SHAVU’OT, CHOOSING and CHOSEN-NESS **** For Introduction to Judaism Course Unit 1 Session 6 Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Leo Baeck Centre 2012 Use left and right arrows to move and back SHAVU’OT - BIBLICALLY • Pesach comes first - the spring (barley) harvest. • We read ‘You shall count seven weeks from the start of the harvest. Then you shall observe Shavu’ot’ (Deuteronomy 16:9-10). • Shavu’ot is the early summer (wheat) harvest in Israel (Chag heKatzir – the festival of gathering) and the first fruit harvest (Chag haBikurim). SHAVU’OT – One of the Three There are three important festivals to mark the harvests – ancient Israelites would take their thanksgiving offerings to the Priests in the Temple in Jerusalem: Springtime in Israel - PESACH Summer in Israel - SHAVU’OT Autumn in Israel - SUKKOT SHAVU’OT – Post-biblically • Without the Temple and pilgrimage, the one-day Shavu’ot lost out to the week-long holidays of Pesach & Sukkot. • Pesach celebrated the EXODUS • Sukkot marked wandering in the DESERT • SHAVU’OT had no historical connection, according to the biblical account. Z’MAN MATAN TORATEINU • The ‘Giving of Torah’ at Sinai had no festival associated with it in Torah (in Mark One – Biblical - Judaism). • So the RABBIS (Mark Two – Rabbinic Judaism) married an event without a festival to a festival without an event! • That’s how SHAVU’OT became ‘The Time of Giving of our Torah’ - Z’man Matan Torateinu (see Mishkan T’filah p 412) LET’S BUILD UP SHAVU’OT! Counting the ‘Omer’: ‘Don’t forget Shavu’ot is coming’ Study (late into or even through the night) Dairy foods (cheesecakes, blintzes) Flowers (decorating the synagogue) Ruth (The book or Scroll of Ruth is read) CHOOSING JUDAISM **** We could argue that Shavu’ot also has an important extra theme: Ger (M) – stranger – giyoret (F) Hence ‘Gerut’ – meaning ‘bringing in the stranger’, ie conversion Gerut There’s always been ‘joining’ or ‘conversion’ in Judaism. The best-known ‘proselyte’ is Ruth the Moabite After the development of Christianity, it became less easy to become Jewish. It became usual to send people away 3 times Realistically, today we are all Jews by Choice Conversion process • • • • • • Learn about Judaism Believe as a Jew Behave as a Jew Belong to the Jewish people A continuing journey Sharing both the burdens and the glories Acceptance • • • • • • • Brit Milah – religious circumcision Bet Din – Jewish court - certificate A significant Hebrew name is chosen Usually ben/bat (child of) Abraham & Sarah Mikvah – immersion Acceptance ceremony in your community Orthodox only accept orthodox conversion Precious • ‘Dearer to God is the proselyte who has come of their own accord, than all the crowds of Israel who stood at Mt Sinai’. • The Israelites witnessed the ‘special effects’ - thunder, lightning, quaking mountains and the sound of trumpets. But the proselyte, who saw none of these things, came to God and took on the yoke of heaven. Can anyone be dearer to God? MIDRASH - Tankhuma Lekh Lekha 6 RUTH Ruth as the quintessential ‘Jew by choice’. **** So Naomi returned from the country of Moab with Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest (Ruth, 1:22, quoted in Mishkan T’filah World Union Edition Festival evening service p 407) Book of Ruth - overview • Found in the K’tuvim’ (Writings) section of the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible). • Set at harvest time, the plot exhibits a belief in the comprehensive but hidden providence of God working through ‘ordinary life’ • Probably dated 950-750 BCE • The conclusion – the connection with King David – is probably dated 400 years later Summary • Ruth is a Moabite. Naomi and her family are Israelites. Ruth marries Naomi’s son Makhlon (‘sickness’) in Moab. He dies. • Naomi sets off back to Bethlehem, telling Ruth to stay in Moab and find a new husband. • But Ruth insists on coming with Naomi. MOVING COMMITTMENT • • • • • Ruth says: ‘Wherever you go, I will go ‘Wherever you lodge, I will lodge ‘Your people shall be my people ‘Your God shall be my God ‘Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried’. • When they return to Bethlehem in the land of Israel, Ruth goes to glean in the field. • There she is spotted by Boaz, Naomi’s relative. • He marries Ruth • She bears him a son, Obed • Obed’s grandson is said to be King David Don’t underestimate this! • Ruth was born a non-Israelite (a Moabite) • She adopts the Israelite God and life • She is able to give birth to the line of King David and from him King Solomon, who builds the Temple in Jerusalem • From that line of Ruth the convert, tradition says the Messiah will come. Your Personal Journey • Create a roadmap of your journey into Judaism so far • Special people, events, experiences, books or moments of insight • Sign-posts at crucial moments • Moments of doubt and/or insight SHAVU’OT CONNECTIONS? Harvest-time Receiving Torah Care taken of those who place their trust in God Welcoming the Convert Does Progressive Judaism welcome conversion to Judaism? It certainly does! We are delighted when others discover the wonderful and rich framework of life that Judaism offers. CHOSEN PEOPLE? • ‘God, from time immemorial You have chosen us • Isn’t it time you chose someone else for a change?’