick, honoring parents etc etc…

  30. ‘those who do not’ it is not a group of people, but the halacha itself that defines who is Jewish.

    “The halacha” is only valid as far as people recognize it as such. If a Jewish community agrees that “the halacha” is something else, then as far as they’re concerned, it is.

    when they start telling non-Jews that they are Jewish, they are dealing with an issue that extends beyond their own communities, because those people will have children one day who might not be Jewish, and maybe meet a guy or girl from a conservative or orthodox synagogue and want to get married there, then the rabbi will do some research and realize the person isnt actually jewish and needs to convert, even though the person thought they were jewish their whole life… thats a big problem

    Did you read the post I linked to? What alternative do you propose? Suppose the Reform movement followed your advice and stopped recognizing people as Jewish through patrilineal descent. Then they would require the people in question to convert in order to be recognized as Jewish. Then, if they want to marry an Orthodox Jew, “the rabbi will do some research and realize the person isnt actually jewish [since s/he had a Reform conversion] and needs to convert, even though the person thought they were jewish their whole life…”. How is that any different from the status quo?

    According to the Torah itself, which you believe in as you say, that the law is that it passes through the mother.

    That would be the Oral Torah, specifically. And we believe that the Oral Torah evolves over time. Plenty of things are written in the Talmud that are not observed today by anyone. This apparently isn’t something that you and I are going to find common ground on.

    • BZ, i didnt read the post you posted, sorry, can you post it again?
      i would propose reform in the US stop doing patrilineal descent and when they do conversion they should be very forthright and honest with the people converting that their conversion will not be accepted by the orthodox, and they should let the person make an informed choice, they should give the person the phone # or contact information of a local orthodox rabbi they can speak to, to at least have an informed choice, and then if the person wants to go ahead with the reform conversion, they can do so, but at least this way they wont be in for any surprises in the future, and they should be told of the implications it will have for their children and children’s children.. that they wont be halachikly jewish, they must at the very least be informed…

      “That would be the Oral Torah, specifically. And we believe that the Oral Torah evolves over time. Plenty of things are written in the Talmud that are not observed today by anyone. This apparently isn’t something that you and I are going to find common ground on.”

      you’re right we wont find common ground.
      but let’s at least be honest, can you point out an example in the talmud of something we don’t observe today anymore?
      the oral torah evolves in that we take the existing principles and apply them to new situations. we dont simply abandon accepted laws or ignore them. that’s not evolving, that’s just abandoning it…

      • BZ, i didnt read the post you posted, sorry, can you post it again?

        Old comments don’t disappear, you know. But here it is again: http://mahrabu.blogspot.com/2006/03/on-patrilineal-descent.html

        they should give the person the phone # or contact information of a local orthodox rabbi they can speak to, to at least have an informed choice, and then if the person wants to go ahead with the reform conversion, they can do so,

        Do you also think that Orthodox rabbis should give potential Orthodox converts contact information of local Reform rabbis, so they can make an informed choice? If the person wants to go ahead with the Orthodox conversion, they can do so.

        but let’s at least be honest, can you point out an example in the talmud of something we don’t observe today anymore?

        To take one example that I’ve blogged about, Gittin 7a says that all music (vocal or instrumental) is forbidden following the destruction of the Temple.

  31. BZ,
    Why should we [Reform Jews] care what Orthodox Jews think?? thats pretty ridiculous, letting them define our own standards and laws and practices. doesn’t seem to make any sense.

    there is a difference. reform judaism by definition evolved from traditional judaism. the founders of reform judaism were observant Jews who were knowledgable and studied torah. as time went on, they began abandoning traditional observance in favour of ethical etc you know the story… but the origins of reform judaism are judaism, and therefore reform jews by definition should at the very least care what the torah has to say. reform draws its beliefs and practices, and standards from the Torah and traditional judaism. it just makes changes where it sees fits… everything you do as a reform jew has origins in Judaism. so reform judaism should care what the halacha has to say. i agree, you should not care what individual orthodox jews have to say, such as myself.
    (lol, thats kind of funny) dont listen to me, but at least listen to the torah and the talmud and jewish law as codified in our countless texts of jewish law Rambam, Rosh, Rif, Tur, Beit Yosef, Shulchan Aruach Yore Deah etc…

