Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Wedding... Part 4

To see what this is all about, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first, then come back here.

Ok, did you read them? Good. (For those who have been around from the beginning, note that I have added two paragraphs to Part 2, which I had erroneously deleted before posting the original post. They're at the end of the "kesef" section.)

Part 4 is about the ketubah. Before getting into what a ketubah is, we'll start with what it is not:

A ketubah is not the same as a sh'tar kiddushin. This distinction is discussed in Part 3. Some ketubot serve as (among other things) a written record of kiddushin, and include the text "X said to Y: 'You are hereby consecrated to me...'", but this kiddushin takes place whether or not it is reported in the ketubah.

A ketubah is not a document that enacts marriage. Two people who get married without a ketubah are still married by any definition. In order to make husbands give their wives ketubot, the rabbis ruled that a couple without a ketubah is not permitted to live together; however, they are still married.

A ketubah is not, classically, a document under which a woman is acquired for the price of 200 zuz. As discussed in Part 2, insofar as classical Jewish marriage resembles acquisition, the price is actually (for better or for worse) one perutah! And once again, if there is anything resembling acquisition, the ketubah has no part in this.

Ok, so if a ketubah isn't any of the things that it is commonly believed to be, then what is it?

The classical ketubah was essentially a "severance package". The husband would give the wife this document at the time of the marriage, and then if the marriage terminated, due either to divorce or the husband's death, the wife could cash in the ketubah and collect the designated amount from either the husband or his estate. (In those days, wives did not automatically inherit from their husbands; the inheritance would go to the offspring or closest blood relative.)

The ketubah was not in itself a misogynistic document. Rather, given the context of a society that would be considered misogynistic by today's standards, in which most women were not independent economic actors (and any income earned by married women went directly to their husbands), the ketubah provided a corrective by ensuring that divorced or widowed women would not be penniless when their marriages ended.

The minimum amount granted in the ketubah was, generally speaking, 200 zuz for women who had not been previously married, and 100 zuz for women who had. There was no maximum amount; any amount above the minimum could be specified in the ketubah. This 200 vs. 100 distinction makes some amount of sense: a woman who had been previously married (and therefore had previously collected at least one ketubah) might already have some financial assets of her own, and therefore be in less dire need than someone who had gone directly from her father's household to her husband's household and had nothing to her name. (But categories such as mukat eitz certainly problematize this rational basis for the distinction.)

How much was 200 zuz? Well, according to a popular song, two zuzim was the price of a kid (a goat, not a child), which means that this was enough to buy 100 kids. But more seriously, in a source more contemporary with the original ketubah, the Mishnah (Peah 8:8) defines 200 zuz as the poverty line: someone who has 200 zuz is not eligible to collect funds designated for the poor. So this is a significant amount, intended to put the divorced or widowed woman on her feet so that she's not living in poverty.

Furthermore, the rabbis ruled (Mishnah Ketubot 4:7) that a woman who never received a written ketubah was still entitled to collect the appropriate minimum amount (100 or 200 zuz) on the termination of her marriage; thus, this provision of the ketubah became automatic, with or without the actual ketubah. This chapter of the Mishnah goes on to name other ketubah provisions that go into effect and are enforceable whether or not they are actually written into the ketubah: the ketubah obligation is secured by the husband's property; if the wife is taken captive, the husband is responsible for ransoming her and bringing her back; if the wife dies first, her sons can collect the ketubah amount on top of what would otherwise be their share of the inheritance (this was more relevant in a time when men had multiple wives, so there were multiple sets of sons competing for the inheritance); the wife's unmarried daughters will be supported by the husband's estate after he dies; the wife herself will be supported by the estate until she is paid her ketubah. We can infer that these were all meant to be written into the ketubah. Most of these provisions, like the original core of the ketubah, deal with responsibilities that accrue after the termination of the marriage. The one exception is the part about redeeming the captive, which is a responsibility during the marriage, and is therefore perhaps the link from the ancient to the modern ketubah.

Over time, the ketubah grew to incorporate more responsibilities during the marriage, and the standard wording (see, e.g., Rambam, Hilchot Yibum v'Chalitzah 4:33) came to include אנא אפלח ואוקיר ואיזון ואפרנס יתיכי ("I will serve and respect and sustain and support you"). Thus the current "traditional" ketubah text contains both some of the responsibilities of the husband during the marriage and the financial guarantee after the termination of the marriage.

Modern egalitarian ketubot tend to focus on responsibilities during the marriage, though of course, the responsibilities apply to both partners. Our ketubah is in this model, containing both the responsibilities (in Aramaic) found in classical ketubot and some (in Hebrew) based on the text of Rachel Adler's berit ahuvim and other versions used by our friends. All provisions are mutual and incumbent equally on both partners; adapting the text for a same-sex marriage would require only grammatical changes. We intentionally used very little original text, and the two couples working on this used identical texts (except for names, dates, and locations), in accordance with the principle (discussed in Part 1) of doing things in a general way that other couples could use rather than specifically tailoring the ceremony to ourselves.

As for the original core of the ketubah, we included a paragraph stating that property would be under joint ownership, and a paragraph regarding the termination of the marriage (which will be discussed in Part 5). However, there is no reference to 200 zuz or any analogous amount, because we couldn't see any coherent way to incorporate this into an egalitarian ketubah between two partners who are both financially empowered. It wouldn't have made sense to apply this financial responsibility to both partners: in our society, it is assumed that spouses inherit each other anyway, so specifying a fixed amount payable to the surviving spouse would have been redundant. And in the case of divorce (in which both partners survive), the two payments would cancel each other out and would thus be meaningless. Instead, in the case of divorce, we included a requirement that כל רכוש דאית לון יהון פלגין באורח קשוט וכל טפלא דיתברכון בהון יהו באחריות תריהון ("they will divide all of their possessions with integrity and share responsibility for any children with which they are blessed"), which we think matches the original intent of the ketubah, to ensure that both spouses and any children are provided for after the termination of the marriage.

So that's the text of the document. The other issue is the means of accepting it.

Classically, ketubot were signed only by the witnesses. Nowadays, many ketubot are also signed by the couple (and/or the officiant(s)). We went with the former approach, but not for any ideological reason.

At many weddings, the couple (in the case of an egalitarian ketubah) or the groom (in the case of a non-egalitarian ketubah) formally acquire the responsibilities of the ketubah via the mechanism of kinyan sudar: They take hold of some object, such as a handkerchief (sudar) or pen, that belongs to someone else (e.g. one of the witnesses), and in taking possession of that object, they acquire the ketubah obligations. The witnesses watch this happen, and then sign the ketubah to affirm that they have seen it. Typically this takes place before the chuppah. (However, it occurs to me that couples that don't do a formal kinyan sudar are still covered if they sign their own ketubah, since in 21st-century America, signing a document is the standard method of accepting responsibility for the contents.)

You may recall from Part 3 that we didn't use rings for kiddushin. But we still wanted to exchange rings. So we used the rings as the "sudar" to acquire the obligations of the ketubah. (This is similar to R. Dov Linzer's model for a bilateral nonegalitarian "double-ring" ceremony, in which the groom gives the bride a ring to effect kiddushin, and the bride gives the groom a ring which he accepts to take on the obligations of the ketubah. However, instead of 1 ring for kiddushin and 1 ring for the ketubah, we used 0 for kiddushin and 2 for the ketubah.)

We gave the rings ahead of time to one of our witnesses, who was then the owner of the rings for a brief period of time. At the appropriate moment (after the ketubah was read aloud under the chuppah), she brought the rings forward to the chuppah in a bag. We then lifted the bag of rings together, to indicate our intent to establish a partnership. (This echoes the berit ahuvim, which is in turn based on the classic method of establishing a business partnership (shutafut). However, we were doing this only symbolically, since shutafut requires pooling resources that belong to each partner, whereas the rings still belonged to our witness at that point.)

We then removed the rings (which still belonged to our witness until then) from the bag, and each of us gave the other a ring. In taking possession of the ring, we each accepted responsibility for our respective obligations in the ketubah. The witnesses witnessed this, and signed the ketubah. (This method required signing the ketubah under the chuppah, rather than ahead of time, since the witnesses were testifying that they had seen us accept the responsibilities.)

This was followed by sheva berachot, etc., as at any Jewish wedding.


Coming in Part 5: provisions for divorce

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Google hit of the day

Someone found their way to Mah Rabu yesterday by Googling (without the quotes) "is watching a lunar eclipse halachically permissible?".

(By the way, while last night's eclipse was on the same date as the solstice, it didn't coincide with the solstice itself, which was over 12 hours after the eclipse ended.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The December Dilemma: 10 Tevet on Friday (guest post)

In the tradition of Mah Rabu's calendar geeking, this is a guest post by Dunash.

This year, for the first time since 5762 (2001), the Fast of Tevet will be observed on a Friday. This creates an awkward situation, where one is preparing for Shabbat while also fasting. In perhaps the greatest contrast, at erev Shabbat mincha, one reads Torah and Haftarah as normal on a fast day, before going into Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv and then breaking the fast at Shabbat Kiddush.i

This may not be an enormous undertaking in the Northern Hemisphere, when Shabbat in late December or early January starts mid afternoon, but in Buenos Aires or Cape Town or Melbourne this could be a significant hardship. Still, the fast is observed on a Friday worldwide.

The situation raises three questions:
1) What are the calendar mechanics that cause the 10th of Tevet to fall on a Friday?
2) What would happen if another fast day fell on a Friday?
3) Why is the Tenth of Tevet so special?

First, a brief primer on how the Jewish calendar is calculated. It consists of lunar months, which are between 29 and 30 days, over a fixed 19-year cycle of non-leap (12-month) and leap (13-month) years. This is necessary because a non-leap lunar year is approximately 11 days short when compared to a solar year and so must be augmented to keep the holidays seasonal. (This is in contrast to the Muslim calendar, which is purely lunar with no leap years and so the holidays shift throughout the year.)

There are also constraints such as on when the first day of Rosh Hashana can be (with the mnemonic לא אד"ו ראש – meaning not on Sunday, Wednesday, or Friday). This is so that Yom Kippur does not fall on Friday or Sunday and so that Hoshana Rabbah does not fall on Saturday.

These constraints result in at times needing to add one or two days to each year (both leap and non-leap) to make the next RH come out right. Days are added to Cheshvan (and potentially Kislev), which always makes them fall between Simchat Torah and the end of Chanukah. As a result, the period from Purim to ST always has the same number of days and so there is a 1-1 relationship between the days of the week of RH and most other holidays.ii

Based on this calendar algorithm, for the next 100 years (2010-2109), the 10th of Tevet will fall on a Friday 21% of the time.

