Halacha, Hashkafa and Life
OK, so this is one of those posts I started a long time back and haven't found it in myself to "tie up" until now. The trigger is now out of context, but the questions it's raised are very much at the heart of what I hope to address next year (which starts in a week -- eek!)
OrthoMom's post during the Nine Days on halachic loopholes really struck a chord with me. I often feel very contrary and unfulfilled about the laws of the nine days, because many of the elements of daily life that are restricted so as to encourage mourning and represent sadness just don't do it for me. I prefer dairy to meat and I consider laundry a chore, so why should keeping these laws get me in the right mood for Tisha B'Av? In fact, I often feel compelled to refrain from certain other activities that strike me as comparable in intention to the prohibited ones, because that would at least provide enough annoyance to be a reminder of the spirit I'm supposed to maintain. If there are three weeks when I'm not allowed to cut my hair, which I only do a couple of times a year at most anyway when I finally get fed up with the number of split ends I have, why should I be permitted to polish my nails during that time?
But it is the comments to the post which raise the most salient points, because the actual answer to my semi-rhetorical question is that Chazal1, the makers of halacha2, chose the "universal" symbols of joy and sorrow, and subscribing to those standards on a national level is inherently significant for the formation and maintenance of unity, tradition, communal identification. Fine. So I'll buy the necessity of imposing personally meaningless limitations in order to create a collectively meaningful mood. But how about when the defining line is not me vs. us but rather then vs. now? If women had been accustomed to painting their nails in Chazal's time (or were they?) would it have been forbidden during the three weeks? That's the justification for some poskim3 who don't consider a woman's voice to be erva4 these days, because it's just too common to hear women singing for it to arouse much of anything. That rationale is far from universally accepted, though.
I think what's eating me here -- of course -- is the fine, almost invisible line between the nature of the changes that are made by mainstream Orthodox (if there is there such a thing) halachic decision-makers, and those that are determined to be unacceptable lest we stray too far from halacha. My need is to take a closer look at what halacha is, exactly, and who/what created each manifestation of it. Because although I do value the body of rabbinic thought, discussion and lawmaking that our tradition treats as part and parcel of Torah, and I do not think that any of it can be disregarded out of hand (i.e. I am not a Karaite), it seems to me there should be a big difference in the treatment, by the gedolei hador5, of a law that is derived directly from the Five Books, and one that is either extrapolated within an inch of its life (a geder6 on a geder on a geder on a geder on a geder, if you will), and one that has its origin solely in the minds of Chazal because the instigation for the law was an event that occurred later in our history.
In the small hope that there may be someone reading this blog who I don't already know of, and in consideration of the possibility that this unknown figment of my imagination might not be familiar with the terms I use, I'm trying to make this post unidentified-reader-friendly. At some point I hope to go back through previous posts and provide more explanation/translation, or create a glossary altogether, but until then...
1 - Acronym for CHAchameinu Zichronam Liv'racha, literally "Our wise ones, may their memories be a blessing"
2 - Jewish law
3 - Halachic decision-makers
4 - Without going into a much-too-complicated discussion, a part of the (generally female) body which may not be seen, or in this case, voice which may not be heard (by men)
5 - The most learned minds of each generation
6 - A "fence", an enactment that is meant to prevent the practitioner from even coming near the possibility of transgressing a certain law
For some reason, I decided that I ought to see* the movie Exodus, especially having read the book and appreciated it. It was a foolish thought. The film exemplifies the reason that I try to avoid movies made from books that I've read. It changed key details of the plot and of the characters' personalities to make for better (and shorter) screenplay, and it completely skipped huge chunks of background information -- the stuff that made the written drama compelling. Without the personal histories of the characters, their behaviors on the story were shallow and pointless. I understand that the nearly four-hour movie couldn't have included much more than it did...but that's why producers and screenwriters should stay away from epic novels and create epic films of their own merit instead.* Actually, I saw it quite some time ago, but I've gotten into the aggravating habit of writing a few lines of a post to remind myself what I want to write about, then leaving it for another time...which never comes because I'm too busy, tired, or disconnected to write the rest of it. I'm afraid there are more posts of this nature in the wings.
