Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reflections On Daily Kaddish

Since my mother died on June 30, I have been saying kaddish every day: and since the shiva ended at local synagogues. Since my own synagogue does not have daily minyans (why, is a good question)I have been attending at other shuls. It has reminded why I like my own Reconstructionist synagogue.

At Beth Tzedek - the largest Conservative Synagogue in Toronto (and maybe in the world) - there is a robust daily minyan. They do the full and completely traditional shaharit service. And I am reminded about how much of the traditional prayers I don't like. There is no acknowledgement of women, several references to resurrection, and - most incompatible for me - several references to Jews as the chosen people. I find myself adding words about the matriarchs, and changing, adding or deleting entire sections of the prayers under my breath.

One day, without thinking, I agreed to an aliya laTorah, and almost gagged at having to say the traditional prayer "asher bachar banu mekol ha'amim." ("who has chosen us from among all nations.") For me, rejection of choseness is the most significant and positive things that Reconstructionism has done in its theology and in its updates to the prayers. It is simply not true, and certainly not healthy to believe, that Jews are exceptional and have a unique cosmically ordained fate. It is simply untrue that, as the traditional Alenu prayer states, Jews are "not made as all nations of the earth, and ... our lot is not theirs, nor our fate as all their teeming masses." The effects of global warming, atomic war, or a world wide depression will be felt by all of humanity. Jews will not be exempted. As for the holocaust and antisemitism, in absolute numbers more Russians than Jews died in WWII, and in relative numbers more native Americans died because of the European invaders than Jews because of the Germans.

On Tuesday it was the 17th of Tammuz - a fast day commemorating the day when the Roman legions first broke through the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE, before destroying the Temple 3 weeks later on the 9th of Av. The Beth Tzedek Rabbi chose to give a short sermon on the significance of the day. According to him it was all about the loss of Jewish sovereignty, and the day should remind us of how important sovereignty and independence should be to us as Jews. But this is completely untrue. It is a revision of meaning based on political Zionism which has totally taken over most current mainstream Jewish thinking. The 17th of Tammuz, the three weeks, and the 9th of Av are about the loss of the Temple, the suffering of the war victims, and exile. Jewish sovereignty had been lost long before the 17th of Tammuz 70 CE: officially in 6 AD when Rome deposed the puppet vassal kings of the Herodian dynasty who had ruled Judea in Rome's name since 37 BCE. There is no fast day to commemorate the loss of Jewish sovereignty. This was not a major concern of the ancient Rabbis. For most of Jewish history, even prior to the destruction in 70 CE, Jews had not been sovereign in the land of Israel. What was important to them was a presence in the land, freedom of religious practice, and the Temple. Associating the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av with the need for Jewish political sovereignty is ... well a Zionist spin to say the least.

More on my adventures in Kaddishland in future postings.


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