10th of Tevet

Day of the weekShareiii
1 30%
2 0%
3 26%
4 3%
5 20%
6 21%
7 0%

While this hasn't happened since 2001, 1996, 1993, and 1983, it will happen again in 2013, then 2020, 2023, and 2024 (which actually occurs in Jan 2025).
The only other fast that could occur on a Friday would be Ta'anit Bechorot (because of a Saturday Pesach and therefore a Monday Rosh Hashana). If this happens, though, it is pulled up to the previous Thursday instead of observed on a Friday.iv

So why is the 10th of Tevet so special that we observe it on a Friday? And why do we ensure in the calendar that it cannot fall on Shabbat? It seems that there is a biblical relationship between the 10th of Tevet and the other fast day that we structure the calendar around instead of shifting its observance: Yom Kippur. In Leviticus 23:28, Yom Kippur is described as בעצם היום הזה ("on the very day"). Similarly, in Ezekiel 24:2, 10th of Tevet is described using very similar language, as עצם היום הזה ("the very day").

This suggests that were the 10th of Tevet to fall on Shabbat (which is currently impossible) we'd actually fast, which would create a strange situation since it is not a fast day with anywhere near the theological significance of Yom Kippur. However, this is not an issue with a Friday that has no particular significance, and so the 10th of Tevet can fall on a Friday, with only minor inconveniences to Shabbat cooking and erev Shabbat mincha.

May we all have a צוֹם קַל – an easy and meaningful fast.


i Despite reading Torah and Haftarah, because it is erev Shabbat, one omits Tachanun as usual, and also Avinu Malkeinu. One still does bathe as usual in anticipation of Shabbat. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 566.

ii There is a spectacular את בש mnemonic (formed by starting at either end of the alphabet and then pairing letters going inward from each end) for the days of the week that each holiday falls on, corresponding to the days of Pesach. It does not take into account holiday observance that is pushed off because of Shabbat. Say the first day of Pesach was a Tuesday. Then את means Tisha Bav is on a Tuesday, בש means Shavuot is a Wednesday, גר means that Rosh Hashanah is on a Thursday, דק means Kriat Torah – reading of the Torah - Simchat Torah is on a Friday, הצ means Tzom – fast – Yom Kippur is on a Saturday, ופ for Purim on a Sunday, זע for Atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day on a Monday. However, (northern hemisphere) fall holidays are more flexible – Chanukah, 10th of Tevet, Tu Bishvat, due to the extra days in Cheshvan or Kislev.

The את בש goes back at least to the days of the Tur (1269-1340), though obviously there was no Yom Ha’Atzmaut back then. That its missing seventh day is now accounted for is an amazing/divine coincidence.

iii The fact that the 10th of Tevet can't fall on Monday either is interesting, though not crazy - since there are only three numbers of days it can be after RH, which can only be on four days of the week, but not every combination is possible - 353 only occurs with Monday and Saturday, 354 with Tuesday and Thursday, 355 and 383 and 385 with Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, 384 only with Tuesday. You'd need a 354 or 384 to occur with a Monday or Saturday RH, or 353 to occur with a Tuesday to get it on Monday or Saturday, none of which ever happens, since they would result in a Sunday or Friday RH the following year.

iv Several other fasts, if they fall on Shabbat, are observed a day late or two days early. In these cases (even for Tisha B’Av) certain special individuals can eat at very festive occasions that cannot be moved, such as those intimately involved with a bris, since the fast does not actually “fall” on that day but is merely “observed”.

If Tzom Gedaliah were to fall on Saturday (because of a Thursday RH) it is pushed off to Sunday (it cannot fall on a Friday because that would mean a Wednesday RH)

If Ta'anit Esther were to fall on a Saturday (because of a Sunday Purim and therefore a Thursday RH) it is pulled up to the previous Thursday (it cannot fall on a Friday because that would mean Purim on Shabbat which would mean a Wednesday RH)

If Ta'anit Bechorot were to fall on a Saturday (because of a Sunday Pesach and there a Tuesday RH) it is pulled up to the previous Thursday.

If 17th of Tammuz / Tisha B’Av were to fall on a Saturday (because of a Monday RH) it is pushed off to Sunday (it cannot fall on a Friday because that would mean a Sunday RH).

Technically, the beginning of Tisha B’Av can overlap with the end of Shabbat, either because it actually falls on Sunday or is pushed off from Saturday. But one does not experience fasting during this hour, since one has just finished the pre-fast meal.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Snow Shabbat's ripple effects

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

Back in February, we blogged about how Segulah’s and other Mid-Atlantic Jewish communities’ Shabbat plans were affected by what some called “Snowmageddon”. It turns out that that snowy Shabbat has had more profound impacts on one family. Go and read Washington lawyer Viva Hammer’s inspiring story about it, published in the Jerusalem Post.

Two lessons of this story (beyond the explicitly stated ones) include:
1) When we build communities, they can have powerful effects on individuals beyond what anyone expects.
2) It’s always a good idea not to be intimidated by the snow, and to let life (and Shabbat) go on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vote early and often

Election Day is a mere fortnight away, and early voting is already open in 25 states, and opens here in Maryland on Friday. So it's time for Mah Rabu's endorsements: in all partisan races, as usual, I endorse Democrats for everything. (Except in the Florida Senate race, where I endorse instant-runoff voting, which I also retroactively endorse for Florida 2000.) I can't say I'm thrilled with how the congressional Democrats have used (or, more precisely, not used) their once-in-a-generation supermajorities. Still, the Democrats are better than the Republicans on every single issue (we recently saw a unique exception when the Obama administration voluntarily appealed the decision in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, but that's irrelevant to this election, since neither Obama nor the Log Cabin Republicans are on the ballot), and a Democratic Congress that does nothing at all (which is a close first-order approximation to the current Democratic Senate) would be vastly superior than a Republican Congress that does anything at all. Withholding your vote to "send a message" to the Democrats will accomplish nothing; a resounding defeat will be merely interpreted as proof that the Democrats have "overreached" and need to "move to the center". (Funny how everything seems to be interpreted that way.) And at the state level (in the 43 states with multiple congressional districts), this year's legislative and gubernatorial elections will have an impact on redistricting following the 2010 Census, and therefore on the makeup of state legislatures and the U.S. House for the next 10 years. So go vote!

So that's the partisan elections, but I also need to figure out how to vote in the nonpartisan elections and ballot questions here in Maryland and Montgomery County, so I'm posting the information I've gathered so far, and inviting input from readers.

Circuit Court (Circuit 6):
The Circuit Court is the higher of the two trial courts in Maryland, with jurisdiction over felonies and major civil cases. (The District Court handles misdemeanors and minor civil cases. As far as I can tell, they seem to be roughly parallel to the two levels of trial courts in my former state of residence, with the Circuit Court parallel to the New York "Supreme Court" (which, confusingly to everyone, is not the highest court in the state), and the District Court parallel to the NYC Civil Court and the NYC Criminal Court.) Judges are elected for a term of 15 years or until they reach age 70. However, when a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement who serves until the next biennial election. (Since 15 is an odd number, it seems to me that this means that this would happen almost all the time.) This year, 6 judicial positions are up for election in the 6th Circuit (which includes Montgomery and Frederick Counties). Six candidates are running for these six positions, and all 6 (Sharon Burrell, Cynthia Callahan, Richard Jordan, Cheryl McCally, Joseph Quirk, and Steven Salant) are incumbent judges. If I understand the system correctly, this means that 6 positions opened up in the 2 years since the last election, and all 6 judges appointed to fill those positions have chosen to run for full terms. Does anyone know anything about any of these judges? Given that this isn't a competitive election, in the absence of further information I think I'm going to sit this one out, as a protest against judicial elections. (I can't vote for myself, since Maryland judges have to have been Maryland residents for 5 years.)

Court of Appeals (Appellate Circuit 7):

As in New York, Maryland's highest state court is called the Court of Appeals (though Maryland doesn't have a lower court called the Supreme Court to confuse everyone). The Court of Appeals consists of 7 judges, one from each Appellate Circuit, and the 7th Appellate Circuit is just Montgomery County. Judges are appointed by the governor to a term of 10 years (or until age 70) and confirmed by the Senate, then are put before the voters at the first election thereafter for a retention vote. Judge Mary Ellen Barbera took office in September 2008, apparently too close to the 2008 election to get on the ballot that year. What do we know about her?

Court of Special Appeals (At Large):

The Court of Special Appeals is the intermediate state appellate court, and its judges are appointed by the same system as the Court of Appeals. There are 13 judges, one from each Appellate Circuit, and 6 at-large. Judges Peter Krauser (the Chief Judge, appointed in 2000 and up for a second term), Albert Matricciani, Jr. (appointed in 2008), and Alexander Wright, Jr. (appointed in 2008), all at-large, are up for retention this year. Thoughts?

Montgomery County Board of Education:

The Board of Education has at-large members as well as members representing districts, but all of them are elected at-large (except the student member, who is elected by students in the county's middle and high schools). They are elected to staggered 4-year terms, so half are elected every 2 years. The candidates already ran in a nonpartisan primary in September, and the top two candidates for each seat went on to the general election. The at-large candidates are Shirley Brandman* and Lisa Lloyd; in District 1, Judy Docca* and Mike Ibanez; in District 3, Patricia O'Neill* and Karen Smith; and in District 5, Mike Durso* and Martha Schaerr. (The incumbents have asterisks. Did they all win because they were first in the alphabet?) The teachers' union endorses all 4 incumbents, as does SEIU Local 500.

State Question 1:

The Maryland Constitution says that every 20 years (non-presidential election years ending in zero, so this is the year), there has to be a ballot question asking whether there should be a state constitutional convention, which can then propose constitutional amendments (or a new constitution) to be submitted to the voters for approval. There seem to be several websites advocating for such a convention, though not openly advocating for any particular constitutional amendments. In the absence of any specific proposed amendments that I'd like to see, I'm inclined to vote no. I'd be too worried that a convention would be dominated by crackpots and/or corporate money, and that we'd see California-style amendments that would abridge civil rights and/or make the state ungovernable. (I don't think Prop 8 would pass in Maryland, but I'd rather not find out; I didn't think it would pass in California either.)