  32. BZ
    “So you admit that halacha can change over time…”

    Halacha itself does not change. However, the situation we find ourselves in changes, and therefore a different halachik principle or law will be applied since it’s a different situation.
    i’ll give one example – The Talmud explains that if aa fire occurs on shabbat, if the fire is contained in one area of the house, where there will be no damage to life, then it is forbidden to put out the fire, and one must incur the property damage… if there is damage to life, then one should put the fire obviously, but if no damage to life, then one is not allowed to put out the fire
    however, the mishna brura, written by the Chafetz Chaim in the early 1900s, commentary on the shulchan aruch, explains that in our time since the houses are so close together, and the way our cities are set up, if a fire breaks out anywhere, one must put out the fire because it is considered a life threatning situation.
    so what happened? did the halacha change?
    no. the halacha did not change. the situation change and a different principle was applied. in the time of the talmud the fire was not life threatning so one was forbidden to put it out. in our time, it is life threatning so one is permitted to put it out….. halacha didnt change, in fact, it’s always the same. same principles always at work, just always examining the situation to see which principles to apply…

    some things though do change, the commentaries on the talmud masechet rosh hashana, explain that women over the centuries took upon themselves the obligation to hear the sounding of the shofar (a mitzva from which they were exempt because its positive time bound), but since they accepted the mitzva upon themselves, now today the universal custom is that women go to shul on RH to hear the shofar… other examples of that include counting the omer, shaking the lulav, women have taken upon themselves those mitzvot as well.

    so things can change, but it still must be within the parameters of halacha as handed down to us, and in order to know and determine what is acceptable and what is not requires years and years of diligent torah study, not 4 years at HUC

  33. BZ,
    “I see that your view of “unity” is like the Republican view of “bipartisanship”.”

    haha, actually I’m Canadian…
    but we get CNN up here and I do watch the news.

    what i mean by jewish unity is preserving one jewish people, as opposed to splitting in two camps, which unfortunately we already have kinda done. but i dont think its irreversible yet. one more generation and it will be, unfortunately…
    unity does not mean we are all going to sit in a big circle holding hands agreeing on every little issue, but let’s at least agree on the definition of who is a Jew in order to still be able to be one people
    i dont think thats so crazy,
    i could be wrong though, maybe its too late and we already are basically 2 completely different peoples, I’d like to think not though

    • unity does not mean we are all going to sit in a big circle holding hands agreeing on every little issue, but let’s at least agree on the definition of who is a Jew in order to still be able to be one people

      Great! So can we agree that anyone who converts to Judaism through any denomination is a Jew? If not, then you’re not interested in “unity”; you’re interested in everyone (whether or not they observe Orthodox Judaism) recognizing Orthodox Judaism as the norm. No thanks. I’ll take disunity over that any day.

      • well, until the decision of the reform movement in the early 1980s, the norm for establishing the definition of who is a jew was agreed upon, reform judaism deviated from that norm, and the onus is on them to have a respect for that norm

      • well, until the decision of the reform movement in the early 1980s, the norm for establishing the definition of who is a jew was agreed upon, reform judaism deviated from that norm, and the onus is on them to have a respect for that norm

        Well before the 1980s, Orthodox Judaism separated itself from the rest of the Jewish people by not accepting non-Orthodox conversions.

      • I can’t speak for all Reformim, but I do have respect for the matrilineal descent, though it is not my preference.

        I merely ask that others respect our perfectly reasonable notion that someone who is raised as a Jew is a Jew.

  34. I have made it a policy in my participation on various URJ list-servs, blogs, etc., not to enter into fruitless dialogue with ideologues on either the right or the left who have defined truth as what they believe. I responded initially to Lenny because he appeared reasonably open-minded and willing to dialogue rationally. His subsequent posts have demonstrated that I was in error in my initial reading, and I will henceforth give him all the attention he deserves – none!

    David, by having an unmoderated blog, you fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, but your hospitality is being abused…and Ben, your wisdom and insights can be better applied in intelligent debate rather than in fruitless argument with a wind-up toy.

    • Thanks, Larry.

      However, sticking by one’s practice though it isn’t your (Larry’s) practice doesn’t equal ideologue. I would agree that our mutual friends M.B. and Mr. Devorsetz are ideologues, but I’m not sure about Lenny yet. I get excited when there are actual comments on this blog. This post now has a record number!

