Thursday, April 28, 2011

Post-Independence Day

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

On April 28, 2001 (Shabbat Tazria-Metzora), about 60 people crowded into an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to participate in a new egalitarian Shabbat morning minyan. This minyan would be named Kehilat Hadar several months later, and it has grown dramatically in both size and influence, becoming a household name around the world and inspiring many spinoffs and imitations. So today we congratulate Kehilat Hadar on reaching its 10th anniversary. (The community celebrated its anniversary several weeks ago, on Shabbat Tazria.) We wish it many more years of success if it continues to meet a need, or a graceful end if it ever outlives its mission.

But today marks an even more important milestone.  (And not just Mah Rabu's 800th post.) As of today, according to some (including Hadar founder Rabbi Elie Kaunfer), Kehilat Hadar is no longer an independent minyan.

How is this possible? Let’s look at the evidence.

The 2007 Spiritual Communities Study, sponsored by the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute and Mechon Hadar, restricted its sample of communities based on certain criteria. The report says “For the purposes of this report, we define a qualifying community as one with the following features:”, and among these features is “It was founded in 1996 or later.” (Other features of independent minyanim include “It exists independently of the denominational movements” and “It meets minimally once a month for worship”.) At first it seems like the 1996 cutoff (10 years before the study began) is just about defining the scope of the study and nothing more. But later parts of the report attribute more real-world significance to this categorization, such as the infamous bar graph which illustrates that “these communities … have grown in number more than five-fold”. (Of course you’re going to see huge growth after 1996 if you only include communities founded after 1996! If “synagogues” were defined as “synagogues founded after 1996″, then a graph of the “number of synagogues” in each year would also necessarily show some year x such that the “number of synagogues” increased fivefold between x and the present.) Agree with it or not, the idea here is that the period after 1996 is different in some way from the period before 1996. And because 1996 is in the past, you might think that whatever happened in or around 1996 already happened, and this historical cutoff isn’t going to change.

But you’d be wrong.

In Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s book Empowered Judaism (published in 2010), he writes “What is an independent minyan? They are defined by the following characteristics:”, followed by a familiar list that includes “No denomination/movement affiliation” and “Meet at least once a month”. But there is one crucial difference between this list and the list in the 2007 report: instead of “founded in 1996 or later”, Kaunfer defines independent minyanim as “founded in the past ten years”. (At the time of publication, that meant founded in 2000 or later.) Since he has essentially adopted the definition from the S3K/Mechon Hadar study, he seems to understand the significance of 1996 not as a specific moment in time, but as 10 years before the study’s data collection. (For the Excel users out there, it’s the difference between E2 and $E$2.) On the next page is another version of the same bar graph, but this time it begins in 2000, and doesn’t claim to be linked to a particular sample, but is instead labeled “Total Number of Minyanim”. (This graph also features the humorous caption “Growth of independent minyanim in the United States, 2000-2009. Includes six minyanim in Israel.”)

So if we extend this dynamic definition of independent minyanim into the present time, then as of today, a community is only an “independent minyan” if it was founded after April 28, 2001. So Kehilat Hadar doesn’t make the cut.

If Kehilat Hadar, once viewed by many as the flagship independent minyan, is no longer an independent minyan, then what is it? Is it a synagogue? Is it a havurah? (Kaunfer writes that the purpose of the 10-year cutoff for independent minyanim is “distinguishing them from the havurah movement”.) Is it something else?

As Kehilat Hadar enters its second decade, it will have to figure out what it is. Either that or it can remain an independent minyan (after all, that’s what it’s good at), and we can stop pigeonholing communities based on an arbitrary chronological cutoff. We can acknowledge that independent minyanim (any way you define that) existed before 2001 (and even before 1996), and at the same time see that this takes nothing away from the significance of the work that a new generation of minyanim has been doing for the last 10.01 years. We can explore the substantive similarities and differences among independent Jewish communities, whether they were founded around the same time or decades apart.

Happy birthday, Hadar!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is Pesach 7 or 8 days?

The question of 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov is a favorite topic here on Mah Rabu.  But while I have lots of posts addressing some of the more complex intricacies of this topic, I don't have a general post explaining the basics.

Until now.

If you're wondering what this is all about, check out my new post on, the Union for Reform Judaism's blog, on the question of 7-day vs. 8-day Pesach (and 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov more generally).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tazria-Metzora or Behar-Bechukotai?

