Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simchas Torah - How long should Hakafos be?

Many shuls drag out the davening/hakafos on Simchas Torah and finish very late. The shul where I usually daven started at 7AM and finished around 2PM (I believe since I was not actually there). IMHO this is not working and people are starting to vote with their feet. I have been davening vasikin on Simchas Torah for the past few years (at least 5) and every year more and more people are joining me at the vasikin minyan.  This year the vasikin minyan that I attended was packed to the gills, not a seat available. A friend who davened at a different vasikin minyan in the neighborhood reported the same at his minyan. More and more people are rebelling against being held against their will in shul until ridiculously late hours. These people have no problem with dancing and hakafos, they just don't want to be held hostage from 7AM until 2PM, they want to have some control of how long they are in shul and when they eat their yom tov meal.

The fact is, if you look around most shuls you will see a small core group of people who are dancing and everyone else is basically hanging out waiting for hakafos to finish. The average person (even in a shul of Bnei Torah) does not want hakafos to drag on forever.  The truth is that, in dragging out the hakafos shuls end up adopting a number of questionable halachic practices to do this:
1. Making Kiddush before Mussaf and eating more then a כביצה
2. Not davening Musaf before mincha gedola and therefore getting involved in a question of which should come first mincha or musaf
3. Not davening musaf before 7 hours (around 12:30 this year in Israel).

These are not the biggest issues but why get involved in these halachic issues.

In many yeshivas (including my son's) they have a much better system. They start davening earlier and have short hakafos (max 5-10 minutes each) and finish davening by 11. People can then go home and eat and enjoy the Yom Tov. They then daven mincha early and have hakafos from after mincha until Yom Tov is over, approximately 2 hours.

IMHO the above is a much better solution for a number of reasons:
1. It solves all of the halachic problems mentioned above
2. People can have a nice Yom Tov meal with their family at a reasonable time
3. Hakafos and dancing can be done at a time when no one is forced to stay, those who want to dance will dance and those who don't can go home

The bottom line is that people are voting with their feet.  More and more people are simply opting to daven vasikin and if the shuls don't adapt those minyanim that drag things out may find that their minyan is growing smaller and smaller every year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some halachic considerations when building a succah

As now is succah building time I would like to post some common halachic issues that come up when building a succah.

Here are  2 posts from previous years which deal with many of the main issues encountered when building a succah.

Some halachic points regarding building a succah
Some halachos of building a succah

Sunday, October 09, 2011

What were you doing during Chazaras Hashatz on Yom Kippur?

If the shul I was in is at all representative it wasn't paying attention to every word that the chazan was saying.

Looking around during davening over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I noticed 3 different types of people doing 3 different things during chazaras hashatz

1. Learning - Many people come prepared with various seforim and spent much of chazaras hashatz learning. I definitely fall into this category.
2. Daydreaming/sleeping - Some people are simply bored and have nothing to do and therefore daydream or fall asleep during chazaras hashatz
3. Paying close attention to the chazan 

I don't know the exact percentages, but in my experience 3 is by far the smallest group, a very small percentage. There are very few people who pay attention to every word of the chazan. Of course, the truth is many people fit more then 1 category. I for example, spend a lot of chazaras hashatz learning but there are times when I do listen to the chazan and participate, it depends on what is being said etc.

The bottom line is that there is a major problem here. Most people simply do not really pay attention to chazaras hashatz on the Yomim Noraim. The chazaras hashatz simply does not speak to them as a religious experience.

In fact, I believe that this is a problem all year round, as well. It is just that chazaras hashatz on a regular weekday and shabbos are relatively short, so you don't see it. However, even on a regular Monday very few people actually pay attention to chazaras hashatz.

The reason is really simple, we just davened and therefore it is hard to see the relevance of chazaras hashatz to us. We don't feel a connection/need to have the chazan repeat what we just said.

I don't know what the answer is but we need to acknowledge that it is a problem.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs death, how should it affect our יום כיפור?

I don't claim to know why Steve Jobs died and why he died now. However, the time of his death does give us an opportunity to learn a powerful lesson for Yom Kippur.

Steve Jobs death should be a lesson that Hashem is ultimately in control. Steve Jobs was a billionaire who changed the world, yet he died at the age of 56, all of his money and brilliance could not save him. All of the technological progress, all of his money could not stop his death at a relatively young age. Hopefully his death inspires us to realize that רבות מחשבות בלב איש but ultimately עצת ה' היא תקום. We need to realize that as much as we think we control events, we don't, and that our fate for the next year is being decided on Yom Kippur.

Unfortunately this is not an easy thing to do. Over the last hundred years there has been so much technological progress that we have lost our connection and fear of Hashem. We get sick and we go to the doctor and we believe that he cures us. The temperature outside is 100 degrees, we turn on the AC and sit comfortably in our chairs. Night falls and we turn on the lights, and the list goes on. Life expectancy in the Western world has gone from 36 in 1800, to 52 in 1900, to 78 in 2000. Our standard of living is unimaginably higher then even the King of England 200 years ago. This leads to a feeling of hubris and a feeling that we are in control of our lives. We have gained a lot from the technological advancement but we have also lost a lot. We no longer have a real connection to Hashem in our everyday lives. We feel that we are in control not Hashem.

Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik describes this phenomenon better then I can in his essay Rupture and Reconstruction.
In 1959, I came to Israel before the High Holidays. ... The prayer there was long, intense, and uplifting, certainly far more powerful than anything I had previously experienced. And yet, there was something missing, something that I had experienced before, something, perhaps, I had taken for granted. Upon reflection, I realized that there was introspection, self-ascent, even moments of self-transcendence, but there was no fear in the thronged student body, most of whom were Israeli born. Nor was that experience a solitary one. ... I have yet to find that fear present, to any significant degree, among the native born in either circle. The ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are now Holy Days, but they are not Yamim Noraim—Days of Awe or, more accurately Days of Dread –as they have been traditionally called.

I grew up in a Jewishly non-observant community, and prayed in a synagogue where most of the older congregants neither observed the Sabbath nor even ate kosher. They all hailed from Eastern Europe, largely from shtetlach, like Shepetovka and Shnipishok. Most of their religious observance, however, had been washed away in the sea-change, and the little left had further eroded in the "new country." ... Yet, at the closing service of Yom Kippur, the Ne'ilah, the synagogue filled and a hush set in upon the crowd. The tension was palpable and tears were shed.

What had been instilled in these people in their earliest childhood, and which they never quite shook off, was that every person was judged on Yom Kippur, and, as the sun was setting, the final decision was being rendered (in the words of the famous prayer) "who for life, who for death, / who for tranquility, who for unrest." These people did not cry from religiosity but from self- interest, from an instinctive fear for their lives. Their tears were courtroom tears, with whatever degree of sincerity such tears have. What was absent among the thronged students in Bnei Brak and in their contemporary services and, lest I be thought to be exempting myself from this assessment, absent in my own religious life too- was that primal fear of Divine judgment, simple and direct.

I hope that Steve Jobs death can inspire us to recapture some of that primal fear of Divine judgment, simple and direct this Yom Kippur.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Creative solution for selichos and vasikin

I have been davening vasikin for the past year, but this week with selichos it is simply too early. Selichos start around 4:50 in the morning and I simply can't get up at 4:30 AM.

However, someone suggested that I do the following. I should get up for the vasikin minyan (which starts around 5:20) and then go to selichos after davening (around 6 - 6:15). This way I can daven vasikin without getting up at 4:30 and still say selichos at a reasonable time. The only drawback is that I would be saying selichos after davening, however, I don't think that it is a serious problem as once you aren't saying selichos before alos hashachar it is bdieved anyway. I really don't see a problem saying selichos at 6 (which I have been doing and davening at 6:30) after davening.

I am thinking about doing this tomorrow. If I do it I will report back how it went.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The insignificance of baseball

I have been a baseball fan for a long time, since I was about 8 years old. For better or worse, the internet has made it possible to continue following baseball even when living in Israel.

This year Rosh Hashana came out on the last day of the season and continued into the playoffs. It also happened to be that both wild card races went down to the last day (as did the race for second place in the AL) and going into Rosh Hashana none of these were decided.

If not for Rosh Hashana this would have generated a lot of interest, speculation etc. on my part. However, due to Rosh Hashana from Wednesday until Saturday I was completely tuned out of all this. In Israel where I live, there is no outside information, period on Yom Tov. WW III could have started but if the bombs were not falling in Israel we wouldn't know about it. In a way this makes it easy to tune out the outside world and forget it because you know that simply aren't going to get any information for 3 days so you can simply shut it out and concentrate on what is important. I am very happy that over the 3 day Yom Tov I was able to do this regarding baseball. It's significance paled in comparison to what was going on. It was the Yom Hadin so who cared whether the Red Sox or Rays made the playoffs. Life or death, poverty or riches, health or sickness, etc. was being decided and therefore I had no time or energy to think about the Red Sox or the Rays. In fact, it didn't matter, when you really think about it baseball is silly, it is a game played by adults but it doesn't really matter.

Whether the Yankees win or lose is irrelevant on the larger scale of things, namely what we are doing in this world. When we die (after 120), no one in the next world will care whether the Yankees won the World Series or finished in last place. We will be asked much more important questions. If baseball helps us unwind and relieve some tension then it is fine, it is helping us in our ultimate purpose, but when it takes on a life of it's own, becomes important in and of itself, we need to take a deep breath and take a step back. We need to realize the place of things like baseball and what it's role is.

It is all too easy to get sucked into professional sports and take it very seriously. There are people who almost literally live and die with their teams. In NY there are 2 all sports radio stations that talk sports 24x7x365. We need to be able to take the good from sports (teamwork, passion, beauty, exercise, etc.) and not get sucked in to the all encompassing nature. We need to be able to put sports into perspective and I believe that this 3 day yom tov helped me do this.