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After Shavuot 5783: Two pathways through the Torah

06/20/2023 10:36:07 AM


Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of hosting Rabbi Doug Alpert of Kol Ami, KC for our Shabbat services. Amid his discussion of the possible pathways upon which a modern shul might thrive, R'Alpert also addressed what has been (for me) since Shavuot, a major source of befuddlement: "what parsha are we meant to be reading this week??" If, for instance, you were to have visited hebcal on June 14 in preparation for Shabbat, then you would have read: "This week's Torah portion (17 June 2023) is Sh'lach in the Diaspora ยท Korach in Israel."

What gives? As usual, the answer is long, convoluted, and historical in nature. If you live in the land of Israel (for many - but not all- Jews, the epicenter of Jewish life) then Shavuot is celebrated for one day. If, however, you do not, then Shavuot spans two days. And this year, that meant reading the Shavuot Torah portion on both Friday AND Saturday, saving Parashot Nasso for the following Saturday. In other words, this divergence from the regularly scheduled Torah cycle is the effect of the holiday falling on a Friday night as it did in 2023.

Why does the diasporic Jewish community celebrate an extra day of Shavuot? ~ and, for that matter, of all of the major holidays? It is because this is the ancient custom, established for those living far afield from the Jewish authority able to observe the new moon and decree the beginning of each month, hence days of ritual observance. In antiquity, those living outside of Israel would have to wait until horse-riders arrived, bearings news of the new moon. But this, of course, could take so long that the holiday might already have passed before the news itself arrived. Hence diasporic Jewish communities celebrated two days of a given holiday, hedging their bets.

As R'Alpert pointed out, progressive Jewish communities dispense with this ancient practice, relying instead on our now scientific and synchronized reassurance of the phase of the moon. 

So what do we do here at the LJCC? That seems to me a matter for the community to decide. And until we collectively make the call, I'll stick with that traditional diasporic calendar because...well, I guess in indeterminate cases, it is easiest to let tradition carry the day.

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784