The Sabbath, or: Shabbat

A palinode to: ‘Shabbat, or: The Sabbath’

Fuck that noise;
Sabbath law annoys
girls and boys
who want toys;
They're denied their simple joys;
Onus ~ faith destroys

d’Verse prompt:

Write a palinode

A palinode or palinody is an ode or song that retracts or recants a view or sentiment to what the poet wrote in a previous poem.

The d’Verse writing challenge is to write a palinode. This can be in relation to a poem you have written before (please link or include prior poem), or as part of poem.

The poem of mine to which I wrote this palinode is called: ‘Shabbat, or: The Sabbath’


Shabbat, or: The Sabbath

A shadorma

She draws me;
Jews' age-old decree;
Through her we
are set free
for our holy day weekly ~
we simply can be

I don’t blog on Shabbas (the Sabbath)

According to most traditional interpretations of Jewish religious law, Jews are forbidden from using electronic devices (such as computers, cell phones, etc.) on the Sabbath. This has its benefits and its drawbacks.

You can read more on this here: I don’t blog on Shabbas (the Sabbath)


P.S.

Shadorma poems need not rhyme.

Kaddish for an individual

Jewish tradition: mourning in community

Papa died in July of 2018. I started blogging about my journey of mourning (i.e. kaddish) that August. That year was very intensive for me; I produced a great deal of content based upon numerous readings; research; reflections; recollections; conversations; and, yes, prayer. The kaddish, after all, is a prayer.

I have written so much about kaddish that I won’t belabor the following point; I will simply spell it out: traditionally, the kaddish doxology is only recited among other Jews in a prayer quorum of ten adults. In other words, upon losing a loved one, those Jews who are inclined towards tradition will [at least attempt to] attend prayer services at a synagogue on a daily basis so that they can recite kaddish in memory and honor of their deceased loved ones.

My kaddish year ended in the summer of 2019. The global pandemic began less than one year later. By coincidence, I launched this blog at around at that time.


COVID-19 & kaddish

Even after I completed my year of mourning; even after I had recited my final kaddish; even after I had stopped researching and blogging about my experience of Jewish mourning… I couldn’t stop.

I conducted Google searches on kaddish every day; I continued looking for other kaddish bloggers; I continued thinking about Jewish mourning… I couldn’t stop myself. That is, to a large extent, why I decided to create this blog – I desperately needed some sort of outlet.

Obsessed with kaddish as I was, you can guess what I first thought of when all of the shuls (synagogues) were shuttered due to COVID-19. I immediately thought:

  1. “Oh no – those poor mourners!” and:
  2. “Thank God I completed my year of kaddish recitations before the pandemic hit – I would have been so lost that year without the structure of Jewish tradition. What would I have written about without reciting kaddish? What would I have reflected upon? Whom would I have exchanged my doubts with?”

You see, as much I made my traditional year of kaddish a uniquely personalized spiritual expedition (and, at that, one that embraced my theological skepticism), it wouldn’t have been much of a journey without the traditional Jewish framework that has served us for centuries. Sure, I went beyond the demands of Jewish tradition… but it was always-always dependably present in my daily life, ever beckoning for my reactions to its expectations.

COVID-19 upended human lives in sundry ways all around the world. For Jewish mourners, one of the greatest fatalities of the pandemic was the opportunity to recite the mourner’s kaddish for their loved ones. Synagogues were closed, prayer quorums were limited in number of attendees, and many Jewish mourners were left without their communities – and without their kaddish.


Alternatives to traditional kaddish

The pandemic forced people to get creative, and various alternatives to traditional kaddish recitation were proposed by various Jewish leaders and communities. Of course, different denominations took different approaches, as was to be expected.

The religiously liberal Jewish denominations generally accepted the idea that prayer services could be conducted online, rather than in person, and their religious authorities ruled that a virtual prayer quorum would suffice for the purposes of permitting mourners to recite kaddish. In the Orthodox world, opinions were divided, with most communities rejecting the religious validity of online prayer quorums.

Given my fascination and deep investment in the concept of kaddish, read everything that I could find on the subject; and I came across an article written by a young Orthodox rabbi who works at Brandeis University. Rabbi Seth Winberg published an opinion piece in the JTA, in which he suggested that Jewish tradition had long provided alternatives for kaddish in the absence of a minyan (prayer quorum):

Our ancestors created legitimate substitutions for Kaddish when a minyan wasn’t available, or when someone arrived late to shul, by using biblical verses with words similar to Kaddish — and we would do well to avail ourselves of those solutions now.

Rabbi Seth Winberg, March 25, 2020

Rabbi Winberg wrote of “a modified version of the traditional prayer” which could be recited “privately at home,” and, curious, I reached out to him, requesting a copy of that 12th-13th century text, which he ever so kindly provided to me.