A few years ago when I blogged about the question of what 1-day yom tov communities do about Torah reading in years (such as next year) when the 1st day of Pesach falls on Shabbat, I quoted Rabbi Solomon Freehof's CCAR responsum from the 1960s.  He wrote, in regard to non-leap years (such as next year):

But if, as happens fairly often, the eighth day of Passover is on a Saturday, then in Israel, which considers the eighth day a regular non-festival Sabbath, the regular cycle of Torah reading resumes. Therefore Israel is one week ahead of the rest of the Jewish world in the Torah cycle. But not for long! Israel continues ahead until they come to the first double portion. On Pesach, which usually takes place on the Sedra Tzav, the dislocation continues for only two weeks, when the double portion Sazria-Mezoro comes. That week Israel just reads Sazria separately, and the next week Mezoro separately, and thus the rest of world Jewry catches up with them.

I wrote in response:

But I'm not sure this is an accurate description of Israeli practice. Or perhaps there are multiple practices in Israel (though that's a little bit hard to believe, with the pervasiveness of the Jewish calendar there), or the practice has changed. In my post on single and double Torah portions, I wrote (based on Israeli calendars) that in this case, Israelis read Behar and Bechukotai separately (not Tazria and Metzora), even though that's not the next opportunity to get everyone back in sync. I don't know why that is, but it seems to be supported by empirical evidence. Can anyone shed light on this?

And now it turns out that the plot has thickened.  I looked into this issue and found that the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah (both at 428:4) both say that there are two different minhagim in Israel in this situation:  separating Tazria-Metzora, and separating Behar-Bechukotai.

So there are actually 3 different possible calendars of Torah reading:

Shabbat   2-day yom tov     1-day yom tov #1  1-day yom tov #2
=======   =============     ================  ================
15 Nisan  1st day Pesach    1st day Pesach    1st day Pesach
22 Nisan  8th day Pesach    Shemini           Shemini
29 Nisan  Shemini           Tazria            Tazria-Metzora
6 Iyar    Tazria-Metzora    Metzora           Acharei-Kedoshim
13 Iyar   Acharei-Kedoshim  Acharei-Kedoshim  Emor
20 Iyar   Emor              Emor              Behar
27 Iyar   Behar-Bechukotai  Behar-Bechukotai  Bechukotai
5 Sivan   Bemidbar          Bemidbar          Bemidbar

For 1-day yom tov communities, the advantage of calendar #1 is that it minimizes the amount of time that 1-day and 2-day communities are out of sync (while doing so in a way that 1-day communities can maintain their integrity and self-respect, unlike some of the solutions currently in use in Reform congregations).  According to an article by R. Mordecai Kornfeld, the reason for calendar #2 is that "it is Behar and Bechukotai which are kept apart, because they were joined together not by virtue of a similarity between them but only out of necessity", in contrast to Vayakheil-Pekudei, Tazria-Metzora, and Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, which all have thematic connections between the two parshiyot.  That article presents evidence for the thesis that "whatever the criteria are for deciding whether to combine two particular Parshiot or to read them separately, bridging the gap between the Jews of Israel and those of the diaspora does *not* seem to play a major role, if any at all."  And indeed, as far as I can tell, the modern Israeli calendars I have found use calendar #2.

So I'm full of questions:
  • Is it historically accurate that the two Israeli calendars once coexisted?  (The authors of the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah didn't live in Israel, so they wouldn't have had firsthand knowledge.)
  • Does anyone in Israel today use calendar #1?
  • If the answer to the first question is yes, then how, when, and why did calendar #2 become dominant in Israel?  (Kornfeld suggests a "why", but doesn't cite a source and may just be speculating.)
  • Do self-respecting Diaspora 1-day yom tov communities (i.e. those that don't read the "8th day of Pesach" reading on a Shabbat that they don't consider yom tov, and don't split a parashah over two weeks) use calendar #1, #2, or some of each?
Any answers would be appreciated.  Thanks!

The Humpty Hump Passover Guide

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

Our coverage of the Humpty Dance continues.

Foods mentioned in the Humpty Dance that are chametz:
  • crackers
  • licorice
  • oatmeal
  • biscuits
  • Burger King (in most of spacetime)
Foods mentioned in the Humpty Dance that are not chametz:
  • a pickle
  • Hennessy
  • Burger King (in Israel during Pesach)