How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

June 4, 2008

Something…something…COMPLETE!

I’ve been wearing a kippah full time now for three years, I think (somebody can check me on this; I’m pretty sure I have previously blogged about this), and that one little mitzvah definitely has me thinking more consciously about all the other mitzvot I observe and those I don’t.

There are some mitzvot that I can observe daily, others that present themselves less frequently but with some regularity (various Shabbat observances, for instance), and then there are those that only occur irregularly and that I have no control over – namely, those related to life cycle events that are not my own. I’ve had the honor of being a kvatter at a bris (the person who carries the baby boy to the sandak, the person who will hold him during the circumcision), I’ve held the chuppah and signed the ketubah in a wedding, I’ve participated in taharat ha-met, and this week, I witnessed the delivery of a get.

I was recruited for this last task in typically impromptu fashion by my friend and teacher Rabbi Scott Meltzer, with no question posed as to my willingness to participate nor warning given as to the purpose for which he was pulling me (and a fellow congregant) out of the congregational meeting for which we had gathered at our shul. Since I’m not entirely daft, I guessed what we were doing when the Rabbi walked us up to his office accompanied by a couple who didn’t display the kind of joy you reserve for, well, joyous occasions. We all stood in the Rabbi’s office and listened to him read the document in Aramaic, translate/explain it in English, then instruct the man on the proper procedure of delivering it to his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and finally guide her in the final steps (literally – the woman takes 4 steps away after taking possession of the get to signify that she accepts it), making the deed official.

I was uncomfortable for a bit, feeling like I was standing in this couple’s personal space, witnessing something so intensely private and painful. But I recognized, too, that, just as the wedding is a communal event, so this too must be. After all, these two individuals deserve their own happiness, and they could not find it with each other. Just as witnesses were required when they declared their commitment to each other, they had to go through this ritual, witnessed by two unrelated members of the community, to free them to seek that happiness with someone else, both times according to the laws of Moses and Israel.

And, like with my previous opportunities to fulfill life cycle mitzvot, I got a chance to reflect on and marvel at the wisdom of the sages who framed these rules, and thank God that I am part of this tradition.

Oh, and Paul: Yes, I purposely waited until the end of this post to acknowledge our in-joke just to force you to read all the way through it so that maybe you’d learn something. Yeah, I know it’s not really our in-joke if Family Guy has lampooned it.

1 Comment »

  1. I didn’t know you’d done taharat met. Kol hakavod. I offered my services but, fortunately, they weren’t needed in the last community I was in.

    Wearing the kippa full time? Thank you for doing that. I’ve always said I’m less interested in whether Jews do everything the same way but at least we should have a shared language. First and foremost that comes from familiarity with basics from as well as the ebb and flow of the texts. But next it comes from experience with the norms- even if you no longer do them, at least you know what they are and they will have informed your sense of identity and relate to other Jews. Your increased practice of different norms, e.g. wearing kippot in public, allows us to communicate shared experience: The approaches from Christians asking us if we believe in Jesus. The impromptu discussions of Middle east politics. The pride in the eyes of some Jews and the discomfort in others. The (incorrect) assumptions that we have to address or ignore that people make about us. etc etc.

    Anyway, it made me wonder- do you eat in non-kosher restaurants with it on? If so, what kinds of things do you eat? I’m not sure what halacha says about the different things to eat so I don’t take an opinion- just wondering.

    Additionally, I guess that kind of points at the difficulty I was having in responding to your d’var Torah- I was thinking how your position seemed kind of shtark- with Jews being responsible for the aveirot of others; that the tzibbur could incur wrath for the transgressions of individuals; and that we had a chiyuv to direct the actions of others. And that that shtark position did not match my expectation of many congregations to the left of Aguda.

    Why? Because to me it seems that the further to the left in the Jewish world you go, the less consensus and coherence of what norms to follow. That’s why I asked if people were put off or even offended- it’s a mighty sensitive thing to get involved in what your neighbor does or doesn’t do.

    Now, for the main reason why I started this response:
    I knew a Rabbi who divorced his wife. I believe his told me that HIS Rabbi, a teacher who’d gotten s’micha from Rav Moshe Soleveitchik and Rav Boruch Ber in Europe, told him, after he’d given the get, “Mazel tov.” I presume he said this because it is a mitzva to give a get, i.e. mitzva as related to norms derived from halacha as opposed to typical “American” definition of mitzva as “good deed.” Of course, it’s also a good deed insofar as the woman is not an aguna, the individuals can build new lives unburdened, etc.

    Comment by Greg — June 5, 2008 @ 21:05

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