Limmud NY Notes: More on communal ritual issues–electronics on Shabbat etc.

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

Last year, I was much more aware of this issue than I was this year. At last year’s Limmud NY, I was still working for Limmud NY, so I had my laptop out a lot because I was running @LimmudNY on Twitter. Shabbat felt very obviously different from the rest of the conference because I wasn’t rushing to tweet from every once in a while.

This year, I hardly used my laptop at all during the entire conference. Since last year, I also got a Droid, which I turned off on Friday night and left off for the rest of the conference.

In the car on the way up to the hotel on Tuesday–I rolled in with the early shift of volunteers and office staff–someone mentioned that there had been a proposal for a public space where people could use phones and computers on Shabbat. The Hudson Valley Resort, where the conference takes place, has wifi in the lobby and all of the conference areas, but not in the hotel rooms, so it may be an issue for some people who want or need to be connected to the outside world on Shabbat.

I thought this was a great idea, but apparently it either never made it out of the planning stages, it got shot down in a Steering Committee meeting or it just failed to materialize. Whatever the reason, I think it would be a good thing to have.

By the way, the language used in the program book that every community member receives at the conference to describe Shabbat at Limmud NY is delightfully nuanced. Kol Hakavod to whoever wrote the current version. Here are some highlights from A Guide to Shabbat at Limmud NY on page 28 of this year’s program book:

What is our kavanah (intention) for Shabbat at Limmud NY?…

We have worked hard to create a warm and spirited Shabbat, with diverse options for prayer services and other Shabbat programs….

We encourage you to take the opportunity to examine the ways you observe or do not observe Shabbat and explore new meaning in your practices. We invite you to help create a cooperative and pluralistic community that will be stimulating and inclusive….

Whether for halacha (Jewish law) or for personal aesthetic, the intentionality of the Shabbat experience at Limmud NY is comparable to a meditation retreat: we ask you that you turn off  outside distractions and tune in to everything we have in this one shared space….

This next bit is of particular interest to me, as a compulsive note-taker:

In public spaces which cater to the entire group, Limmud NY will adhere to traditional Shabbat observance (for instance, microphones, musical instruments, cell phones, cameras and computers will not be used).

In individual sessions (opposed to public spaces) we’ll offer a wide range of options reflecting the interests and practices of our participants. These will be clearly identified in the Program Book (for example: “Please note that musical instruments will be used in this session”).

Leaving aside issues with the word traditional in this context, this section includes an interesting list of actions that are potentially problematic on Shabbat. Note-taking, Baruch Hashem, is not one of them. Though I’ve been asked in Shabbat contexts aside from Limmud NY to stop taking notes before, in my four years at Limmud NY (not to mention a Shabbat spent at Limmud Colorado), I’ve never been asked not to take notes at Limmud.

Which is not to say that nothing interesting happened at Limmud NY this year involving that pen behind my ear….

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6 responses to “Limmud NY Notes: More on communal ritual issues–electronics on Shabbat etc.

  1. Pingback: Index to the 13 Limmud NY Notes posts | The Reform Shuckle

  2. I don’t understand how restricting individual phone/computer use on Shabbat (as opposed to restricting what happens as a part of community-wide programming) is compatible with Limmud-style pluralism, and I say that as someone who doesn’t use the computer on Shabbat. It seems to me that the argument in favor of restricting is that people want a “Shabbat atmosphere”, which means an atmosphere where everyone observes Shabbat the same way they do, which willfully denies the diversity of the Limmud population. The truth is that NOT everyone at Limmud observes Shabbat the same way you do (for any value of “you”), so why should either you or they have to pretend?

  3. (And none of the counterarguments from the comments to your Yom Kippur pen post apply, because those are all about how a community has a right to enforce its halachic norms, and Limmud very intentionally does not establish communal halachic norms.)

    • Indeed. Although Limmud NY does protect those with certain halachic norms from being offended, as we see in the Kiddush issue and here.

      And I do wish that we emphasized this piece of it, which I quoted above from the program book: “Whether for halacha (Jewish law) or for personal aesthetic, the intentionality of the Shabbat experience at Limmud NY is comparable to a meditation retreat: we ask you that you turn off outside distractions and tune in to everything we have in this one shared space….”

      • But what does “offended” mean here? In normal life, everyone at Limmud NY encounters people who don’t observe Shabbat the same way they do, and generally doesn’t have a problem with it. For example, there are people who don’t drive on Shabbat, but regularly see cars driving past them as they walk on Shabbat (and if they live in New York, the odds are good that the drivers of some of those cars are Jewish), and they aren’t offended by seeing those people driving on Shabbat. (The people in Israel who throw rocks at cars aren’t at Limmud NY.)

        So the people who are offended (if they exist) can’t be offended by merely seeing behavior that contradicts their own Shabbat practices; if they’re offended, it must be a Stage-3 communal identity thing: they’re offended at the possibility of identifying as part of a community in which such behavior takes place. But if that’s the case, then they’re not really buying into Limmud’s pluralism; they’re insisting that some other people be there as guests rather than fully enfranchised members of the community (or, failing that, that they themselves be guests in someone else’s community). If such people exist, then we have the Meta-Pluralism Problem. But it’s possible that they don’t exist.

        And I do wish that we emphasized this piece of it, which I quoted above from the program book: “Whether for halacha (Jewish law) or for personal aesthetic, the intentionality of the Shabbat experience at Limmud NY is comparable to a meditation retreat: we ask you that you turn off outside distractions and tune in to everything we have in this one shared space….”

        That’s nice, but why should Shabbat be different in that regard from the rest of Limmud?

  4. I also noticed the new Shabbat policy and liked the language – about the intention being broader than halakha, but actually about the atmosphere the planning team was trying to make at Limmud NY. I thought that was great, though BZ I agree with your point.

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