      Thanks, everyone. Now, calm down or I’m gonna have to separate the three of you.

    • I have made it a policy in my participation on various URJ list-servs, blogs, etc., not to enter into fruitless dialogue with ideologues on either the right or the left who have defined truth as what they believe.

      I think this is the right diagnosis. Lenny’s problem is not that he holds views that we disagree with, but that he considers his views to be objective truth, and sees terms like “halacha” and “Jewish” as having undisputed definitions, and furthermore assigns motives to other people based on these assumptions, so that someone who says otherwise isn’t merely disagreeing with him but is being “dishonest”.

      Ben, your wisdom and insights can be better applied in intelligent debate rather than in fruitless argument with a wind-up toy.

      Thanks, and I know I should stop, but I’m having too much fun.

      • clearly, you guys are all honest and sincere people. but i think there is a clear definition of halacha. within halacha, yes of course there are disputes and machloket. but there is a definition of halacha and a process and system of how halacha is decided that is objective.

      • but i think there is a clear definition of halacha. within halacha, yes of course there are disputes and machloket. but there is a definition of halacha and a process and system of how halacha is decided that is objective.

        Asserting this doesn’t make it so. The different Jewish movements have fundamentally different understandings of halacha, and if you’re talking about the whole Jewish people, you can’t just define the understandings you disagree with out of existence.

      • And of course I’m not expecting you to accept any of these other definitions of halacha as valid within your belief system. But if you want to convince anyone else of your position, you’ll have to do more than appeal to some supposedly objective standard.

      • I know what you mean, Lenny. But even within the orthodox world there are so many shades of gray that I think you’re avoiding because it is more convenient.

        Compare Kehilat Hadar to Aish. Compare Pardes to YU. You will find that these are all strict, halachic organization coming to wildly different conclusions about many, many things.

    • larry you didnt respond to any of the points that i made, instead resorting to a personal attack. i did make some valid points, such as how does reform judaism define ‘identifying and practicing as a Jew’ and are those standards universal or do different communities have different standards?

  35. BZ “Do you also think that Orthodox rabbis should give potential Orthodox converts contact information of local Reform rabbis, so they can make an informed choice? If the person wants to go ahead with the Orthodox conversion, they can do so.”

    Yeah, i think that would be a good idea. I’m sure most orthodox rabbis would disagree with me. But I think orthodox rabbis should let the prospective convert know that there are other movements among the jewish people with differing beliefs and if they are interested they should contact people from those movements and evaluate and make an informed decision.

    “To take one example that I’ve blogged about, Gittin 7a says that all music (vocal or instrumental) is forbidden following the destruction of the Temple.”

    I read the blog you posted about this. You mention there that later commentaries limit this prohibition. So we can obviously argue about this but I studied this section of gemara and commentaries in yeshiva last year, and from what we learnt, the later commentaries are not simply limiting the scope of the prohibition, but they are explaining how the prohibition was observed in those times.

  36. I read the blog you posted about this. You mention there that later commentaries limit this prohibition. So we can obviously argue about this but I studied this section of gemara and commentaries in yeshiva last year, and from what we learnt, the later commentaries are not simply limiting the scope of the prohibition, but they are explaining how the prohibition was observed in those times.

    Well, of course – that’s how the game is played. When the Gemara comes to a different conclusion from the Mishnah, they say that by means of “Hachi ka’amar” (“What they meant by that was…”) or “Chisurei mechsera” (“They left this thing out”). When that doesn’t work out, there’s always “Shanei hacha” (“This situation is different”).

    I can play that game too. If you want to have this conversation on that plane, that’s cool with me (though it will make it even more difficult to see eye to eye).

    So here goes: Reform halacha is the halacha that has existed since Sinai. To the extent that present-day Reform practice appears different from practices in the past, it’s only because the situation has changed so the halacha comes to a different conclusion, and/or because these apparent discontinuities were built into the halacha from the beginning (as in this excerpt from Zevachim). Orthodox Jews who have departed from the halacha by incorrectly applying rulings from pre-modern sources to present-day situations are as wrongheaded as Karaites who ignore the Oral Torah and insist that the Written Torah alone is to be applied to the present, and have rejected halacha as it has been observed for millennia.