State Question 2:

Most people know that the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury for any civil suit in which the amount in controversy exceeds $20. Since the $20 has not been adjusted for inflation, that's not so much in today's dollars, so a jury option is available for basically any civil trial. However, this only applies to federal cases. The corresponding amount in the Maryland Declaration of Rights is $10,000 instead of $20. The proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot would raise this amount to $15,000.

I'm not sure I have enough information to know how to vote on this. How common are civil trials where the amount in controversy is between $10k and $15k, and how often do the litigants exercise their right to a trial by jury? Is there a systematic difference in the outcomes of civil trials tried by judges and by juries? Is the reason for this proposed amendment to save money (because jury trials cost the state more), or to help corporations (because juries are more likely to rule in favor of the plaintiff), or something else?

State Question 3:

This proposed constitutional amendment would require that judges of the Orphans' Court in Baltimore City be members in good standing of the Maryland Bar. I think I'm going to abstain on principle; this seems to be a matter entirely internal to Baltimore City (with no impact on the state budget), so I don't see why it should be up to me.

UPDATE: An anonymous commenter raises a good point: in order to become law, the amendment must be passed by a majority of statewide voters AND a majority of Baltimore voters. Therefore, a yes vote is a vote to let Baltimore decide. So now I think I'm voting yes.

County Question A:

This law, charging an ambulance fee of around $400, was passed by the Montgomery County Council in May, then referred to the voters by petition. The ballot question asks "Shall the Act to require the collection of an emergency medical services transport (ambulance) fee from: (1) County residents to the extent of the resident's insurance coverage; and (2) non-County residents subject to a hardship waiver become law?" Again, I'm not sure I have enough information. The county claims that the fee is only charged to insurance companies and not directly to patients (and is waived for uninsured County residents), but how does this interact with copays, deductibles, etc.? Is it true that people don't have to pay anything? If it really is charged only to insurance companies, it seems harmless enough, but if not, it seems like a highly regressive tax, and there are better ways to make up the budget shortfall. It also seems to screw over non-residents (and there are many DC and PG County residents who work in MoCo and could have emergencies there). Thoughts?

UPDATE: Here's the actual law that is up for a vote. No amount is specified for the ambulance fee; it is to be set by the County Executive. It looks like the county indeed covers everything for county residents that isn't covered by insurance (including copays, deductibles, etc.), so residents indeed don't have to pay anything out of pocket. (And lifetime coverage limits are now illegal under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.) Non-residents are on the hook for whatever their insurance doesn't cover, but can request a waiver if their household income is less than 3 times the poverty line. (It's not clear how simple or complicated this process would be.) The ambulances are required to transport people regardless of their ability to pay. County Executive Leggett has proposed significant cuts to county programs in anticipation of the ambulance fee being voted down. I can't say I agree with his quick dismissal of the possibility of raising taxes, but whether I agree with it or not, that doesn't seem to be on the table right now, while the ambulance fee does. So to avoid all these cuts, from firefighters to road maintenance to mental health services, I'm now inclined to vote YES.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Overton window for 1-day and 2-day yom tov

This is another followup to Hilchot Pluralism Part VIII, which used Tikkun Leil Shabbat's Simchat Torah celebration as a case study to explore the possibility of pluralism regarding 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov.

The previous post talked about 1-day and 2-day individuals vs. 1-day and 2-day communities. This post is just here to clarify that there are far more than two possible stances that a community can take on this issue.

For example, Tikkun Leil Shabbat (featured in HP8) has explicitly not taken a communal stance on the issue. (Explicitly not taken a stance, as distinct from simply not taking a stance by default, like any community in the state of nature, or like TLS as of a few month ago.) You might think this is unusual, even unique. And perhaps it is, among prayer communities that meet for prayer on 16 Nisan, 22 Nisan, 7 Sivan, 16 Tishrei, or 23 Tishrei. But there are other types of Jewish communities out there, such as Hillels (which contain multiple prayer communities under one roof), or non-denominational Jewish organizations that are not ritual-focused. Such groups can and do take neutral stances on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov (though the implementation is not always given enough thought).

And among those communities that have either 1 day or 2 days as the norm, there are different ways of approaching this. There are communities for which "1 day" or "2 days" is the answer to the question "How many days of yom tov should we do?", and there are communities in which the question is never asked in the first place. For example, (and people who know otherwise can correct me if I'm wrong) when the first Hadar Shavuot Retreat was being planned, I suspect there was not an initial gabbai meeting at which they discussed (or even rubber-stamped) whether it would be 1 or 2 days.

A useful way to think about the range of possible stances on this issue is the concept of the Overton window, which incorporates not only the actual position of a given community, but the range of other positions that are considered acceptable within that community's discourse (which is generally smaller than the range of all possible positions).

The Overton window is named after the late libertarian activist Joe Overton. The classic example is on the issue of education, in which he ranked different public policies from "least government intervention / most freedom" to "most government intervention / least freedom". (As a public education advocate, I obviously disagree strongly with Overton on the framing of the various policies. I'm citing him here for the structure, not the substance.)

His ranking was:
No government schools
Parents pay for only the education they choose
Private and home schools monitored, not regulated
Tuition tax credits
Tuition vouchers
Private and home schooling moderately regulated
Charter schools
Public‐school choice
State‐mandated curricula
Private and home schooling highly regulated; parents pay twice
Home schooling illegal
Private schools illegal
Compulsory indoctrination in government schools

The point is that in addition to the status-quo policy, there may be a "window" on either side of it containing other policies that are considered within the realm of possibility.

So if we arrange the possible communal stances on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov on a spectrum, it might look something like this:
  • 2 days as the unquestioned communal standard
  • 2 days as the unquestioned communal standard, but individuals who observe 1 day can be open about their practice
  • the number of days of yom tov is a question, and the answer is 2 days
  • the number of days of yom tov is a question, and the answer is no official communal stance
  • the number of days of yom tov is a question, and the answer is 1 day
  • 1 day as the unquestioned communal standard, but individuals who observe 2 days can be open about their practice
  • 1 day as the unquestioned communal standard
Where does your community fall on this spectrum, and where is your community's Overton window?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ontology of yom tov

This is a followup to Hilchot Pluralism Part VIII, which used Tikkun Leil Shabbat's Simchat Torah celebration as a case study to explore the possibility of pluralism regarding 1-day vs. 2- day yom tov.

To address this issue more deeply, we have to look at the ontology of yom tov, and where it is situated: with the community, or with the individual? SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to claim that it's some of each. (These thoughts are relatively raw, and refinements are welcome.)

In that post, I wrote "This is an issue that will become more and more relevant in the future, due to various trends resulting in more intermingling between 1-day and 2-day people," and one of the trends mentioned (hat tip to JGN for this one) was:
the increased incidence of "shulhopping" (individuals participating regularly in multiple Jewish communities, and thereby having a greater need to define their own practice and identity rather than adopting a single community's practice)
If people are part of just one Jewish community (particularly if it is the only Jewish community they have ever been part of), they are less likely to have to give any thought to their personal minhagim, on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov or any other issue, since they are more likely to just go along with the community's practice, whatever it is. Now that people participate in more communities, whether simultaneously or serially, it leads many of them to be more thoughtful about their own practice. I think this is mostly a positive development, since it contributes to a world in which people are more deeply engaged with and invested in their Judaism. But when taken to certain extremes (in either direction), it can become incoherent, as I'll discuss in this post.

The extreme manifestation of this individualization of Jewish practice can be found in the discourse of Stage-1 pluralism. (Just to be clear, when I say "individualization", I'm not talking about Sheilaism. What I mean is that if you find yourself in the desert for Shabbat with no other people around, you still keep Shabbat, without a community.) In Stage 1, the discourse is about what is forbidden, permitted, or required for the individual, and various properties of communities become projected onto the individual. For example, rather than talking about egalitarian and non-egalitarian communities, we can now talk about egalitarian and non-egalitarian individuals, even though this concept is mostly meaningless outside the context of a community, and even though the specific communal practices in question have their roots in concepts such as "kevod tzibbur" (the dignity of the community). Stage 2 is fundamentally similar in this regard, but more toned down.

The opposite extreme is in some non-pluralistic communities, where the community is seen as the source of all Jewish practice. This is manifested most not in the Orthodox world (where the concept of individual minhagim is alive and well), but in the allegedly individualistic Reform movement. Perhaps the most extreme example is in those Reform communities that do havdalah before dark on Saturday. The underlying assumption enabling this is that Shabbat exists only in the context of the community, and therefore the community has the power to determine when Shabbat starts and ends. There is no consideration that an individual might have a Shabbat practice that transcends the community (and therefore is not subject to the communal decision to end Shabbat at this time); that simply isn't the conception of Shabbat as understood by that community.

I think a happy medium can be found in Stage 3, in which the identity-based discourse includes individual identities, communal identity, and the interaction between these.

So with that in mind, let's look at the ontology of yom tov. Yom tov is an aggregation of multiple elements, some of which are situated with the individual, some with the community, and some are ambiguous. Here are some examples (looking only at the 3 pilgrimage festivals), but this is not a complete list; other examples are welcome.

Elements of Yom Tov Incumbent on the Individual
  • the prohibition on work
  • kiddush and havdalah
  • the yom tov prayers
  • dwelling in a sukkah (on Sukkot)
  • eating matzah and maror (on Pesach)
  • not eating or owning chameitz (on Pesach)
  • not wearing tefillin
What these have in common is that an individual who observes yom tov would do them even if s/he were spending yom tov in a desert with no other people, or in a foreign city with no other Jews. In some cases, their inverses are obligatory on days that are not yom tov (e.g., if you're praying on a day that is not yom tov, you should use the weekday or Shabbat amidah, and not the yom tov Amidah), and in some cases they're not (e.g., just because it's not Pesach doesn't mean you have to eat chameitz).

Elements of Yom Tov Incumbent on the Community
  • "Simchat Torah"
  • Torah/haftarah reading
  • reading of megillot
These are things that only happen in the context of a community, that individuals can't do on their own. For example, an individual who observes Shemini Atzeret (whether for 1 or 2 days, it doesn't matter), who finds him/herself in rural Djibouti when the holiday rolls around, would say kiddush and refrain from work activities, but wouldn't really have anything called "Simchat Torah".

I think this dichotomy among elements of yom tov is useful in thinking about 1-day and 2-day communities, on the one hand, and 1-day and 2-day individuals, on the other. An individual who observes n days of yom tov should hold on to the elements in the first category (as applied to n days of yom tov) wherever s/he happens to be, whether in a Jewish community that observes n days, in a Jewish community that observes (3-n) days, or not in a Jewish community. See, for example, the one-day-yom-tov person's guide to the second seder.