This prayer is very little known, or, at least, it certainly was before the pandemic broke out (and probably still is). In fact, I haven’t seen it included in a single Jewish prayerbook.


Anniversaries of Papa’s death

Last summer, when it came time for the 2nd anniversary of Papa’s death, Israel had entered its 2nd lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 1st lockdown, I remember hoping that we would come out of it in time for me to host a kiddush (refreshments after prayer services on Shabbat) in Papa’s honor. Naively, I never expected another lockdown.

To me, at that time, the shuttering of our synagogue was a temporary measure. To my mind, the dissolution of my Shabbat prayer community was also temporary. Thus, despite the 2nd lockdown, I invited my acquaintances and friends from my formerly existent prayer community to a kiddush in the park after services – back then, I was still relating to our weekly prayer quorum as merely having lapsed, rather than being gone.

Today, based upon Israel’s current reality, it seems possible that my Shabbat prayer community will gradually reconstitute itself, but most of its members have yet to return. The attendance and camaraderie today are shadows of what they once were. Israel’s situation is improving, but the way back to “normalcy” will be slow and long. Things will likely never be what they once were.

In any case, while I allow myself some optimism for the future, my Shabbat community does not currently exist as it did once. And, unlike last year, I don’t particularly want to host a kiddush in the park for a community that hasn’t been part of my life for more than a year. That feels unnatural to me.


“Kaddish for an individual”

Papa certainly wouldn’t have cared about me reciting kaddish for him on his yahrzeit. If anything, as I’ve said, he would have appreciated the idea of his loved ones enjoying themselves in his memory.

-Me, ‘More skeptic than kaddish’, July 19, 2020

Last year, I somewhat accidentally missed reciting kaddish on the anniversary of Papa’s death. This year, I may do so deliberately. As I wrote last year, my practical Papa would not have cared. Perhaps we’ll mark his passing at a local waffle café that our daughter loves, just as we did last year. Afterwards, I’ll probably light a candle.

In terms of reciting kaddish, I may recite the prayer that Rabbi Winberg introduced me to – the kaddish for the individual. Technically, that prayer was designed for circumstances in which one is not able to join a full prayer quorum (which is traditionally required for kaddish recitation), but I can use it for my own purposes without breaking with Jewish tradition.


“Kaddish for an Individual” – prayer text

from Sefer Hasidim (12th-13th century Rhineland)

אָדָם שֶׁהוּא דָּר בַּכְּפָר וְאֵין עִמּוֹ עֲשָׂרָה לוֹמַר דָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה אוֹ בִּמְקוֹם קְהִלָּה וְאִחֵר לָבֹא עַד אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ כְּבָר יְהֵא שְׁמֵי’ רַבָּא יֹאמַר A person who lives in a village without a prayer quorum or who arrived late after they had already said “may God’s great name…” should instead say:
   
וְעַתָּה יִגְדַּל נָא כֹּחַ אֲדֹנָי כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ לֵאמֹר (במדבר יד:יז). Therefore, I pray, let my Lord’s forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying (Numbers 14:17):
וְהִתְגַּדִּלְתִּי וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתִּי וְנוֹדַעְתִּי לְעֵינֵי גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְיָדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי ה’ (יחזקאל לח:כג). Thus will I manifest My greatness and My holiness, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations. And they shall know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 38:23).
יְהִי שֵׁם ה’ מְבֹרָךְ מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם (תהלים קיג:ב). Let the name of the LORD be blessed now and forever (Psalms 113:2).

This heart, or: This mind

My 1st puente

In the form of two envelope quintets

This heart has no other blood known
than flowed through all past generations
linked one-by-one through space and time
by ancient Hebrew conversations
echoing through flesh and bone

~ ever more so as I've grown ~

This mind has grasped that nothing's known
though men cling tight to correlations
creating of them gods sublime
and altars built on false foundations
they worship while I stand alone

d’Verse poetics prompt:

Build a bridge

At d’Verse, poets were instructed to either:

  1. Write a poem about bridges that uses some form of the word ‘bridge’ in the poem or in the title, or:
  2. Write a puente (bridge) poem, which does not need to include the word bridge (but it can).

I opted for the 2nd alternative, and decided to make my puente poem out of two envelope quintets. Given the rhyme structure of my poem, I envision it as a suspension bridge.

Tradition: just do it?

Some axioms for life

  • Once an institution comes into existence, its top priority becomes perpetuating its existence;
    • If an institution achieves its stated goals, it will assign itself new goals in order to justify and perpetuate its continued existence;
  • All religions are institutions.