    (There. I’m not sure I actually agree with that, but it’s no more or less falsifiable than what you’re saying.)

    • “Well, of course – that’s how the game is played. When the Gemara comes to a different conclusion from the Mishnah, they say that by means of “Hachi ka’amar” (”What they meant by that was…”) or “Chisurei mechsera” (”They left this thing out”). When that doesn’t work out, there’s always “Shanei hacha” (”This situation is different”).”

      In the yeshiva i learnt in, our rosh yeshiva challenged us to figure out, every single time a hachi kaamar or chisurei mechsera was used, to figure out how that changed explanation of the mishna or baraita is actually the simplest best read of the original mishna. it made the learning really difficult and fun at the same time. so you have a point for sure that the gemara often comes to different conclusions than the mishna, but again all the amoraim and all the tannaim agreed on the basic principles of judaism that G-d took the jewish people out of egypt and gave the torah and the mitzvot and we are all obligated to observe all the mitzvot as an expression of our convenant with G-d, and that we are not free to choose which mitzvot we want to observe. they had minor disagreements about details, and that is the focus of the gemara. But they agreed on the big picture of what the basic ideas of judaism are, which reform does not seem to believe in.

      “Reform halacha is the halacha that has existed since Sinai. To the extent that present-day Reform practice appears different from practices in the past, it’s only because the situation has changed so the halacha comes to a different conclusion, and/or because these apparent discontinuities were built into the halacha from the beginning (as in this excerpt from Zevachim). Orthodox Jews who have departed from the halacha by incorrectly applying rulings from pre-modern sources to present-day situations are as wrongheaded as Karaites who ignore the Oral Torah and insist that the Written Torah alone is to be applied to the present, and have rejected halacha as it has been observed for millennia.”

      I read your post, the really long one about minhag, halacha, aggadah. it was fascinating, really interesting. I wish every reform jew in the world would read it.

      you say “Reform halacha is the halacha that has existed since Sinai”
      so, correct me if i’m wrong, but I though the Reform viewpoint was that the torah was not given at Sinai and that the torah was written by different authors at different periods of time and then put together at a later time. if what i assumed is correct, then how could you say reform halacha is the halacha that existed at sinai?

      “To the extent that present-day Reform practice appears different from practices in the past, it’s only because the situation has changed so the halacha comes to a different conclusion, and/or because these apparent discontinuities were built into the halacha from the beginning (as in this excerpt from Zevachim).”

      again correct me if i’m wrong, but is any reform rabbi or other reform person claiming that reform judaism is a halachik movement? what you’re describing seems more to be the conservative movement which claims to be halachik, just continuing to change in every change according to how they feel halacha allows. but i thought reform viewed ‘individual autonomy’ in deciding, after a period of serious study, which mitzvot and halachot they find meaingful.
      certainly, no rabbi from sinai and until today ever claimed that every indiviudal jew has the right to choose which mitzvot they want to observe, as the reform movement claims. i would suggest this idea of individual choice puts the reform movement outside the pale of normative halachik judaism. would you agree with me that reform judaism is an expression of judaism, but not a halachik one? certainly, conducting havdallah on shabbat afternoon is a halachik violation, which was what the original post was about.
      i went to a cousin’s bat mitzvah in a reform temple in LA, and they were very nice and ordered me a kosher meal. but the food the temple served dairy and meat altogether and also it was on shabbat morning and very clear that the food was being cooked that morning on shabbat itself. clearly, these activities can’t be justified according to halacha.

      “Orthodox Jews who have departed from the halacha by incorrectly applying rulings from pre-modern sources to present-day situations are as wrongheaded as Karaites who ignore the Oral Torah and insist that the Written Torah alone is to be applied to the present, and have rejected halacha as it has been observed for millennia.”

      I couldnt not respond to this. i apoligize for writing so much. Please give examples of how orthodox jews have departed from halacha incorrectly. and also, please define pre-modern sources.

      by the way BZ, i know you dont care what I think, but i think youre awesome. its so refreshing to meet a guy who knows his stuff and cares about the stuff too, you should become a rabbi in the reform movement and encourage the masses of reform jews to study more and have classes at their shuls with real advanced levels of torah study including gemara classes also… and you should start a website that posts online audio classes people can download, but i mean like high level advanced classes that go into the commentaries of the gemara as well.

