It’s time to make room on your bookshelves for a beautiful new book that will enhance your Jewish life!
Conservative Judaism has, in the last dozen years or so, given us a new Siddur Sim Shalom (one for weekdays and one for Shabbat and Yom Tov), a new Humash Etz Hayim, and a new High Holy Day prayer book (Mahzor Lev Shalem). Each has been a great tool for use in modern Jewish life in North America. This week, we welcome the arrival of The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews. This stunning volume is a practical and lyrical guide to Jewish living in relationship with God, our fellow Jews, and the larger world.
Thirty-four talented thinkers and writers contributed to the book, gracing us with more than 900 pages of guidance. More than 10% of the volume addresses Holy Days and Holidays, a chapter written by Rabbi Alan Lucas. The length of this section isn’t surprising, given the importance of the Jewish calendar in informing the rhythm of Jewish life. It’s also fitting that I received the book during the week of Parshat Emor, which is dominated by a section about the timing of the Festivals.
“Eleh mo’adei Adonai mikraei kodesh asher tikre-u otam bemo’adam–These are the set times of the LORD, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time” (Leviticus 23:4). The rabbis understood the word tikre-u, here translated “celebrate,” to really mean “declare.” On this basis, they took on the role of establishing a working calendar based on the moon, as if to say, “the festivals happen when we say they happen.” This is needed because a 12-month lunar calendar has 354 days, and if left to its own devices, the 11-day gap between lunar and solar calendars would eventually push Pesah out of the spring (when the Torah says it must be celebrated) and into winter. That’s why the rabbis added an extra Hebrew month 7 of 19 years, so as to keep the lunar and solar calendars in some degree of sync.
Granted, the Pesah factor makes it imperative to adjust our calendar to be coordinated with the way the rest of the world measures time. But is this the ideal way of dealing with the discrepancy between our calendar and that of the secular world? In what other ways can we use the Jewish calendar first and foremost to inform the way we tell time and measure our days?
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise