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A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 4/29/16

One of the unifying forces of Judaism is Torah. Its importance in Jewish life is beyond measure. It is a central focus of Jewish worship and learning. We like to proclaim that wherever we might be in the world, in whatever Jewish community we may find ourselves, we can be certain that the same portion of the Torah is being read.

Most Shabbatot this is true. But not always. This Shabbat is a notable exception to the rule.

At sundown tonight it will be the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. For Orthodox and Conservative Jews who live outside of Israel, they will observe the 8th day of Passover. Since it is a Yom Tov, a festival day, there is a special Torah reading assigned for this date.

However, for Reform Jews in the Diaspora, we do not observe a 2nd day of a holiday (i.e., a second day of Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Shimini Atzeret, Pesach, or Shavuot). Long ago, our ancestors who lived in Babylonia kept a second day of Yuntiff because it took so long for a signal from Jerusalem to arrive notifying them when to begin. But we Reform Jews no longer rely on outmoded custom. We do not wait for a priest in the Temple to certify the start of a Yom Tov; nor do we rely on bonfires set alight on mountain tops to reach us here in the Diaspora.

So for us, Passover concludes as it is prescribed in the Torah, after seven days. Pesach ends today at sunset. So if it’s not still the festival of Pesach, what is the correct Torah portion to read? The answer is not straightforward. Oh sure, you could open your HebCal app, but that will tell you what our traditional brethren are reading this Shabbat. Does the Reform movement have something else available?

The Reform movement has a website that is somewhat helpful. It lists that the Torah portion for this Shabbat is Acharei Mot. But then, it gets more complicated, because it designates the following week’s parasha as Kedoshim, which corresponds to what Jews in Israel will be reading. However, this would put us further out-of-sync with the rest of the Diaspora community. So the compromise, which many Reform congregations will follow, is to divide Torah portion Acharei Mot into two parts; the first to be read this Shabbat and the next on May 7. Then, beginning May 14, we will be aligned with other congregations in the Diaspora with Torah portion Kedoshim.

The founder of modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, wrote that “the catechism of the Jew is his calendar.” I suppose that here at Temple Beth Torah we fail at fulfilling Rabbi Hirsch’s summary exposition of doctrine. However, as long as we remain focused and devoted to Torah in its broader sense, then we will always find purpose and connection to Jews worldwide.

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