      • “is any reform rabbi or other reform person claiming that reform judaism is a halachik movement?”

        Yes. These folks are: https://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/the-reform-think-tank/

      • In the yeshiva i learnt in, our rosh yeshiva challenged us to figure out, every single time a hachi kaamar or chisurei mechsera was used, to figure out how that changed explanation of the mishna or baraita is actually the simplest best read of the original mishna. it made the learning really difficult and fun at the same time.

        Fun indeed. And it’s great to marvel at chaza”l’s creativity. But come on.

        so, correct me if i’m wrong, but I though the Reform viewpoint was that the torah was not given at Sinai and that the torah was written by different authors at different periods of time and then put together at a later time. if what i assumed is correct, then how could you say reform halacha is the halacha that existed at sinai?

        Well yeah, this is correct. I was placing “Sinai” in the mythical past, not the historical past. And I wasn’t 100% serious, but was trying to make a point.

        but i thought reform viewed ‘individual autonomy’ in deciding, after a period of serious study, which mitzvot and halachot they find meaingful.
        certainly, no rabbi from sinai and until today ever claimed that every indiviudal jew has the right to choose which mitzvot they want to observe, as the reform movement claims.

        Some people in the Reform movement do frame it this way, but I think this is a problematic frame. I think it should be framed as “Each individual determines what the mitzvot are and how they are to be observed”, rather than “Given this static set of mitzvot, each individual can choose from the list.”

        i would suggest this idea of individual choice puts the reform movement outside the pale of normative halachik judaism.

        I would suggest that you’re defining “normative halachic Judaism” in such a way that this is inevitable.

        would you agree with me that reform judaism is an expression of judaism, but not a halachik one?

        No.

        certainly, conducting havdallah on shabbat afternoon is a halachik violation, which was what the original post was about.

        I think havdalah on Shabbat afternoon is just stupid, and I’m not going to defend it.

        i went to a cousin’s bat mitzvah in a reform temple in LA, and they were very nice and ordered me a kosher meal. but the food the temple served dairy and meat altogether and also it was on shabbat morning and very clear that the food was being cooked that morning on shabbat itself. clearly, these activities can’t be justified according to halacha.

        Not according to your (or my) halacha, but that’s not the halacha they were operating in.

        Please give examples of how orthodox jews have departed from halacha incorrectly.

        All the ways in which Orthodox Jews reject mainstream Reform Judaism, of course. :)

        by the way BZ, i know you dont care what I think, but i think youre awesome. its so refreshing to meet a guy who knows his stuff and cares about the stuff too, you should become a rabbi in the reform movement and encourage the masses of reform jews to study more and have classes at their shuls with real advanced levels of torah study including gemara classes also…

        Thanks, but I’m not interested in that line of work (nor would “the masses of Reform Jews” particularly care what I have to say), but I agree that someone should do this.

      • I would even go so far as to say that mixing dairy and meat is more defensible (on a logical level) than doing havdalah on Shabbat afternoon. There are many arguments in favor of mixing dairy and meat (even if I don’t happen to agree with them), from the specific (the Torah just says “don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk” and no more) to the general (an overall rejection of dietary laws). In contrast, no one has yet come up with a serious explanation of havdalah on Shabbat afternoon.

      • Haha! I’m right there with you on the meat and milk.

  37. Yes. These folks are: https://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/the-reform-think-tank/

    dude, that’s fascinating… kol hakavod to them

      • so i get the impression, and tell me if this is right, that basically within the reform movement, there are quite a few, if not many, different views of what reform judaism actually means and what it means to be a reform jew. on the one hand there are people such as yourself, knowledgeable and interested in some form of halacha or observance or whatever you would like to call it, and others who still feel that is not necessary or appropriate or relevant for them.
        personally, i feel that all those reform jews who are engaged with their communities, observant in their own way, knowledgeable, and doing jewish things weekly or daily, i think thats great and kol hakavod to them.

        but my concern is for the majority of the membership of the reform movement who go to temple once or twice a year and on life cycle occasions who are not knowledgable, not observant, and really on the periphery of the movement. where do you see them heading within 1 or 2 generations?? are there any things being done to try to bring them back into more regular and consistent doing of jewish things in order to pass on jewish identity to their children?

  38. “Of course different communities have different standards! This is even true in the orthodox world!”

    but if there are different standards for conversion within the reform movement, then doesnt that mean that one reform rabbi will reject another reform rabbi’s convert? let’s say one reform rabbi’s standards are the person has to come to shul every week whereas another rabbi’s standards are once a month, then does the first rabbi recognize the second rabbi’s convert as a Jew?

    • One Rabbi may think that another Rabbi has got certain things wrong about what is essential Jewish knowledge, but all accept that each other have certified at least that each convert has the drive, the passion, and the spirit required of a Jew.

      Now allow me to quote you, changing a few words: “If there are different standards for conversion amongst different orthodox Rabbis, doesn’t that mean that one Rabbi will reject another Rabbi’s conversion?”

      Hm. I think we can see when we compare an MO Rabbi’s standards with the standards of some nutter up in Kiyras Joel we see that no Jewish community has a uniform standard for gerei tzedek.

      We see that in the news quite a lot recently with the calling into question of American orthodox conversions by Israeli Rabbinic authorities.

      • “Now allow me to quote you, changing a few words: “If there are different standards for conversion amongst different orthodox Rabbis, doesn’t that mean that one Rabbi will reject another Rabbi’s conversion?”
        Hm. I think we can see when we compare an MO Rabbi’s standards with the standards of some nutter up in Kiyras Joel we see that no Jewish community has a uniform standard for gerei tzedek.
        We see that in the news quite a lot recently with the calling into question of American orthodox conversions by Israeli Rabbinic authorities.”

        thats a very good point. my rabbi in toronto is heavily involved with the RCA, the umbrealla group of orthodox rabbis in north america with whom the Israeli chief rabbinate called into questions their conversions. my rabbi was on a committe with the RCA to clarify the standards and to universalize them within north america, and the israeli chief rabbinate has now agreed to accept all the RCA conversions since the RCA revamped the whole system, so now wherever in north america a person is, there are only certain beit din (in most major cities) where people can convert that are accepted by the RCA, so that the standards are now universal and accepted universally.

  39. “I know what you mean, Lenny. But even within the orthodox world there are so many shades of gray that I think you’re avoiding because it is more convenient.
    Compare Kehilat Hadar to Aish. Compare Pardes to YU. You will find that these are all strict, halachic organization coming to wildly different conclusions about many, many things.”

    true dat,
    but all those organizations would agree on basic standards about shabbat, kashrut, daily davening, saying brachot for food etc, and a general obligation that every individual jew is obligated to follow the mitzvot of the torah and keep halacha in all aspects of daily life to the best of one abilities
    so yeah there are ashkenazim and sephardim, chasidim and mitnagdim, haredim and relig zioninst, modern and more right wing etc etc but the basic unifying thing is a belief in torah from sinai and a covenant with G-d and an obligation to be shomer mitzvot, which are beliefs reform doesnt share, as evident from their recent statement of principles http://ccarnet.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=44&pge_id=1606

    • How much commonality is required? Where do draw the line?

      Is it enough to accept a singular God with a special relationship to the Jewish people? Is it enough to believe that the Torah is the central narrative of our people and the central source of Jewish wisdom and learning?

      • “Is it enough to believe that the Torah is the central narrative of our people and the central source of Jewish wisdom and learning?”

        i dont think so. i think the torah is much more than that. and that is the critical part that reform is missing.

        the most basic definition of being a part of the jewish people and what judaism is is that g-d entered into a covenant with the jewish people, beginning with avraham, re-established with both yitzchak and yaakov and again with the whole jewish people at mount sinai. he gave us a set of laws and a way to live, based on the mitzvot of the torah, and gave us a land to live on, and live by those laws on that land, in order to make a name for G-d in the world and to be a light unto the nations.
        if one learns all of tanach and gets a broad overview of the themes and ideas that come out from there, one finds that the traditional jewish view is that the torah is the representation of g-ds will and our observance of the torah is what brings his name into the world.
        so if jewish people start believing that they are no longer obligation to observe certain mitzvot, then i that is problematic because it is denying the covenant with G-d obligating them to observe those mitzvot. it is a break with the normative mainstream view of judaism as it was until the period of the enlightenment. (the karaites, saudacees and other groups that emerged were regarded by the ‘rabbinic jews’ as also a break from mainstream judaism, within judaism of course there is machloket – beit hillel vs shammai etc, but they both accepted the main themes and ideas, that is different than the saudacees who denied the validity of the oral law, reform denies the divine nature of both the written and oral torah.)
        again, i agree that within halacha, situations and things change from generation to generation. but what the reform movement did was much more than that. they denied the divine authority of the torah, they denied the binding nature of the rulings of the talmud and jewish law. reading the pittsburgh platform of 1885 will show that. even today the latest platform is still far enough removed from the traditional view.