Kaddish: basic logistics

  • There are several different versions of the kaddish prayer (technically, it’s a doxology), but the best known of these is oft called the mourner’s kaddish, which is recited by Jewish mourners after they have lost close relatives;
    • Traditionally, the mourner’s kaddish is recited daily for 30 days following the death of a spouse, sibling, or child; and it is recited daily for twelve (or eleven) Hebrew months following the death of a parent;
    • Traditionally, the mourner’s kaddish is recited at each of the three daily prayer services – morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Traditionally, one may only recite kaddish with a Jewish prayer quorum, which is defined as ten males of age (13 yrs old +) in Orthodox communities and ten humans of age in most non-Orthodox communities;
    • Prayer services with prayer quorums may be held anywhere, but they are most often held at synagogues.

Putting aside the metaphysical

For the purposes of this post, let’s put aside the metaphysical. Let’s put aside the purported effects of living people’s prayers upon their dead loved ones.

While I don’t deny that the supernatural may exist, I believe that all religious traditions and rituals originally developed, first and foremost, as reflections and outgrowths of individual and communal human needs, be they social, spiritual, economic, etc.

From the perspective of the Jewish mourner, our tradition forces us into our communities after we lose our loved ones. After all, the mourner’s kaddish, that doxology that we recite multiple times every day for an extended period of time can only be recited within a Jewish prayer quorum — that is to say: among other Jews.

From the perspective of Jewish communities, for which synagogue life has long been central to their existence, having a regular stream of participants attending communal prayer services is clearly a win. After all, plenty of Jewish people are disinclined to go to shul (synagogue) daily, let alone weekly or monthly. In fact, many daily Jewish prayer quorums are comprised of retirees with no family & work responsibilities; it’s fairly easy to understand why this is so.

Therefore, the tradition of reciting mourner’s kaddish, which compels many of even the most unaffiliated Jews, serves to keep synagogues stocked with congregants. In fact, the experience of reciting mourner’s kaddish (particularly for the duration of an entire year in the case of a deceased parent) is so powerful that many mourners continue attending prayer services long after their allotted kaddish periods have ended.


Tradition: just do it?

It’s fair to say that the more traditional the community, the less personal, creative religious expression is encouraged. The traditional message is, essentially: ‘There is a traditional way of doing things, which has been handed down to us through the many centuries, and it, by definition, meets all of our human needs, if only we commit ourselves to it fully and deeply.’

Nevertheless, it took me one no more than a single month of daily kaddish recitations following Papa’s death before I felt that Jewish tradition wasn’t doing it for me. I needed something more. I needed to feel that it was my kaddish, not simply the kaddish. And that’s when I started my kaddish writing project, which begat this blog.

I don’t think I can entirely qualify how much love, effort, time, and energy went into that project. I remain very proud of it, and I often wonder how the heck I managed to get through those 51 blog posts, which wove my personal kaddish reflections & experiences together with my memories of Papa and with the intensive research that I did throughout the course of that year. Seriously – how the heck did I do manage it?

But from the perspective of organized Jewish community, one might say that my kaddish writing project frustrated one of the primary, practical goals of the mourner kaddish institution. Not only did I find and create my own meaning in mourning, rather than derive it primarily from my communal experience; but, ultimately, I ended up convincing myself even more firmly of my religious skepticism. I went through the motions of tradition but simultaneously set myself apart from it and observed it from the side. Everything I read and wrote that year only served to further convince me of my preconceived beliefs.

After all, which part of my Jewish mourning experience has remained with me to this day? It certainly hasn’t been my synagogue attendance, which is currently non-existent… rather, it’s been my writing, which has evolved into something more than I’d expected and continues to define and shape my identity profoundly.

Forms of poetry; forms of life

Exploring poetic forms

Since creating this blog and embarking upon this chapter of my life journey nearly one year ago, I have taken to experimenting with various forms of poetry.

From the first, I had no intention of becoming a poetry blogger. I only wanted to create a personal website on which to host my blog series about my year of mourning for my Papa, which had originally been published on the Times of Israel.

But then I wrote a poem in Papa’s memory; that was a spontaneous decision… I think I was feeling that my ‘kaddish’ blog needed a cover page ~ and a poem seemed suitable. I hadn’t written any poetry for some two decades before that.

Long story short, that first poem whet my appetite for creative writing (especially poetry), and I found other poet-bloggers on WordPress, which, in turn, led me to the d’Verse poets’ community (specifically through Dwight’s blog). By way of d’Verse and other writers, I was gradually introduced to forms of poetry that I had never heard of or imagined.

What fun!


An unexpected insight

Living according to Jewish tradition

I am a Jew, and I am very invested in [exploring] my Jewish identity. This comes across in my poetry and prose all the time. Heck, my blog is named for one of the most universally known Jewish prayers.

So I suppose it was just a matter of time before I made the connection between forms of poetry and forms of living ~ namely, traditions.