! CHOSEN PEOPLE? • Recommended Reading: Jacobs ch 5 • We are ‘Chosen for God’s purposes’ • Bachar as in bachar banu mikol ha’amim (Torah blessings, Mishkan T’filah page 368) • Not a rejection of those not chosen • ‘A sculptor works on a suitable piece of marble for one work, then uses another.’ CHOSEN PEOPLE • Exodus 19:5-6 : If you will listen to my voice and keep my covenant then you will be my own treasure, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. • God chose you to be God’s own treasure (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) – because the ancestors were faithful, or promised… • Exodus 4:22 talks of Israel as ‘God’s firstborn’. Parents love all their children, but the first makes them parents. Israel first recognised God as parent of humanity. First born, first daughter, middle child, baby - each are a different relationship, and each have special uniqueness. Making the Abstract Concrete? • Great achievements cannot be made in abstract – Shakespeare had to be an Englishman writing in English in an English environment – later translated into many languages for all people. • So ‘ethical monotheism’ developed amongst the Israelites in their unique time and context but is intended for all people. SHOFAR-BLOWERS? • Jews had the ‘God experience’ on which they based their teaching about what God expects of people. It was first developed amongst their own group. But what ultimately came out and will come out is for the benefit of all humanity. Is this God ‘chosing’ the Jews? (cf blowing into the narrow end of the shofar – Jews – makes sound that fills the universe – everybody) NOT A ‘SPECIAL SOUL’ • Some have suggested ‘racial superiority’ – that Jews have a special soul. Then they say this is not ‘better’ but ‘worse’ as the responsibility is greater and punishment more severe! • In Judah Halevi’s time, he argued Jews were a special super-human category as different from other humans as humans are from animals. • These concepts are objectionable to us and we reject them. Non-Jews have always been able to become Jews – so all human beings clearly have the potential to become Jews. Aleynu • The traditional formulations of the Aleynu prayer demonstrate the problem: ‘God has not made us like the nations of other lands and has not placed us like other families of the earth…’ (See version II, MT page 586, but this is interpretively translated and moderated as ‘...set us apart from the other families of the earth, giving us a destiny unique among the nations’. • Version I seems preferable, revised to ‘... spread out the heavens and established the earth’ p.586 Torah blessing • Torah is distinctive to Judaism, the ‘core’ framework of Jewish life. • The blessing is: ‘…asher bachar banu mikol ha’amim, v’natan lanu et haTorah’ • ‘…who has chosen us from all the nations, giving us the Torah’ (see Mishkan T’filah, World Union Edition, page 368) God is not only concerned with Jews – we are all God’s people • Isaiah says ‘May my people Egypt be blessed, and Assyria, the work of my hands, and Israel, my inheritance’. (19:24-25). • ‘Are not you and the Ethiopians all the same to me, children of the one God?’ (Amos 9:7) 7 laws of the sons of Noah: • • • • • • • • • Non-Jews just have to be ‘decent human beings’ 1. One God and no idols 2. Respect God and do not blashpheme 3. Lead a moral life – no adultery or incest 4. Be responsible member of society - do not murder 5. Be honest – do not steal 6. Establish courts and practice justice 7. Do not harm animals This will get people the same reward as observant Jew – a ‘place in heaven’. Kiddush haShem • Meaning ‘sanctification of God’s name’. More usually it is used about the few things Jews should give up their lives for – such as if they are forced to denounce God or die – but actually we are all ‘banners’ for Judaism and God in the way we live our lives, so we always need to try to maintain good standards of care and behaviour to others and to our world.