    • but all those organizations would agree on basic standards about shabbat, kashrut, daily davening, saying brachot for food etc

      And that’s why, in the Orthodox world, everyone accepts everyone else’s hashgacha!

      • lol, yeah thats a big problem
        in toronto, there is one hashgacha, the COR, that the entire community accepts, i think that would be the ideal situation so everyone can eat in everyone else’s shuls and simchas and feel comfortable
        in other cities, and especially in israel, its a huge problem…. but everyone agrees on the obligation to keep kosher as an integral part of the torah and covenant with G-d, no one in the orthodox world is saying kashrut is a choice indivudals can make themselves, the belief that everyone agrees is that it is an obligation. reform judaism maintains that individuals have a right to choose. that idea of the right to choose is not halachik, even according to the most liberal or open minded definitions of halacha, as practised for the past 3000 years.

      • that idea of the right to choose is not halachik, even according to the most liberal or open minded definitions of halacha, as practised for the past 3000 years.

        Clearly there *are* liberal definitions of halacha that incorporate individual choice; you just don’t happen to agree with them (and are therefore defining them out of existence).

  40. as to the earlier posts of those in the reform movement who are claiming its halachik.

    i dont think they really do believe that their view of judaism is halachik in the traditional sense of the word. if they were, they would be orthodox…

    what i think they mean is that their view of judaism is not just random arbitrary selective decision making, but is based on some sort of system of legal analysis.
    but it is certainly not the system of law that was given to us on Sinai, they dont believe that the system of law was given at sinai.
    any body of rabbis that permits lighting fires on shabbat, permits a kohen to marry a divorcee, or permits the consumption of non-kosher food, or says that people are not obligated to observe mitzvot, is simply not operating according to halacha.
    lighting a fire on shabbat, kohen not marrying a divorcee, the requirements of keeping kosher are all literal explicit verses in the torah. the idea of being obligated to observe all the mitzvot is described many times in the torah, notably in parshat eikev, but we read as the 2nd parsha of the shema, which interestinlgy, the reform movement deleted from the prayer book because it did not fit with their theology (im not sure today if its back in, but 8 years ago, the 2nd parsha of the shema was simply deleted)
    no halachikly observant jews anywhere in the world for the past 3,300 years would claim that lighting a fire on shabbat is a valid expression of halacha.
    so in reform judaism i agree the decisions arent random or selective, but they are definitely not halachik.
    no halachik authority would ever completely write off or ignore explicit verses in the torah and say its okay to do the contrary, or claim that the torah itself was not given by G-d, or claim that individuals are free to choose which mitzvot they want to observe, or allow intermarriage between a jew and a non-jew.

    • so in reform judaism i agree the decisions arent random or selective, but they are definitely not halachik.

      They are not halachic by the Orthodox definition. Our claim that Reform Judaism is halachic (by another definition) is not intended to convince Orthodox Jews that Reform Judaism is legitimate within the Orthodox system; that’s a losing battle. The goal is an internal one. As Rachel Adler writes, “We urgently need to reclaim this term [halakhah] because it is the authentic Jewish language for articulating the system of obligations that constitute the content of the covenant. […] A praxis is more than the sum of the various practices that constitute it. A praxis is a holistic embodiment in action at a particular time of the values and commitments inherent to a particular story. Orthodoxy cannot have a monopoly on halakhah, because no form of Judaism can endure without one; there would be no way to live it out.”

      no halachik authority would ever completely write off or ignore explicit verses in the torah and say its okay to do the contrary

      If you weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid, you’d realize that chaza”l does this all the time. Of course, they use the texts to prove that this is what the Torah meant all along, and it’s very elegant. Liberal Judaism might be well served by this technique.