On the other hand, the elements in the second category don't follow individuals around in the same way. For example, it doesn't make any sense for a 1-day individual located in a 2-day community to say on 22 Tishrei, "Today is Simchat Torah for me." If there's no community doing the ritual of Simchat Torah, then there's no meaningful sense in which it "is" Simchat Torah. (If a Torah falls in the woods...) To take a more obscure and convoluted example, many communities read Kohelet on Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Sukkot. In years in which there is no Shabbat Chol Hamo'ed Sukkot (because yom tov falls on Shabbat), 2-day communities read Kohelet on the Shabbat that is (the 1st day of) Shemini Atzeret. In order not to make the long Simchat Torah service even longer, 1-day communities read Kohelet on the Shabbat that is the 1st day of Sukkot instead. But if a 1-day individual is spending the 1st day of Sukkot (in a year when it falls on Shabbat) in a 2-day community, it doesn't make sense for him/her to say "My minhag is to read Kohelet today", or conversely, if a 2-day individual is spending that day in a 1-day community, it doesn't make sense for him/her to say "My minhag is not to read Kohelet today". This is because there is no individual minhag to read Kohelet (in a ritual context); this is only something that communities do.

Ambiguous Elements of Yom Tov
  • yizkor
Does yizkor belong to the individual or the community? I'm not sure. Specifically, if a 1-day individual is spending the 7th day of Pesach and/or (1st day of) Shavuot with a 2-day community (which does yizkor on the following days, when this individual is back at work), should this individual do yizkor in some form on the day s/he considers yom tov, or not do it at all?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Learn by teaching, teach by learning

Do you have something to teach?

The National Havurah Committee is now accepting course proposals for the 2011 NHC Summer Institute! The Institute will be August 1-7, 2011, at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire. It is a week of Jewish learning and living in a pluralistic and multigenerational community comprised of people from grassroots Jewish communities across the continent.

We’re looking for proposals for four-session courses, whether connected to this year’s Institute theme “Y’hi shalom b’cheileich - May there be peace within your walls”, or on any other topic of interest. Teachers whose courses are accepted receive free registration, room, and board for the week, and get to participate fully in the Institute when they’re not teaching.

At the Institute, every teacher is a student and every student is a teacher. As someone who is a teacher in real life and has taught Institute courses, I have found teaching at Institute to be one of my most rewarding teaching experiences, thanks to the productive contributions of everyone in the class. Teachers at Institute include people who work professionally in the field they’re teaching about, as well as people pursuing an “extracurricular” interest who are excited to study something in depth and share it with others.

The deadline for course proposals is November 17. Learn more, and download a course proposal form. See you in August!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Hilchot Pluralism, Part VIII: Simchat Torah

The Hilchot Pluralism series documents and analyzes the pluralistic practices that independent Jewish communities are developing.

Read this first:
Back in January 2008, Part VII concluded:
Coming in Part VIII: I don't know. Maybe something with an actual concrete solution?
And it's taken almost 3 years to find something, but now here we are!



We look at Tikkun Leil Shabbat's first ever Simchat Torah celebration (last week), which successfully avoided taking a communal stance on whether or not it was yom tov.

The Broader Issue

This represents an attempt to achieve Stage-3 pluralism on the question of 1-day versus 2-day yom tov. (As we'll see, this solution is of limited generalizability, but still valuable.) This is an issue that will become more and more relevant in the future, due to various trends resulting in more intermingling between 1-day and 2-day people:
  • cross-fertilization between Israel and the Diaspora (including Israelis living in the Diaspora and retaining their 1-day practice, and 2-day Diaspora Jews going to Israel and picking up the 1-day custom there)
  • greater empowerment and education among people coming from 1-day backgrounds who may be more likely to retain their practice when making contact with 2-day Jews
  • potential shifts in practice catalyzed by the upcoming calendar patterns
  • the increased incidence of "shulhopping" (individuals participating regularly in multiple Jewish communities, and thereby having a greater need to define their own practice and identity rather than adopting a single community's practice)
  • the more general trend of pluralistic communities defining themselves along lines other than the established denominational boundaries

Background on Simchat Torah

Contrary to popular belief, there is (technically speaking) no holiday called "Simchat Torah". Simchat Torah is the celebration of the completion of the Torah that typically takes place during the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. (Similarly, there is no holiday called "Seder"; seder is a ritual that takes place on the holiday of Pesach.) Shemini Atzeret is observed on 22 Tishrei (by those who do 1 day of yom tov), or 22 and 23 Tishrei (by those who do 2 days of yom tov). In most cases, communities that observe 1 day have their Simchat Torah celebrations on that one day (22 Tishrei), and communities that observe 2 days have their Simchat Torah celebrations on the second day of Shemini Atzeret (23 Tishrei). Of course, the day on which the Simchat Torah celebration takes place (whichever day that is) is often colloquially referred to as "Simchat Torah", but in more formal contexts (e.g. the kiddush, the Amidah), it is still called "Shemini Atzeret".

While the timing of Simchat Torah celebrations is highly correlated with a community's stance on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov, there are some exceptions: Some Chasidic communities (and the Carlebach Shul in New York), which do 2 days of yom tov, do hakafot (dancing with the Torah) on both nights of Shemini Atzeret. And for various reasons, some communities that do 1 day of yom tov have their Simchat Torah celebrations on the night that would be the "2nd night", even though it is no longer yom tov for them. In some cities in Israel, you can find "hakafot shniot" (second hakafot) on the night of 23 Tishrei, originally for the benefit of visiting Diaspora Jews who were keeping two days, with musical instruments played by Israelis (who wouldn't play instruments on yom tov, but for whom it is no longer yom tov).

Background on Tikkun Leil Shabbat

Tikkun Leil Shabbat (TLS) is an independent minyan/havurah in the District of Columbia, founded in 2005. As its name suggests, it meets primarily on Friday nights. TLS has also had non-Shabbat services on several special occasions: Purim, selichot, and the second night of Rosh Hashanah. However, before this year, TLS never met on any of the three pilgrimage festivals, and therefore never had to take a stance on 1-day versus 2-day yom tov. (Yes, TLS has had Rosh Hashanah services on the 2nd night, but for reasons beyond the scope of this post, Rosh Hashanah is a separate question from the other holidays.)

TLS is an extraordinarily diverse community, with participants originating in all of the Jewish denominations and non-denominations, and TLS embraces pluralism. One of the constituent communities that merged into the current incarnation of Tikkun Leil Shabbat was the DC Reform Chavurah, which identified as Reform. Though the post-merger TLS has retained no denominational identification, TLS continues to have more participants from Reform backgrounds than most independent minyanim of its vintage. Combined with participants from Reconstructionist and other backgrounds, this means that the TLS community includes a number of 1-day-yom-tov people. They dwell alongside 2-day-yom-tov people, as well as people who don't have a firm position on 1 day vs. 2 days (but would go to a Simchat Torah celebration wherever and whenever the party is happening).

So all this means that the question of 1 day vs. 2 days was an actual question for TLS, unlike for many communities in which the answer is self-evident. It was a question that TLS never had to ask for its first 5 years, but it finally came up this year when TLS decided to do Simchat Torah. And the decision was made to avoid taking a communal stance on the issue.

The easiest way to do this might have been to hold the Simchat Torah event on the night of 22 Tishrei, which everyone agrees is yom tov. This would have been out of the ordinary for the 2-day people, but not objectionable in principle (cf. the Chasidic communities mentioned above that do hakafot on both nights). But among the people who had preferences on this question, more preferred to do it on 23 Tishrei. (And of course, 1-day people are already well-accustomed to compromising on this if they want to go to the happening Simchat Torah events.) And so the decision was made to do "Simchat Torah" on 23 Tishrei, but not take a position on whether or not this night was yom tov.

Here's how it played out in practice:


The event began with the evening service: a yom tov service for some, and a weekday service for others. Everyone davened together, and a packet was made up that had all the prayers for yom tov and for weeknights. The logistics were made immeasurably easier by the fact that the vast majority of liturgical differences between yom tov and weekday ma'ariv are in the Amidah, which is said silently at TLS. There are also a few minor differences in the parts said out loud:
  • "Vehu rachum", at the beginning of the service, is said only on weekdays.
  • Hashkiveinu has different endings for weekdays ("shomeir amo Yisraeil la'ad") and yom tov ("haporeis sukkat shalom...").
  • "Vaydabeir Mosheh", before the Amidah, is said only on yom tov.
  • [Some communities add an extra berachah before the Amidah on weeknights. However, TLS had already established a precedent, through several years of Purim services, of not being such a community.]
And so there was one primary sheliach tzibbur who led only the parts of ma'ariv that are common to both weekdays and yom tov (i.e. everything except the pieces noted above). There were also two helpers in the kahal, one for weekdays and one for yom tov, who loudly said the pieces specific to weekdays and yom tov respectively, leading whoever wished to join them.

What of nusach? The musical modes associated with the time of the day, time of the week, and time of the year situate the entire service in Jewish time. Since the sheliach tzibbur was representing the entire community, neither yom tov nor weekday nusach would have been appropriate, since this would have framed the communal prayer as a yom tov or weekday service. Instead, the sha"tz (when not leading non-nusach melodies) used High Holiday ma'ariv nusach, which some communities use for "Simchat Torah". This is associated with "Simchat Torah" as an event, not with a particular date on the calendar, and so it did not break the calendrical neutrality. (No one in attendance actually believed it was a High Holiday.) The weekday and yom tov helpers used weekday and yom tov nusach for their pieces, as appropriate.

Alternate proposals that were not implemented:
  • Have two simultaneous leaders for the entire service, one for yom tov and one for weekday, diverging when the liturgy diverged and converging the rest of the time. This would have had the advantage of each leader leading a coherent service from start to finish. However, having co-leaders tends to be clunkier, since the leaders can't make adjustments in the moment without conferring with each other, and the differences between yom tov and weekday ma'ariv (listed above) were not significant enough to warrant this layer of complexity.
  • Have one leader lead the whole service according to his/her own custom (weekday or yom tov), and one helper fill in the pieces for the other custom. After all, one might say, isn't this consistent with the principle in Part IV that the sheliach tzibbur need not represent the entire community, but simply one facet of the community's diversity? No, I think this case is different, because the framing of the service as a weekday service or a yom tov service (even if the differences in the words are small, outside the Amidah) is an act of much greater magnitude than differences here and there in the words of a service that has a communally agreed shared framing (e.g. as a Shabbat service). Furthermore, since almost no one there had any prior experience participating in a service where it was explicitly unstated whether or not it was yom tov, it would be much harder to convey this message through mere explanations than through actions. If the sha"tz led a [weekday | yom tov] service, people would walk away with the impression (correct or not) that the community was acknowledging [1 | 2] days of yom tov. It's not like going to a service where you hear the imahot included in shacharit and excluded in musaf, and you come to the conclusion that the community doesn't have a stance on the issue; in this case, the next opportunity to correct this impression wouldn't have been until next year.

Everything Else

After ma'ariv, there weren't really any other times when the yom tov / weekday issue had to be finessed; the rest of the event was fully compatible with both. The Simchat Torah celebration took place in one of TLS's regular Shabbat locations, so it was in walking distance for whomever TLS is usually in walking distance for.

Some of the hakafot were accompanied by musical instruments, and some were not. However, this wasn't explicitly a compromise between the 1-day and 2-day yom tov positions. After all, TLS's Friday night services alternate between instruments and a cappella, and everyone agrees that it is Shabbat. There are some people who attend only one type of service, but most attend both (though they may prefer one over the other). Thus, the yom tov vs. weekday question didn't really come up in the deliberations over instruments, except in that some people thought it was yom tov, and some of those people wouldn't go if there were instruments on yom tov (or would prefer no instruments on yom tov), and this was a reason for having some of the event without instruments. (I'm not aware of anyone who wouldn't go if there were instruments on yom tov, but didn't think it was yom tov that night. But maybe there were such people.) But, given that instruments are already not expressly forbidden at TLS on Shabbat, there were many other arguments both for and against instruments that had nothing to do with whether or not it was yom tov, and in the end this resulted in splitting the difference.

Torah was read. Yes, it's weird for 1-day yom tov people to read Torah on a day that isn't yom tov (or Shabbat, or Monday, Thursday, Rosh Chodesh, etc.). On the other hand, Simchat Torah is weird in general. There's a sense in general that this celebration of Torah is so exuberant that many of the usual rules and conventions of Torah reading are suspended. The most prominent example is that many communities never read Torah at night, except as part of their Simchat Torah celebration. (TLS is one such community. In fact, since TLS has only had evening services, this was TLS's first time reading Torah!) In this spirit, reading Torah on that night was entirely appropriate (or festively inappropriate) for everyone.

The evening didn't include any official kiddush or havdalah, but could have included both if desired, whether simultaneously, sequentially, or interwoven (and there were drinks available, and people could have done either for themselves).

Scope and Generalizability

A number of factors conspired to make this solution feasible, and at the same time limit its generalizability to other communal events on days with disputed status:
  • Davening wasn't the focus of the event; it was just a warmup for the main event (hakafot and Torah reading).
  • It was an evening service, so the Amidah is silent, and the overall structure of the service is almost identical for weekdays and yom tov.
  • "Simchat Torah" allowed for a creative resolution to the nusach question.
  • TLS does not meet every Shabbat, and does not meet on most holidays; this was a special event.
So the specifics of this solution are generalizable to other Simchat Torah celebrations on the night of 23 Tishrei, and with some adjustments, to other ma'ariv services and perhaps minchah too (particularly with a "heicha kedushah"). Beyond that, it gets more complicated. Communities that meet regularly for yom tov services (particularly morning services) and want to maintain a neutral stance on the number of days of yom tov have a more difficult task ahead of them (though the 2nd days of Sukkot and Pesach are a little bit easier because of the shared material between yom tov and chol hamo'ed services). Options might include offering multiple simultaneous service options (particularly if the disputed day is on Shabbat, when the community would be having services whether or not it is yom tov), or having a service on the 2nd day but making it clear that this represents only a segment of the community (while the 1-day observers are presumably going to work anyway). Other creative solutions are yet to be developed, but are likely to see much exploration in the years to come. Please leave a comment if you know of others.


Now taking requests for Part IX.

Monday, October 04, 2010

History repeats itself

Yesterday's post attracted the notice of Alan Brill, who asks:

So, I have a historical question. When modernizing Jews gave up the second day of yom tov in the 19th century was the push from certain professions or certain districts?

Jacob Katz, following his method of relying on Mannheim’s concept of ideology, presents the issue as an ideological battle between Reform and Orthodoxy (See, “Orthodox defense of Second Day of Yom Tov in Divine Law in Human Hands). But has anyone checked- did the push to get rid of yom tov sheni occur after a series of 3 day yom tovs pushed people to feel a need for the change? Was it more in certain professions? Maybe it was not ideological but a social push from ordinary businessmen? Was there a need to do manual labor or more likely to check the European stock market? Someone want to check the 19th century dates and determine if there was a decade like the next decade with many 3 day yom tov’s in a row? Does it coordinate with the push for the change?

I totally never thought to look into this before, but it appears that the answer is yes. Yom tov sheini was repealed by the Breslau Conference of 1846. The days of the week for Rosh Hashanah in years leading up to that were:
1830 Sat
1831 Thu
1832 Tue
1833 Sat
1834 Sat
1835 Thu
1836 Mon
1837 Sat
1838 Thu
1839 Mon
1840 Mon
1841 Thu
1842 Mon
1843 Mon
1844 Sat
1845 Thu
1846 Mon

(See this post for a key to what each configuration contains.)

So their time was much like ours: they had recently gone from a weekend-holiday-rich era to a weekend-holiday-poor era.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hasty generalization

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

A wise person I know says “Whenever I read articles where I know something about the content, I always find mistakes or misunderstandings, which makes me wonder how many mistakes there are in articles where I’m not familiar with the topic.” We get to see this principle in action as the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz tackles American independent minyanim.

Over the last 10 years, the massive surge in independent minyanim has attracted media attention from both the American Jewish press and the American secular press. (After a while, this has converged so that they seem to write the same article over and over.) But this Ha’aretz piece might be the first time this phenomenon has reached the Israeli media.

The author of the piece, a self-identified secular Israeli, visited DC Minyan, and apparently did little or no research or fact-checking beyond what she saw and heard there. Thus she arrived at the unsupported conclusion that all or most independent minyanim (which in reality display a great deal of diversity) are similar to DC Minyan.

(However, on the plus side, this may be the first news article on 21st-century independent minyanim that doesn’t include a quote from Jonathan Sarna!)

To set the record straight, I’ll give the article a mild fisking:

At present, some 20,000 people are paying members of independent minyanim

The actual number is probably far less than this (especially since the article seems to adopt the “founded in the last 10 years” definition of “independent minyanim”, which is problematic in itself, of course). The vast majority of this wave of independent minyanim have NO members at all, let alone paying members. DC Minyan (profiled in the article) is on the extreme fringe of post-2000 independent minyanim in this regard, in that they have wholeheartedly embraced a synagogue-style membership structure, with membership dues, activities that are restricted to members or have different prices for members and non-members, etc.

(The havurot of the late 1960s and the ’70s may have been an early precursor of the independent minyanim, but they tended to be more counter-culture in style, and their latter-day heirs are more likely to be found in the Renewal movement.)

In reality, many havurot of the late ’60s and ’70s still exist, and many of their participants are still found in those havurot. “Latter-day heirs” may not be well-defined (and therefore not falsifiable), but the havurot of the ’60s and ’70s rejected rabbinic authority, as do many of the newer independent havurot/minyanim, while the Renewal movement embraces it.

Like many of the independent minyanim, DC Minyan defines itself as a “traditional egalitarian” community; the men and women sit opposite each other, without a partition - but still separately.

Both statements here are true, but the semicolon (suggesting that this is the usual definition of “traditional egalitarian”, and that this practice is “like many of the independent minyanim”) is highly misleading. DC Minyan is one of only two minyanim I know of with this precise set of practices (equal ritual participation by men and women, separate seating); most communities that define themselves as “traditional egalitarian” have mixed seating.

This makes it possible - unlike at typical Conservative and Reform congregations - for Jews of all denominations to take part.

Yeah, try again. The number of self-identified Orthodox Jews who would attend a service led by men and women that has separate seating but no mechitza (but wouldn’t attend such a service with mixed seating) is tiny, and probably much smaller than the number of non-Orthodox Jews who would be put off by the separate seating.

However, DC Minyan’s website does stipulate that people who identify with a different sex from that written on their birth certificates are invited to sit in the section designated for it. “No one will ask what gender you are,” Zuckerman adds.

They’re mixing up sex and gender here, though I wonder if this article was first written in Hebrew and then translated.

UPDATE: The Hebrew version has a number of differences from the English, which seems not to be a direct translation. Did the same writer submit articles in both Hebrew and English, or did a translator exhibit significant editorial license? “Paying members” and the disclaimer about early havurot appear only in the English. The line quoted above about “traditional egalitarian” is even worse in the Hebrew: “DC Minyan defines itself as an egalitarian community, and therefore the men and the women sit side-by-side and without a mechitzah, but separately.”


(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

The holiday season is now over. And something about it may have felt a bit out of the ordinary, unusual, abnormal. And based on recent experience, that feeling is accurate. But in the 2010s, abnormal is becoming the new normal.

In the last decade, as often as not, the Jewish calendar has followed the pattern in which all the fall holidays (except Yom Kippur) fall on weekends. This pattern is both loved and hated. People who work for Jewish organizations and observe 2 days of yom tov (so that the holidays are on Saturday and Sunday) dread this pattern because (unlike in other years, when the Jewish holidays are days off) they go from workweek to holiday to workweek to holiday, without a break to do laundry. People who work and go to school outside the Jewish world, whether they do 1 or 2 days, find this pattern easier, since it doesn’t require taking any days off of work/school, except for Yom Kippur (but that’s the one that your boss has heard of, and is much easier to explain than Shemini Atzeret).

Love it or hate it, we won’t see this pattern again until 2020. This Mah Rabu post from a couple of years ago covers all the details.

In its place, we see a new popular pattern emerging. This year, Yom Kippur was on Shabbat, but all the other holidays were on Thursdays (continuing into Friday for the 2-day people). This means that the 2-day people got a string of what are colloquially known as “3-day yom tovs”: when a 2-day yom tov falls immediately before or after Shabbat, resulting in 72 straight hours away from whatever one doesn’t do on Shabbat or yom tov. People working in the Jewish world appreciate all the 4-day weekends. Other people have to miss a lot of work or school: 3 or 4 days for 1-day-yom-tov people (depending on their stance on Rosh Hashanah), and 6 days for 2-day-yom-tov people, and that’s not including travel days.

