Tuesday, October 21, 2008

happy simchat torah

Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah), which marks the end of the long Jewish Holiday Season, is being celebrated tonight and tomorrow. Our synagogue's celebration marked the latest chapter in an ongoing cultural war, with several members--myself included--taking exception with the Rabbi's decision to dress himself and other synagogue leaders in Phillies hats and jerseys for the Holiday service. (The Phillies, if you missed, it, start the World Series in Tampa tomorrow night). Our feeling, no doubt outdated, was that the Holiday should mark the rejoicing of the law and not the rejoicing of the World Series--which, in any case, the Phillies haven't won yet. Perhaps this, like changing rules for intermarriage, gay unions, etc., is simply another example of democracy and majority rule. One is tempted to ask how far this will go: what would happen, for example, if the majority of the synagogue came out in favor of adultery, or stealing . . . or, for that matter, conversion to Protestantism, which the Reform movement (out of which Conservative Judaism grew) attempted to forestall. Perhaps it is better simply to relax and enjoy the Holiday.

One interesting aspect of synagogue life is how egalitarianism tends to enhance rather than diminish gender differences. I noticed this watching men and women dance with the Torah, a traditional part of Simchat Torah observances. Men, not surprisingly, tend to carry the Torah something like a rifle, slung over the shoulder in a rather stiff position. Women, by contrast, tend to carry it like a baby, rocking it in their arms in a kind of slow swaying motion. Part of this may be accounted by upper body strength which tends to be stronger in men than women (egalatarianism having come recently to Judaism, Torahs are typically male- rather than female-sized.) But is there perhaps something else going on?


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