It’s important, for the purposes of this blog post, to understand that traditional Judaism is very ritualistic. We have traditions for putting on our shoes, eating, using the bathroom, sleeping, making love, etc., etc.; you name it.

Now, I would say that the majority of people who strive to live their lives according to all of these religious strictures believe that this is what God wants of them. At the very least, this is certainly the official party line; it is what one hears declared from Orthodox pulpits all across the world.

But for those of us who don’t believe “God said so” (or – “men said so on behalf of God”) there is rather a problem. Many traditions are, at best, simply meaningless in and of themselves. If I (we?) want to consistently follow ancient traditions without becoming deeply unhappy, I (we?) must find other, personally meaningful reasons to do so.

The inspiration of limitations

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about what it is that draws me to these many forms of poetry. Why not simply write free verse poetry, as so many others do?

For one thing, there’s an element of curiosity for me in my poetry adventure. After all, these sundry forms were developed by brilliant poets around the world, throughout the ages – who am I to dismiss them out of hand? Also, I’m constantly wondering – how do these many differing forms affect the intending meanings of my words?

Beyond that, I would like to develop my classic poetry skills before letting loose with my own style. Picasso, for example, didn’t create cubism until he had mastered classical painting.

However, above and beyond any of the above reasons, I would say that I find these endless poetic forms fascinating and even inspiring. I come up with images and ideas for poems that arise from the forms themselves – the struggle against the limitations they impose upon me births pieces that I never would have imagined, let alone imagined coming from my mind.

And this has led me to think… could the strictures of [Jewish] tradition also inspire one to live a more creative, more fruitful life?

The limits of limitations

To an extent, I think there is truth in my insight, but there is a clear “flaw” in it as well, from the perspective of a [Jewish] traditionalist.

The “flaw” is this – my fruitful excitement at exploring poetic forms is not only a product of the forms themselves – it is no less a product of my search for forms that suit my shifting moods and thoughts. I could not honestly say that any one poetic form best suits me.

Of course, a committed traditionalist would probably argue that there are many different traditional paths within Judaism, and they would be correct in their assertion… but my counterargument would be just as sound: there are many more traditional paths outside of Judaism than within it, the vast majority of which I have never explored.

That said, the greatest caveat to this counterargument would be my mortality – at the end of the day, I must decide how live life based upon inherently finite experiences, just as we all must.

So… to what extent should I embrace the forms of life that I was born into?


Addendum: Some words of wisdom

By coincidence, I just came across the following video on Lesley’s blog; and it’s the perfect bookend to this blog post of mine:

The old rabbi, or: The apikoros

A dorky Jewish limerick

When an apikoros broke Shabbat,
The old rabbi just sighed, "Oy, mein Gott!
If you think it's alright
To switch on the light...
Well... it would seem I forgot the crock-pot!"

A quick explanation

There are many religious restrictions associated with Shabbat (the Sabbath) in traditional Judaism, including not using electricity and not cooking on Shabbat. The phrase “breaking Shabbat” means desecrating Shabbat by breaking any of these many restrictions.

An apikoros is a Jew who informedly rejects the tenets of traditional Jewish faith and probably does not live according to the tradition. An apikoros would have no problem “breaking Shabbat” by flipping a light switch on or cooking on the Sabbath.

A traditional stew called “cholent” is often served on Saturdays. The idea behind this dish is that it must be prepared before Shabbat and put in a crock-pot on low heat to finish cooking overnight on Friday (during Shabbat). By the time Saturday (still Shabbat) rolls around, the cholent is thoroughly cooked – ready to be eaten for Shabbat lunch!

The humor in this limerick is that the old rabbi is not only prohibited from cooking on Shabbat himself – he is also forbidden from benefitting from another Jew’s desecration of the Sabbath. Technically, if the apikoros cooks food on Shabbat, and if the rabbi knows of this, the rabbi cannot eat that food. And, as you may have guessed already, suggesting that another Jewish person desecrate the Sabbath is also religiously verboten.

In this limerick, the old rabbi is knowingly suggesting that the apikoros turn on the crock-pot with the cholent inside, thereby both cooking food and actively making use of an electrical device on the Sabbath. Seems that this old rabbi is a bit of an apikoros himself!


P.S.

Some say that the word “cholent” may have come from the French “chaud” (hot) and “lent” (slow).

Shabbat, or: The Sabbath

My 2nd Shadorma

She draws me;
Jews' age-old decree;
Through her we
are set free
for our holy day weekly ~
we simply can be

I was recently exposed to the shadorma form of poetry by Kerfe and Lauren. As always, I had to give it a go… this is definitely one of those short forms that challenges us to pack as much as possible into every word. Quite lovely, really – I enjoyed this form!

Note: the form need not rhyme.