Love it or hate it, this pattern is here to stay. We’ll do it all over next year, and then again in 2013, 2014, and 2017: half of the years in the 2010s.

The other half of the decade will see a different pattern that we haven’t seen in quite a while: Rosh Hashanah on Monday, with all the fall holidays falling on weekdays. This pattern also includes Shavuot starting on Saturday night, leading to another “3-day yom tov” for the 2-day crowd.

All told, the half-decade from 5771 to 5775 will include a total of 14 “3-day yom tovs”, and the decade from 5771 to 5780 will include 21. (But don’t worry, there’s only 18 more to go!)

This leads to my prediction (awaited since the title of the post): This decade, and especially this half-decade, will see lots of 2-day-yom tov people switching over to 1 day.

In a few years, we can come back and check this prediction and see whether the 1-day majority has gotten any larger. In the meantime, back to work.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Jeremiah goes to Washington

It’s (almost) another year on the Hebrew calendar, and that means it’s time for another cohort of DC Jeremiah Fellows. This fantastic program is run by Jews United For Justice, DC’s local Jewish social justice organization. If you live in DC and are in the right demographic, consider applying this year; otherwise, tell other people who might be interested. Shanah tovah!


  • Access a dynamic network of activists, organizers, scholars, and religious leaders.
  • Develop new skills in community organizing, advocacy, and leadership.
  • Explore DC through the lens of social justice and Jewish texts, traditions, values, and history.
  • Build a lasting community of friends, colleagues, and mentors.

Jews United for Justice is thrilled to announce that applications are now online for the 2010-2011 Jeremiah Fellowship! Brought to you by a partnership between JUFJ and California’s Progressive Jewish Alliance, the Jeremiah Fellowship is an innovative program to train a select group of young adults (approximately ages 25-35) to become the next generation of Jewish social justice changemakers.

During the eight-month program, Fellows meet twice monthly on Tuesday nights to learn different techniques of putting values into action, for intimate conversations with leaders in Washington’s Jewish and activist worlds, and for intensive study of Jewish texts and traditions. Two weekend retreats during the year offer in-depth skills training, study of the Jewish justice tradition, and intensive community-building activities. Participants leave the Fellowship with concrete skills in community organizing, activism, grassroots fundraising, leadership, and other key areas, better equipped to pursue their own volunteer work and careers in the social justice field.

We are seeking dynamic and engaged young Jews (approximately ages 25-35) who are:

  • Already volunteer leaders or have leadership potential
  • Passionate about making our community better by learning about and acting on local issues
  • Actively interested in building community
  • Committed to using skills gained through the Fellowship

We are committed to the diversity of each cohort of Fellows and believe that a breadth of experience adds to the richness of the program. While most of our last cohort fell into the 25-35 age range, we also had a few dynamite Fellows on either side of that range. We encourage people of all Jewish backgrounds to apply, and no prior knowledge of Hebrew or Jewish texts is necessary. Retreats will feature kosher food and Shabbat-friendly activities.

Applications are due by Sunday, September 26.

For more information, go to

Ready to apply? Go to

Questions? Email Rabbi Elizabeth Richman at rabbi {at} jufj(.)org

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ptolemaic astronomy question

Ok, hist of sci people out there, help me out:

In Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah chapter 3, Maimonides lays out the geocentric model of the cosmos, epicycles and all. At 3:8, he notes that Earth is about 40 times larger than the moon, the sun is about 170 times larger than Earth, the sun is the largest of the "stars" (a category that includes planets too), and Mercury is the smallest. Comparing this with the actual data we know now, the sun is of course larger than any of the planets, and Mercury is the second smallest of the heavenly bodies known at that time (the moon is smaller). The sun's radius is 109 times Earth's radius, so the Rambam's number is pretty decent, within a factor of 2. Earth's radius is 3.67 times the radius of the moon, so that figure is considerably further off (by an order of magnitude). The ratio of Earth's volume to the moon's volume is 49, much closer to the Rambam's number of 40 (and he doesn't actually specify which dimension he's talking about), though if we understand the Rambam's ratios to be about volume rather than linear dimension, then the sun-to-Earth ratio is thrown way off.

So my question is this: HOW THE HECK DID HE KNOW? (And by "he", I mean the Rambam himself, or ancient Greek astronomers, or medieval Arab astronomers, or wherever he's getting his data from.) Even if the moon number is considerably further off than the sun number, it's still an impressive feat to know that the moon is smaller than Earth (by any amount) even though the sun is much larger (by an amount that he basically got right) and the sun and moon are the same apparent size in the sky. He knew that the sun was farther away than the moon (which can be reasonably inferred from the sun's (apparent) orbital period being longer), which would mean that the sun is larger than the moon if they're the same apparent size, but it's not clear how he got any sort of quantitative relationship between those sizes (the ratio he gives between the sizes of the sun and the moon doesn't have any obvious mathematical relationship to the ratio of their orbital periods), let alone how he could compare either of them to the size of the Earth. (Did he have some version of Kepler's Third Law?) I know that Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the Earth, but did pre-modern astronomers have any sense of how far away the sun or other celestial bodies were? And as for the sizes of the planets (the ones we would call planets, not the sun and the moon), how could anyone resolve any finite sizes, rather than just seeing them as points of light? I can't blame him for thinking the moon is larger, but how did he know that Mercury is smaller than Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn?

Pardon me if these questions are ignorant; I would be fascinated to know the answers. Thanks!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Wedding... Part 3

Part 1 set the stage for the series, and Part 2 was an overview of Jewish marriage (kiddushin and nisuin); I recommend reading those first. This post zooms in on kiddushin bishtar, one of the three methods of effecting kiddushin, and the one that we used.

Once again, a sh'tar kiddushin is not the same as a ketubah, either in form or in content. A sh'tar kiddushin is written in the first and second person, written by the mekadesh/et to the mekudash/mekudeshet. A ketubah is written in the third person, "written by" the witnesses. We used a ketubah in addition to our sh'tarot kiddushin, and the ketubah will be discussed in Part 4.


The active ingredient in the sh'tar is "You are hereby consecrated to me", or any of the other formulations that effect kiddushin. The mekadesh/et writes the sh'tar, and gives it to the mekudash/mekudeshet in the presence of two witnesses.

Unlike the other two methods of kiddushin, kiddushin shtar requires no words to be spoken, since it's there in writing already. We said "הרי את\ה מקודש\ת לי בשטר זה כדת משה וישראל" when we gave each other our sh'tarot, but this was cosmetic (both for the benefit of the assembled crowd, and to focus our intentions) and not a legal requirement. A couple who wanted to do the legal mechanism of kiddushin without the outward appearance of kiddushin (the opposite of what is typical, I know, but I know of examples of this too) could use sh'tarot, and either say nothing at all or say something else (e.g. biblical verses).


The primary advantage of kiddushin bishtar, as we saw it, was the ability to do kiddushin in a way that does not resemble acquisition. Yes, both kesef and sh'tar appear throughout the rest of Mishnah Kiddushin chapter 1 as means of acquiring property, but there are key differences. First of all, money is used for acquiring property and nothing else (aside from, arguably, kiddushin), whereas documents are used to do many different things, of which acquisition is just one, so documents don't have the same strong association with acquisition that money does.

An even stronger difference between kesef and sh'tar is found in the Gemara (Kiddushin 9a). The parallel between kiddushin b'chesef and acquisition is clear: the mekadesh/et hands over money (or an object of monetary value) in the same way that a buyer hands over money. But R. Zeira bar Memel points out that a sh'tar kiddushin is not parallel to a sh'tar of sale:
מתקיף לה ר' זירא בר ממל: הא לא דמי האי שטרא לשטר זביני. התם, מוכר כותב לו "שדי מכורה לך"; הכא, בעל כותב "בתך מקודשת לי" י
A document of sale is given by the seller to the buyer. It's basically a receipt, or a deed, stating that the property now belongs to the buyer. So a mekadesh/et, who writes and hands over (rather than receives) a sh'tar, does not resemble a buyer.

Thus, while the Talmud draws many parallels between kiddushin b'chesef and acquisition b'chesef in deriving the relevant laws, it explicitly rejects any parallel between kiddushin bishtar and acquisition bishtar. Instead, the laws of kiddushin bishtar are derived from another source. Kiddushin 5a says:

אמר קרא "ויצאה ... והיתה ..." מקיש הויה ליציאה: מה יציאה בשטר, אף הויה נמי בשטר

In the same way that kiddushin is terminated with a document (which we know from the Torah, Deuteronomy 24), it can also be enacted with a document. (As a side note, this means that kiddushin bishtar is actually on firmer ground than kiddushin b'chesef. The laws of marriage (the normal kind, not the levirate kind) are not laid out explicitly anywhere in the Torah, whereas the procedure of divorce, which is with a document, does appear in the Torah. Based on this, the Rambam (Hilchot Ishut 1:2) says that kiddushin bishtar is from the Torah, while kiddushin b'chesef is rabbinic.)

And thus the Talmud proceeds to derive various laws of kiddushin bishtar from the laws of gittin, so a sh'tar kiddushin is essentially a get in reverse. This may not be the happiest or most romantic way to think about marriage, but it's also not objectionable in principle. Framing marriage as the opposite of divorce fits our values much more than framing marriage as acquisition.

A secondary benefit to kiddushin bishtar is that we did kiddushin with conditions (as discussed below). This can be (and is) done with kiddushin b'chesef too, and the conditions are written into a separate document signed beforehand, and/or spoken at the time of kiddushin. But with kiddushin bishtar, the conditions can be written directly into the sh'tar. This both makes the ceremony less complicated and emphasizes the nonseverability of the conditions.


The halachic sources (from the Gemara forward) have very little to say about kiddushin bishtar, probably because this method of kiddushin has not been commonly used for centuries. And the questions they do discuss aren't exactly the top questions we might come up with: what the sh'tar can be written on (answer: anything, and the paper or whatever need not be worth a perutah, though that's not quite the end of the story), whether the sh'tar must be written for the specific recipient (answer: yes), and whether the sh'tar requires the recipient's knowledge and consent at the time it is written (yes again). The classical and medieval sources don't provide any guidance on little things like, oh, WHAT THE SH'TAR SAYS, beyond the one active clause. (Perhaps sh'tarot kiddushin were originally one sentence long.) The Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha'Ezer 32:4) adds that "there are those who say" that a sh'tar kiddushin should include both parties' names, like a get. But that's it.