There are so many reasons to cry, but what actually set me off today was this interview with Major General Dan Harel, who is the chief of the IDF Southern Command and in charge of the evacuation. He thankfully has a balanced, nuanced understanding of the pain of this situation, and a deep respect for the settlers themselves, their contributions to the country and their lifestyle. But oh, what a commitment he has to what he's doing, whether or not he believes it's the right move (and he won't share that opinion). It's inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.
It's funny how Tisha B'Av came and went, and I didn't even feel particularly sad. I tried, but I didn't really feel it. Yet every other day I want to cry -- I cried myself to sleep one night the week before last. My guess is it's because I only read eicha and kinot yesterday...not the news.
As if I wasn't praying hard enough -- gee, writing that sentence brought me up short. Because really, I haven't been. I mean, I've been praying, but I haven't been davening, if you catch the difference. I have a long way to go to correct that but I'll try. Back to what I started to say, but I guess I better put it a little differently: As if I didn't have enough to pray for in general, about the pending situation in Israel right now, a dear friend of mine, with her husband and their three children (all under the age of 5), are camped out in Gush Katif. I called her this morning (that is, Monday morning, because I am still up even if I shouldn't be) to find out if they were still there and to beg her to leave before, at the very least, her babies see things they really shouldn't see. I won't dispute her political position, as I've mentioned before -- my feelings and opinions are too confused for that. But I can't imagine, at this point, that the eviction will not occur, so added to my prayers is one that she makes a good decision and keeps her family safe, physically and otherwise. Please, Adina???
Tisha B'Av activities
Other posts still swirling in the background, but for now... Interesting that one is not allowed to learn Torah on Ticha B'Av because it is a joyous activity, and in fact should be the epitome of our joy. Yet I don't think (please correct me if I'm wrong) that other potentially joyous mitzvot are off-limits. This afternoon my mother and I visited an elderly homebound woman who we know from our long membership, years ago, to a certain Conservative shul, and from there we went to the hospital to visit our neighbor who gave birth on Shabbat to a beautiful baby girl. Is there any discussion of the propriety of such activities on our national day of mourning? Perhaps there's an unstated (or stated?) hope that performance of mitzvot ben adam l'chavero will continue unabated and somehow catch up with our balance of sinat chinam that has prevented the Beit Hamikdash from yet being rebuilt?
So I know this plan to cut conductors on many subway lines came out a while ago, but it's egregious enough to say something still. I know the MTA cites cities all over the world whose transit systems are operated by only one person, or are automated entirely...but those cities are not New York. Most of those cities don't have 4.5 million people a day crushing into train cars in all weathers, above and below ground, on 660 miles of track between 468 stations. Most of them also are not known worldwide for a rough-and-tumble population who have more than their share of...well, chutzpa.To be perfectly honest, I don't know whether the one-person or automated systems that exist are safe or not, but it seems like it should be fairly intuitive that if there's only one person operating a train, there's a risk of something happening to that person and less recourse if it does. Besides, there's a sign in every subway car that insists that in case of any type of emergency, passengers should first and foremost listen to the train crew. What "crew" will they be referring to, exactly, if their plan is implemented??
How very nice it is to discover that really cool bloggers are just as great in person! And of course, to spend time with another for whom that discovery has already been made.
Discovery is Home
It's nice to know that at least some things can still go right these days.
Truly Selective Hearing
My dad has a bumper-sticker type of sign that says, "My wife says I never listen to her...or something like that." Now it seems he has scientific reinforcement!
(Courtesy of Orthomom)
In Josh's words...'nuff said.
In case any of my few readers are wondering why I'm not posting, it's just because I haven't been in the mood to write. I actually have several empty drafts that I titled and saved to remind me what I wanted to write about, but don't feel like composing them. I'm stressed and anxious about all the things I need to do in the next month, I'm sick over what's happening in Israel, I'm exhausted every day from my mental revolutions and from the heat. Hopefully I'll get back into it soon.