Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Yom Tov Conundrums

To Wrap, or Not To Wrap: My shul seems to be about split down the middle between men who wear tefillin during chol ha'moed, and men who don't. Although chazal frown on this non-uniformity and even use it as the canonical example of improper religious fractionalism, I've seen a similar division in nearly every shul I've davened in. Personally, I'm not sure why this particular split is such an issue; after all, putting on tefillin is an inherently personal, individual action, and therefore rather unlikely to offend a fellow-davener who has a different minhag.

I'll admit that I'm biased because my own - and AFAIK practically unique - family custom for this is explicitly inconsistent. I (and my dad before me) didn't wear tefillin when still in yeshiva and thus off for chol ha'moed, and then began wearing them when we started working. So when my sons and I attend shul together on chol ha'moed, as we did this morning, folks around us are perplexed to see me wearing tefillin, and they not! No hobgoblins of little minds for us!

To Sit, or Not to Sit: Another family minhag of ours which seems to be in the extreme minority in my town (though more prevalent, I would assume, in Chassidic communities) is to not eat in the sukkah on Shmini Atzeres. There are many reasons given for this minhag; the one my Dad always cited is that we mention "Shmini Chag HaAtzeres HaZeh" in the kiddush at night, and it would be contradictory to make such a kiddush in the sukkah (which is why, in this minhag, the daytime kiddush, which doesn't mention the specific holiday, is made in the sukkah, as a way of saying goodbye to it). I also view Shmini Atzeres as a holiday specifically celebrating our return to fixed dwellings after a week of living in the sukkah, so again it would just feel wrong to eat in the sukkah then.

To Dance, or Not to Dance: Or maybe the question here is How Long, O Gabbai? I don't want to sound like the Grinch, but I will confess that Simchas Torah is by far my least favorite Jewish holiday. Part of the reason is because of its relatively recent vintage (see here for more background); it's a purely diaspora invention, not mentioned in the Talmud at all, and the custom of hakafos didn't start until the 1500s. So ST lacks the feeling of historical resonance and authenticity that the other Jewish holidays have for me. Partly, it's also childhood baggage; let's just say my Dad didn't approve of the way ST was done at our shul, and the associations I had with it growing up were somewhat unpleasant.

Mainly, though, what makes ST difficult for me is the excessive way in which it's celebrated today. I'm not only talking about the drunkenness and horsing around, which to my sensibilities, is completely out of place in shul. But even excluding that, the service itself just feels unbearably tedious. Not only is it very lengthy, but of all holiday services, ST has by far the least actual content relative to its long duration. Each hakafa are dragged out interminably, usually by a few wild individuals long after the majority is ready to move on. Endless time is spend reading V'zos Haberacha over and over again so that everyone can have an aliya. A ludicrous list of items is auctioned off. And so on, (seemingly) ad infinitem.

I would just say that I'm getting old and have no patience anymore, but I didn't enjoy ST much 20 years ago either. And it's not because I don't appreciate the gift of the Torah, God forbid. Come Shavous, which is the real holiday for celebrating Torah, I'm rejoicing with the best of 'em. But modern-day Simchas Torah just doesn't do it for me. Ah, well.

Have another theory to share, on the history of laining V'zos Haberacha, but I'll make that a separate post.


At 10/24/05, 4:35 PM, Blogger benros52589 said...

simchas torah would be better if not dreyed i agree with you i remember a mishna of not getting to overly happy but to be increase even though by purim i think it's applicable to simchas torah

At 10/27/05, 10:14 AM, Blogger Mirty said...

Elie - I don't know if your family went to Ezras Israel (Rabbi Bogner's shul). One of my earliest memories is of Simchas Torah there, back in the days of flags and apples for the kids. It always seemed like a kid's holiday to me; I wasn't as interested in it as I got older. (And the next shul we belonged to did drag things out way too much. I think they had a musaf problem every Shabbos too, but that's probably just me. ;) )

At 10/28/05, 10:01 AM, Blogger Elder of Ziyon said...

Someone spoke about the sukkah/Shmini Atzeres issue at our minyan; it is fascinating because so many families of Chassidic lineage (including mine) do not eat in the sukkah on SHm. Atz night but the Mishnah Brurah rules pretty explicitly that we should. The speaker had the same problem and asked a shayla; the response was that he should eat in the sukkah unless he is visiting his parents.

I always feel weird no matter what I do so I was happy it rained!

At 10/28/05, 10:10 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Yup, I was commenting that night that God must be seeking achdus among Jews - at least in our town - in that it rained hard enough so even the litvaks had to eat inside.

(Parenthetically, what's interesting is that my dad was a pure litvak in terms of his style of learning and general hashkafa, but had certain chassidic mingahim nonetheless. Still, he gave very logical/litvish explanations for this one, some of which were in my post)

I know others who changed the minhag they grew up with on this, but I wouldn't feel right with that. If my kids choose to do so, I will try to be cool about it.

At 10/28/05, 1:59 PM, Blogger Elder of Ziyon said...

The speaker agreed with your father that the reason was the contradiction between sitting in the sukkah and saying "Shmini Atzeres Hachag Hazeh" (or its variations.) He didn't have a good answer about why kiddush on Shm. Atz. day would make sense in the Sukkah because the Al HaMichyah would mention the chag too.

He also advanced a theory that the reason Nusach Sefard has Hakafos on Sh.A. night but not the day was to be consistent with the sukkah minhag - that it is a contradiction to have hakafos during the day and then go into a sukkah! But he admitted he had no proofs.

Have a good Shabbos.

At 10/28/05, 2:20 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Our custom on Shmini Atzeres day is to make kiddush in the sukkah, and then go into the house for the meal. During the kiddush, I always have in mind to continue with the meal in the house, so I don't need to make al hamichya in the sukkah.

Interesting theory on hakafos.

Another point my dad had made is that in no other way do we treat shmini atzeres as a safek day of sukkos. I.e., we don't take the lulav (even without a bracha), we read only "yom hashemini", and not also "yom hashevii", in the laining and musaf (unlike the pattern on the rest of sukkos), we specify only shmini atzeres and not sukkos in the davening and kiddush, we say the beracha of shehechiyanu, etc.


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