When the four of us decided to use kiddushin bishtar for our respective weddings, we initially thought that we were going to be the first two couples to do this in the modern period, but we soon found out that we're at least the second and third: AG and YK had done it before us. Their ceremony was somewhat different from ours: their wedding was in Israel and rabbanut-approved, and did not include bilateral kiddushin as ours did, but the ceremony as a whole was bilateral. She gave him a sh'tar tenaim (document of conditions), and he gave her a sh'tar kiddushin stating that the kiddushin was contingent on those conditions, so both sh'tarot were necessary to effect the kiddushin. Pursuant to the discussion above in the Gemara, their sh'tar kiddushin was modeled on a get in reverse.

As discussed in Part 2, we did two separate acts of kiddushin, which means that we used two different sh'tarot, each written by one of us to the other. The texts of the two sh'tarot were identical to each other, except that the names were reversed and the grammatical genders were adjusted. Based in part on AG and YK's text, the texts of our sh'tarot incorporated the following elements from the text of a get:
  • The date
  • The location
  • The names of both parties (as mentioned above in the Shulchan Aruch)
  • A statement that we were acting of our own free will and without coercion
  • The active clause, "הרי את\ה מקודש\ת לי בשטר זה כדת משה וישראל" ("You are hereby consecrated to me with this document according to the laws of Moses and Israel"), which is the clause that effects kiddushin, but is also the reverse of the active clause of the get, "הרי את\ה מותר\ת לכל אדם" ("You are hereby permitted to any person").
  • Signatures of two witnesses, to testify that they saw us write the sh'tar and that we really did intend to marry the person named in it. (Each sh'tar had a separate pair of witnesses, who were not the same as the witnesses to the kiddushin itself, who witnessed us giving each other the sh'tarot under the chuppah.)
In addition, the sh'tarot included conditions, discussed below.

Modeled after the get, we handwrote our sh'tarot. This may or may not have been necessary. We wrote some of the text (including the conditions) beforehand, but saved a few pieces to write on the wedding day, at the public bedeken, with our witnesses watching: the date, the names, and "Harei at/ah...". Again, it's not clear which (if any) of these pieces had to be written at that time.

Some have suggested that this procedure would be difficult for many couples to replicate, since not everyone is sufficiently literate in Hebrew. But not everyone has to do it the way we did. First of all, at least some of the sh'tar (e.g. the parts that we wrote ahead of time, rather than on the day of) could probably be printed from a computer, like most legal documents. Second of all, whichever parts are written by hand are still totally kosher if written by a shaliach (agent) on behalf of the mekadesh/et (this is standard practice for gittin, which are not generally written by the actual parties), so the writing could be done by the mesader/et (officiant). Third of all, there's no requirement that the sh'tar has to be in Hebrew.

Kiddushin with conditions

There is longstanding precedent, going back to the Mishnah, for doing kiddushin with conditions. The conditions can be stated at the time of kiddushin ("You are hereby consecrated to me on the condition that ____"), or (as is more common now, to avoid having to say a mouthful under the chuppah) can be written in a separate document which is signed beforehand. As noted above, we wrote the conditions directly into our sh'tarot. The conditions may be about something that is or is not true at the present time (e.g. "on the condition that I am a kohein", Mishnah Kiddushin 2:3), in which case the kiddushin goes into effect if and only if the predicate is true, or the conditions may be about something that may or may not be true in the future (e.g. "on the condition that I give you 200 zuz in the next 30 days", Mishnah Kiddushin 3:2), in which case the kiddushin goes into effect in the future, at the time the condition is satisfied.

Our sh'tarot included two conditions: "on the condition that you accept this document of your own free will and without coercion" and "on the condition that you consecrate or consecrated me to you and that your kiddushin remain in effect".

The first condition emphasizes that the active participation of both partners is necessary for each act of kiddushin to go into effect; neither participant is passive.

The second condition ensures that the two acts of kiddushin are dependent on each other. Each kiddushin goes into effect only if the other one does. The use of both future and past tense means that the two sh'tarot can have identical texts and can be given in any order; there is no significance to the order. I honestly don't remember which order we gave them in. (EAKO and BZK did something very slightly different: they decided ahead of time what order the sh'tarot would be given in, and hard-coded this order into the sh'tarot, so that each one had either future or past tense but not both. But again, there was no significance to the order.) Thus we gave each other sh'tarot sequentially, but the two acts of kiddushin went into effect simultaneously, only after both sh'tarot had been given.

The mutual dependence also means that if someone thinks that one of the kiddushins is not valid (for whatever reason), then they must also hold that the other kiddushin is not valid. This is a feature, not a bug, since it means that, at least in theory, no one should require non-egalitarian divorce proceedings, since anyone who would require this probably also holds that one (and therefore both) of the kiddushins was not valid in the first place. I know in practice it's not so simple, and this will be discussed further in Part 5.

The dependence on the other kiddushin remaining in effect means that a single get (given by either party to the other, to terminate either kiddushin) terminates both kiddushins. These issues will also be explored more fully in Part 5.


Coming soon:
Part 4: ketubah
Part 5: divorce

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Wedding... Part 2

Continuing from Part 1. This part is an overview of and reflections on the procedure by which Jewish marriage is enacted.

Classically, Jewish marriage has two parts: kiddushin (aka eirusin) and nisuin. In the old days, these steps could be temporally separated by as much as a year, but nowadays, with very few exceptions, they take place one right after the other. To this day, most Jewish weddings include both of these elements, at least superficially, even if they are not always conceptualized as separate processes.

Kiddushin/eirusin is often translated as "betrothal", but this is misleading: "Betrothal" implies mere intent to get married, whereas kiddushin is a sufficiently advanced stage of marriage that if kiddushin has taken place, a full divorce is required in order to terminate the relationship. (Adding to the confusion, le-hit'areis in Modern Hebrew means simply "to get engaged" the way we would use it in English, not the rabbinic concept of eirusin.) In light of this confusion, Rachel Adler translates kiddushin/eirusin as "espousal" (and, in a footnote, cites another author who calls it "inchoate marriage", though she rejects this as "rather a mouthful").

Nisuin is generally translated simply as "marriage". This is a good enough translation; the marriage is not complete until nisuin takes place.

Some Hebrew grammar

Active verbs:
  • Mekadeish (m.) / mekadeshet (f.) = the one who performs kiddushin
Passive verbs:
  • Mekudash (m.) / mekudeshet (f.) = the one to whom kiddushin is done

What do kiddushin and nisuin do?

Classically, kiddushin was unilateral and heteronormative. That is, only a man could be mekadeish, and only a woman could be mekudeshet. (On these formal grounds, albeit not on sociological grounds, same-sex kiddushin is actually less of a departure from classical kiddushin than is bilateral opposite-sex kiddushin (which we did, and which most liberal Jewish weddings include), since in same-sex kiddushin (in either combination), 1 of the 2 partners meets the classical gender requirements, whereas if a woman does kiddushin to a man, neither partner meets these requirements.)

The word kiddushin is from the root קדש, meaning "holy" or "sacred", or more generally, "dedicated" or "set apart". Kiddushin effects a change in personal status: the recipient of kiddushin goes from being single to being mekudash/mekudeshet to one individual, the performer of kiddushin. The recipient of kiddushin now has the status of an eishet ish (or ish ishah, or ish ish, or eishet ishah), and is forbidden by the Torah to have sex with anyone other than the mekadesh/et. If s/he does, then both s/he and his/her accomplice have violated the Torah prohibition of adultery. The recipient of kiddushin also becomes unable to be mekudash/mekudeshet to anyone else. (Not forbidden, but unable; if anyone attempts kiddushin on him/her, nothing happens.)

However, kiddushin does not inherently effect any change in the personal status of the mekadesh/et. In the Torah (and on paper in the Mishnah and Talmud, whether or not this was practiced in rabbinic times), it's perfectly fine for a man to have multiple wives (or for a married man to have affairs with unmarried women). This wasn't prohibited until the decree of Rabbeinu Gershom around 1000 CE, which is only a rabbinic decree (and only pertains to Ashkenazi Jews), not a Torah prohibition. It's still prohibited, of course, and the predominant view of marriage today in both Jewish and western civilization is that both partners are in an exclusive relationship, but this prohibition is not activated by unilateral kiddushin alone, and is not as severe as the prohibition that applies to the recipient of kiddushin.

The mekudash/mekudeshet is not only biblically prohibited from having sex with anyone other than the mekadesh/et, but is rabbinically prohibited from having sex even with the mekadesh/et (i.e. with his/her new spouse) until nisuin takes place. This is a prohibition that is activated at the time of kiddushin; there is no direct prohibition on sex between two completely unmarried individuals (though there are various fences around it). I speculate that the original reason was to deter deadbeat husbands. Nisuin entails various obligations, including financial support, and this rabbinic prohibition would have prevented men from obtaining an exclusive relationship with a woman (and taking her off the market, as it were) without supporting her financially.

An echo of this prohibition is preserved in the text of birkat eirusin, the blessing said before kiddushin, from Ketubot 7b: ואסר לנו את הארוסות והתיר לנו את הנשואות (and then Rabbeinu Tam helpfully added the word לנו lest there be any misunderstanding) / "who has forbidden to us those who have had eirusin, and permitted to us those who are married [to us]". Some people take issue with this wording, because they understand it as describing a general prohibition on sex outside of marriage. I don't think that matches what the words actually say: it seems to me that a plain-sense reading of the blessing is that it describes a prohibition (as discussed above) that lasts from the time of kiddushin to the time of nisuin. And it seems to me that in the present time, this prohibition should be unobjectionable regardless of one's general views on sex between two unmarried individuals, but is also irrelevant: now that kiddushin and nisuin have been consolidated into the same wedding ceremony, the time period in question lasts about 15 minutes, and no one is going to have sex anyway when they're under the chuppah and their family and friends are watching.

So that's kiddushin: a change in personal status for the recipient, along with the acquisition of negative prohibitions. Nisuin is different: it is the creation of a relationship between two individuals, along with the acquisition of positive obligations for both partners. After nisuin takes place, the two partners are fully married. They are now joined in a family relationship which entails mutual responsibilities, some of which may be spelled out in the ketubah (to be discussed in Part 4), and some of which take effect automatically whether or not they are spelled out.

As we understood it, both elements are necessary: both kiddushin and nisuin, both the individual status change and the formal creation of a relationship, both the negative and the positive obligations.

Understanding nisuin in an egalitarian context requires no major conceptual shift. Yes, the specific marital obligations described in the classical sources are very gendered; e.g., the husband is the breadwinner responsible for financially supporting the family, and the wife is responsible for household tasks. But it's easy enough (conceptually) to have both partners (of whatever gender) take on both areas of responsibility.