  41. I agree with Lenny. G-d gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai and it states that nothing is to be added or deleted. The Torah is eternal.
    Shabbat Shalom!

    • Nothing should be added? You’re clearly reading a different Talmud than I am!

      • i think what he might be referring to is the verse in Dvarim that states “you should move away from the thing that i have commanded you right or left, you should not add on anything to it nor should subtract anything from it”. I forget where that exact verse is found… i remember its somewhere in Dvarim

        the rabbis dont add on to the torah. they are obligated by the torah to make protective fences around torah law. the verse in the torah states “ushmartem et mishmarti” “you should guard by guarding” (i forget where it’s found) but rashi there and all the commentaries explain it’s referring to the obligation of the rabbis of every generation to ensure torah law is protected and people don’t come to accidentaly violate torah law, so they estbalish rabbinic laws to protect the torah laws.
        other examples of seemingly added things that the rabbis added onto the torah are purim and chanukah. but these are not new mitzvot added onto the torah. the idea of establishing holidays and mitzvot for those holidays in order to commemorate miracles that g-d did for us is not adding on a new mitzvah. it is, as Rav Solovechik, beautiflly explains a part of the mitzvah of “v’nikdashti btoch bnei yisrael” “and I will be sanctified within the jewish people” meaning sanctification of G-d’s name, Kiddush Hashem, is an obligation the Jewish people, and by us reading the megilla and lighting chanukah lights, we sanctify G-ds name by commemorating the miracle…

        also, whenever the rabbis make decrees or establish new rabbinic mitzvot such as chanukah and purim, it is clear that they are only rabbinic, and even though we are still obligated to follow them, we are also obligated to know the different implications since they are rabbinic and not actually torah law…

  42. oops, i meant “you should NOT move away” lol i left out the word ‘not’ accidenatly… sorry for the unclearness

  43. Hi
    Just FYI the source of the statement “im ein kemach ein torah” is from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 3 Mishna 17. The full quote is actually: “im ein kemach ein torah, v’im ein torah ein kemach” = “if there is no food there won’t be any Torah, and if there is no Torah there won’t be any food”. The principle is not there to denigrate either side, but rather to point out the constant dialectic in our lives between balancing our physical and spiritual needs.
    So be wary of siding too much with the ‘rabbis’ against the ‘bread-winners’, but don’t give in too much that you are no longer with the ‘rabbis’ at all.

  44. Larry Kaufman

    As an inveterate quantifier, I am pleased to note that, with AA’s belated entry into the discussion, we now have a minyan –although Lenny would no doubt not concede it, given that at least one of the discussants is a woman, and another would not meet his standards as halachically Jewish. But I doubt that any of us needs to be told where “im ein kemach” comes from.

    Rereading the post and the comments threee years later, I am struck by how off-topic we went, allowing the conversation to be hi-jacked by someone trying to invalidate the legitimacy of Reform Judaism, when the point of David’s post was to question the elasticity of the boundaries of Reform practice, with specific reference to celebrating havdalah at the conclusion of a minchah bar mitzvah, even though by the state of the sun it is still Shabbat.

    With due regard to AA’s interpretation of the specific mishnah, I think that all of us with the exception of Lenny understand the tension that can arise when there is a perceived conflict between kemach and Torah — Lenny no doubt understands the tension, but doesn’t in this instance recognize any conflict — but we all think that the congregation whose minhag occasioned the discussion made a wrong call.

    Fortunately, the number of congregations offering minchah bnai mitzvah ceremonies is relatively small — my own view is that they should be an option only if the congregation davens minchah whether or not there is a bar mitzvah — and those manipulating havdalah beyond reason is even smaller. However, we have a similar issue on the other end of Shabbat. The trend to 6:30 kabbalat Shabbat seems to have grown apace in the Reform movement, leading to our ending services before Shabbat has even arrived. And I hear a lot of grumbling about the timing, but it is all based on pragmatics (8 oclock is too late to sit down for Shabbat dinner) rather than ideology (Shabbat begins at sunset).

    Same issue, or different? Kemach driven rather than Torah driven? As an admirer of Reform pragmatism, I find here another opportunity to ask where the boundaries are.

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