So after a mediocre start to second semester here in Israel, I had an awesome day in school today!!! It really invigorates me when I learn something new in a field that interests me. Today I had bible and biblical grammar, which are both taught by the same person, Yosi. He's great. I was worried it would be too much of one person, but it totally wasn't. There is something so logical and brilliant about hebrew grammar, and it's really cool to learn all the rules and reasons behind the way things are said and written. It's the best. One of my fave things I learned today was that in hebrew this is a word: וווו
yes that's right, that is 4 of the same letter (a vav) in a row. The word is actually pronounced u'vavo, which means "and his hook" and can be found in stories about Peter pan and captain hook. haha. good times
Then after classes today we were addressed by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the URJ (union for reform judaism, aka he is a big deal). It was interesting to hear him talk and also extremely frustrating. I just wanted to go up there and talk to him about all the issues I have with the Reform movement, but I restrained myself.
One thing he talked about was the changes and developments that have happened within the Reform movement from what it was like in the middle of the century up until what it had changed into about 10 or 15 years ago. He mentioned the new "centrality of worship" that now a key part of synagogue life was services and having more creative services because people came to synagogue for a few reasons one of which was to find some type of meaning/get in touch with the transcendent (along with finding community, and help with raising kids). It was interesting to me that he mentioned this and tood so much pride in this because while there may be creative services happening to my knowledge service attendance at Reform synagogues is still very very low. He did mention this fact, but didn't elaborate on it. I mean if you are going to say it's central what are we doing to draw more people into this "central" part.
Another thing, and I should have asked him this, but I felt too much pressure to come up with a good question: So he spoke about these changes that have happened but I think the Reform movement is changing again and I would have liked to hear more about this. Most of my classmates have grown up in the Reform Judaism he was describing as the changed one, so we are very familiar with it, but what about the future, what are some trends he sees that are in the process of taking place that will be even more relevant when we are rabbis?
I think one of the best things about his talk was it got us all talking. We had a pizza dinner after Rabbi Yoffie finished speaking and everyone was either upset or pissed off or reacting to something that he said. I mean this is the stuff that we feel passionate about, so obviously things can be sensitive.
Anyways I had a discussion with some of my classmates about ritual hand washing on shabbat. In Reform Judaism it is not something that is very commonly done, but what it is is between doing the blessing over the wine and doing the blessing over the challah it is traditional to go ritually wash your hands. Actually traditionally one would wash their hands before a meal, not just on shabbat. Anyways my friend, who does not wash, was saying that if she has people over for dinner she isn't going to stop to let people wash, or she doesn't really think about it (not in a malicious way, but because that is the way she does it). Then another classmate was saying how she does try and stop to allow people to wash their hands. Basically what the conversation boiled down to was the issue of inclusivity and how it is common to have to go with the most strict interpretations of Jewish practice in order to be inclusive.
In regards to washing hands and stopping for all of 2 minutes for this to happen, I don't think is that offensive (as someone who does like to wash). I mean if you stopped the meal and told everyone the HAD to wash, that is disrespectful and not upholding Reform values, but if you stop and say if you would like to wash your hands you can do so now, i think that is very respectful. The issue is making people feel uncomfortable, and it is a huge problem because of the Reform education system. Why? Because we aren't taught enough about traditional practice, so when things happen that aren't typically done in Reform it can be bewildering and uncomfortable because we don't know what's going on. This shouldn't happen and I think is one of the big failures in the Reform Jewish education system. We should be educated so that we can feel comfortable in almost any Jewish environment or at least know what is happening and how to act.
I'm again not saying that everyone should wash their hands on shabbat (or any other day of the week), but I think it is important that Reform Jews know about it and know how to act. There are so many stories (thankfully I was spared of this embarassment) about Reform Jews who didn't know about hand washing and didn't know that once you have washed you aren't supposed to talk until you bless/eat the challah. So yeah imagine not knowing that and then trying to spark up friendly conversation with the person sitting next to you, awk, and being confused as to why they are being so rude and not answering. I know I've said this before but we are JEWS, not just Reform.
Anyways I think another problem with the inclusivity issue is the way both sides express themselves. I know it happens often where someone who is more traditional will belittle the other people who choose not to do something a certain way. By being condescending like that it alienates other people and really doesn't help in getting your way (unless your way is wanting to make people thing you are a douche). But yeah in Reform circles both sides need to make sure they are being respectful of one another. There is often a resentment that comes with having to compromise towards the more traditional end of the spectrum, so we need to work on ways to make everyone comfortable and feeling that their choices are valid. I think a lot of this has to do with being more respectful and needing both sides to make compromises, not just one. Now exactly how to get this done is the real question. I'm not sure yet, but I am sure that the first 2 steps are education and respect. word
I could go on, but I will save it :-)
I taught my Talmud class again yesterday. It went pretty well. They wanted me to bring in something that was taboo or that would piss them off. Yeah I pissed them off pretty well, or I should say the Talmud did, I didn't. I think I did too good of a job though, so now I need to redeem the Talmud for them. There is just so much in there, you can find really horrible stuff (like what I did in pesachim 49b, I'm going to leave it up to you to find) and really great stuff. Yeah I'm so glad I am doing this, it's one of the highlights of my week.
I also did something Israeli yesterday. I got a call while I was teaching, it was a call to the room not to my cell. I answered it and was told that I needed to leave the room because there was something happening there at 7:30. It was 6:35 at the time, and I teach til 7. So I told her we would finish at 7 and she said that that didn't leave enough time to clean the room and that I needed to be out within the next 15 minutes. I said ok. I figured that in 15 minutes it would be 6:50 and then if someone came and kicked us out I would deal with it, but I figured no one would because in Israel time is weird. In Israel people say one time and mean another. It is not crazy to have someone show up somewhere an hour after they said they would. While this would be horribly rude in the US, in Israel people expect it and plan accordingly. Yeah so I ended at like 7:05 and no one even tried to come clean the room. so bwahahaha.