Kiddushin is somewhat more complicated, and is often disparaged for various reasons (some justifiable, some not), which we'll discuss throughout the rest of the series. It certainly has problematic aspects. But the bottom-line essence of kiddushin as marital exclusivity is uncontroversial to us and to most people. In fact, we thought it was so important that it should be multiplied by two, so that both partners are subject to kiddushin, and both partners have a requirement of monogamy at the level of a Torah commandment. Thus, even though kiddushin is a unilateral act, having two acts of kiddushin means that there is not a difference between the status of the two partners the way there is in classical kiddushin. (In the next post, I'll discuss how we made these acts of kiddushin interdependent and simultaneous.)

The formalist objections to bilateral kiddushin are 1) as discussed above, only a man can perform kiddushin and only a woman can accept kiddushin, 2) a concern that the two acts of kiddushin would cancel each other out. Within a broader context in which gender differences are insignificant in most areas of halachah, a non-gendered approach to kiddushin is consistent with the general halachic approach, and therefore #1 is not a concern in that context. (The question of why such a general approach is valid is beyond the scope of this series.) And #2 is a potential issue in primarily only one of the three methods of kiddushin (discussed below), and even under that method, there are ways of avoiding this problem (as we'll discuss).

How are kiddushin and nisuin effected?

Masechet Kiddushin begins with two very difficult words: האשה נקנית, "the woman is acquired". And looking at this mishnah in context makes it worse, not better. After explaining the three ways in which "the woman is acquired" and the two ways in which she "acquires herself", the Mishnah goes on to list the means of acquiring Hebrew slaves (or more accurately, indentured servants), Canaanite slaves, large animals, small animals, land, and finally movable property. Enough said.

But then the second chapter begins differently: האיש מקדש, "the man sanctifies / consecrates / sets apart", and that is the verb used throughout the rest of the masechet. According to those who are more scholarly than I, there is evidence that the first chapter of Mishnah Kiddushin is particularly ancient compared to the other chapters. Thus we see a conceptual shift regarding the nature of kiddushin even within the tannaitic period, shifting from an acquisition frame to something else.

Therefore, the way to be most faithful to the rabbinic concept of kiddushin is not to defend the idea of acquisition; the rabbis themselves moved away from this. Nor is it to maintain the superficial forms of kiddushin while disregarding the underlying meaning; kiddushin is meant to be a legal act and not merely a sentimental one. Rather, our place is to continue the movement that the rabbis began, moving our understanding of kiddushin even further away from unilateral acquisition.

(Similarly, many modern readers are distressed that the Torah's laws include slavery, but we can also appreciate that the Torah's laws on slavery were more progressive than those in preceding and surrounding cultures. Still, there is no question that the best way for us to live out the Torah's values in our time is to have no slavery at all, rather than to preserve the Torah's progressive-for-its-time system of slavery intact.)

Furthermore, many have pointed out that even the most primitive version of kiddushin was not exactly acquisition. When you acquire a piece of property, it belongs to you, and you are free to sell it, trade it, share it, lend it out, or rent it out. (The same was true for acquiring a slave.) A man who was mekadeish a wife, even in the earliest Jewish law, could not do any of those things with her.

Mishnah Kiddushin 1:1 lists three different methods of effecting kiddushin: kesef (money), sh'tar (document), and biah (sexual intercourse).

Kesef is by far the most common procedure in our time. In this method, the mekadesh/et gives the mekudash/mekudeshet either money or an object of value, which, according to Beit Hillel's position, must be worth at least one perutah (a coin of minimal value). This object is most often a ring, but other alternatives have been used (and at this writing, IKEA tupperware sets are selling for $4.99, so they would also be valid). According to Tosefta Kiddushin 1:1, the mekadesh/et must also say one of several formulations to indicate that the transfer of this object is intended to effect kiddushin: הרי את מקודשת לי (You are hereby consecrated to me), הרי את מאורסת לי (You are hereby espoused to me), הרי את לי לאינתו (You are hereby my wife), or anything that conveys this idea.

Kiddushin b'chesef has the unmistakable appearance of a purchase (even if, as discussed above, that's not what it really does). And this is part of why we didn't use it. But I also think there are other ways of looking at it that can redeem it. Some have suggested that the partners' giving each other objects of value can be viewed not as acquiring each other, but as investing in each other, a much more appropriate metaphor for an egalitarian marriage ("a marriage between subjects", to use Rachel Adler's phrase).

A more generalized objection to kiddushin b'chesef is that marriage shouldn't look like a financial transaction, because marriage should be about a committed personal relationship. But nowadays, you can have a long-term committed personal relationship without marriage, and many couples do, either leading to marriage or not. And for such couples, one of the largest practical differences between being married and being not married is indeed financial: as a married couple, they function much more as a combined financial entity. So I don't think this is inappropriate to invoke in the marriage procedure, but I also think that the more relevant financial transaction is a merger, not an acquisition. Thus, Rachel Adler's berit ahuvim procedure is based around creating shutafut: pooling resources to enact a business partnership. Early in our process, we considered the idea of reconceptualizing this as an egalitarian form of kiddushin b'chesef, but that wasn't the direction we ended up going (we lifted our rings in a bag as a symbolic gesture, but didn't incorporate this into the actual marriage procedure), so figuring out how this would work is left as an exercise to the reader. (To whichever reader attempts this: I'm sure no one will be more horrified than Prof. Adler herself, who goes to great lengths to emphasize multiple times that berit ahuvim is not kiddushin. However, I'll discuss in Part 5 why I think drawing this red line doesn't actually accomplish what it is intended to, and therefore why it's not a problem to blur the line.)

An objection that is sometimes raised against bilateral kiddushin b'chesef is that the two transfers of value cancel each other out: if I give you $10 and you give me $10, then no net amount has changed hands. (It should be noted that this objection can only be applied to kesef and not to the other two methods of kiddushin: two documents don't cancel each other out, and... so forth.) Some have come up with solutions that make the amounts intentionally unequal, to avoid this problem. I think these solutions are too clever by half (and, by definition, not egalitarian). A simpler solution is just to make clear that the two acts of kiddushin are separate acts, and not part of a single transaction. So I give you $10 and you are mekudeshet, and in a separate act, you give me $10 and I am mekudash. The $10 (or ring or whatever) that I gave you doesn't need to remain in your possession for you to remain mekudeshet; the Mishnah (Kiddushin 2:1) says that the object used for kiddushin may even be eaten afterwards (the example there is dates), and the kiddushin is still valid as long as it was worth at least a perutah.

Another objection sometimes raised against egalitarian kiddushin (by whichever method) is that, in addition to the list of formulations that effect kiddushin, there is also a list of formulations that explicitly do not effect kiddushin. This list (as it also appears in Tosefta Kiddushin 1:1) includes הריני מאורסת לך (I am hereby espoused [f.] to you), הריני מקודשת לך (I am hereby consecrated [f.] to you), and הריני לך לאנתו (I am hereby your wife). Some interpret this list of exclusions to mean that a woman (because of her gender) cannot be the active partner in an act of kiddushin. But that's not what it's saying at all: it's clarifying the structure of kiddushin and saying that the mekadesh/et, not the mekudash/mekudeshet, is the one who has to give the other partner the kesef or the sh'tar, and the one who makes the statement of intent. This structure is fully compatible with bilateral gender-neutral kiddushin.

Sh'tar is a document that the mekadesh/et writes and gives to the mekudash/mekudeshet that contains any of the phrases above that effect kiddushin. This is what we did at our wedding, and this will be the subject of Part 3. This document is not the same thing as a ketubah, which will be discussed in Part 4.

Biah is often misunderstood. There is an urban legend out there (perhaps from the same source as the idea of a "double mitzvah") that "there's no such thing as premarital sex in Judaism, because as soon as you have sex, you're automatically married". Not so! Quoting Tosefta Kiddushin 1:1 once more, כל ביאה שהיא לשם קדושין- מקודשת, שאינה לשם קדושין - אינה מקודשת: intercourse effects kiddushin if and only if it is done for the purpose of effecting kiddushin.

The Rambam (Hilchot Ishut 3:5) goes even further, requiring the same evidence of intent of kiddushin that is required for the other methods of kiddushin: the kiddushin must be accompanied by a statement of intent from the usual list (הרי את מקודשת לי, etc.) and must be witnessed by two witnesses (though they only need to see the couple go somewhere alone together; they don't need to witness the actual act!). With these requirements, it's difficult to believe that kiddushin b'viah ever took place. And maybe (like the ben soreir umoreh) that's the point.

So why was it ever on the books in the first place? (Other than "study, and receive a reward", of course.) Given the aforementioned antiquity of the first chapter of Mishnah Kiddushin, I wonder if it dates back to a time when the requirements for kiddushin were less defined. Perhaps the older situation was somewhere between the youth group urban legend and the Rambam, so that sex didn't automatically effect kiddushin, but there was also room to invoke this type of kiddushin retroactively, e.g. in the case of an unexpected pregnancy, and say that kiddushin had taken place.

Perhaps because it seems so absurd, kiddushin b'viah is sometimes the subject of various facetious proposals. For example, kesef and sh'tar are both listed as methods of acquiring various types of property in Mishnah Kiddushin chapter 1, whereas biah is not, so it has been suggested that biah should be favored, as the only method of kiddushin that bears no similarity to acquisition. Biah might also be the only way to effect bilateral kiddushin with a single act (rather than two separate transfers of kesef, or two sh'tarot). These suggestions aren't serious, of course!!! It's just a way to amuse ourselves the way the rabbis did. But as a practical matter, while kesef has been alive and well as a method of kiddushin for millennia, and sh'tar is going back into style (see Part 3), biah is long gone and is not missed.

So that's kiddushin, which can be effected in one of three specific ways. Then there's nisuin, which is much less sharply defined. The elements of nisuin are well-known from any Jewish wedding: chuppah, ketubah, sheva berachot, and yichud. Unlike kiddushin, which takes place at a clearly defined moment, there's no moment in the wedding ceremony that can be pinpointed as the moment when nisuin occurs. It's not clear which of these elements actually effects nisuin. Unlike kiddushin, nisuin is much more of a "common-law marriage": you know it when you see it. Some have suggested that this is intentional, to convey the idea that marriage, and a relationship, is an ongoing process.


In Part 3, we'll look at kiddushin bishtar in greater depth, both in general and in the specifics of what we did.