TITLE: Yamim Nora'im (Days of Awe)
AUTHOR: Mara Greengrass
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL: fishfolk@...
. Feedback is better than chocolate.
PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Just ask, please.
SUMMARY: The Rosh Hashana sermon of Rabbi Jacob Bloom of Congregation
DISCLAIMER: The X-Men and the X-Men movieverse belong to Marvel and
Twentieth-Century Fox and other entities with expensive lawyers.
Congregation Beth Tikva, Rabbi Bloom, and his congregants are from my
imagination. Other people mentioned are real, including Noah Golinkin,
who would have loved that I included him.
CONTINUITY/SPOILERS: This takes place somewhere in the middle of X3, but
has only mild spoilers.
NOTES: At the end, you will find a glossary of any terms related to
Judaism not already translated in the text. Also, I should note that The
Rabbinical Assembly's statement is almost a direct quote, but not quite.
Gigantic thanks to Mofic, Adn_heming, and Blue_Braces for betareading.
* * * * *
Rosh Hashana sermon, 5769
Rabbi Jacob Bloom, Congregation Beth Tikva, Rockville, MD
L'shana tova tikatevu v'tehatemu. It's good to see all of you here on
this rainy Rosh Hashana, in our renovated sanctuary. Thanks to Simon
Katz for doing such a nice job with Shacharit this morning, yasher
koach, Simon. And I want to remind everyone that Judy Dettmiller will be
giving a talk before Mincha at 2:30 in the library on "Women and the
Minyan: A Conservative Perspective." I think Judy will be doing question
and answer afterward, right? She's nodding, so that's yes.
I know all of you are eager to finish the service, so why don't I get
started? Let me begin with a story from the Talmud.
In the first century, there were two great rabbis, Hillel and Shammai.
One day, a skeptic came to Shammai and said to him, "Teach me the whole
Torah while I stand on one foot." This made Shammai mad, because he felt
he was being mocked, and he chased the man away.
The man went to see Hillel, and asked *him* to teach him the entire
Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel replied, "What is hateful to
you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah. The rest is
commentary; go and learn it."
What does that have to do with Rosh Hashana? Well, I'll get there. Just
give me a little time.
Rosh Hashana is a holy day that wears many hats: the Day of Judgement,
the Day of Shofar Blowing, the Day of Remembrance, and, of course, the
Many people use this holiday to make resolutions for the coming year,
and I would like to propose something to be added to that list, along
with "lose weight" and "spend more time with the kids."
I bet you think I'm going to say, "give more money to the shul." No, I
leave that to the president! Maybe you think I'm going to say you should
come to services more often. Okay, that would be nice too.
But on this Day of Judgement, the beginning of the Days of Awe, in this
time when we practice teshuva (repentance), tefilah (prayer), and
tzedakah (charity), I would like to ask you to resolve to fight for
equal rights for mutants. Spend these Days of Awe asking yourself what
*you* can do.
I agonized for a long time over whether to write this sermon. The
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has not issued any responsa
related to the status of mutants in Jewish law. However, until such time
as the Conservative movement has a definitive position, it is my
responsibility to provide guidance to this congregation based on my
understanding of halakha.
I searched my heart and the Torah, and found it was time I spoke out.
While the committee has yet to rule, the Rabbinical Assembly *has*
issued the following statement:
"We, the Rabbinical Assembly,
1) Support full civil equality for mutants in our national life, and
2) Deplore the violence against mutants in our society, and
3) Reiterate that, as are all Jews, mutants are welcome as members
in our congregations, and
4) Call upon our synagogues and the arms of our movement to
increase our awareness, understanding and concern for our fellow Jews
who are mutants."
The Torah has nothing to say specifically about mutants, I know. But
Leviticus 19:17 tells us "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine
heart" and Leviticus 19:18 gives us the oft-quoted "Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself."
It doesn't say, "Love thy neighbor, unless his daughter has gills." It
doesn't say, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother, unless his skin is green."
Our covenant with Hashem is based on our willingness to be a light to
all nations, to participate in tikkun olam, repairing the world through
In these Days of Awe, it is incumbent upon us as Jews to remember that
Hashem has, for whatever reason, allowed mutants to exist, and all of us
are 'b'tzelem elohim,' created in the image of the Divine.
This means that we all have that spark of divinity in us, and it is our
job to find it and nurture it in others and in ourselves. Our goal is no
less than perfection.
Jews have always stood at the forefront of civil rights movements. Rabbi
Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King.
Locally, Rabbi Noah Golinkin, who some of you know was a good friend of
mine, fought for integration of schools and housing in DC and Northern
Virginia. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has spent decades
fighting all forms of discrimination, has a staff list that sounds like
a shul board: co-founder Joseph J. Levin Jr., Howard Mandell, Rhonda
Brownstein, Mark Potok...
And I could go on.
If you've turned on a television or read a newspaper in recent days, you
will have heard of a "cure," created by Worthington Industries, a cure
that promises to take away those pesky mutations, save us from having to
see new aspects of the Divine.
"It's purely voluntary," we're told. "Nobody's being forced to get the
shot. Nobody's being forced to wear the yellow star or the pink triangle."
Oh, pardon me. I must be mixing up my historical events. It's true that
nobody is being forced to wear a yellow star to show they're a mutant.
But are we so far from that?
A study of recent history shows that saying "Never again" is
easy--keeping that promise is hard. Again and again, we have cried out
against oppression in other nations: the Sudan, Yugoslavia, South
Africa, Russia. And millions have died.
Will mutants have to be decimated before we acknowledge their cries?
Yes, there are mutants who want to receive this cure and we must respect
their wishes, but we must be sure that *we* as a society have not
pressured them into this. We must be sure that this cure is never forced
upon the innocent, the unwilling victim of our own fears.
Throughout our history, many Jews have died rather than convert. They
have embraced martyrdom rather than renounce who they are. Let us not
force this same choice on mutants.
If you recall, I began this sermon with the story of the man who
demanded to learn Torah while standing on one foot. The great Rabbi
Hillel told him "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor:
that is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn it."
Twenty centuries later, have we truly learned Torah? Or are we as
ignorant as that skeptic?
Rosh Hashana: One of the High Holy Days, the beginning of the Days of
Awe. (Although it lasts two days by the secular calendar, Rosh Hashana
is considered one long 48-hour day.)
L'shana tova tikatevu v'tehatemu: "May you be inscribed and sealed for a
good year," referring to the idea that during the Days of Awe, God
decides everyone's fate for the coming year.
Shacharit: Morning prayers
Yasher koach: Well done
Mincha: The afternoon service.
Minyan: A quorum of ten Jewish adults (or ten men, depending on the
branch of Judaism) whose presence is required for certain parts of the
Talmud: A record of rabbinic discussions of Jewish law, ethics, customs,
and stories, which carry nearly the force of law.
Torah: The first five books of the Bible.
Shofar: A ram's horn, used for ceremonial purposes on the High Holidays.
Shul: The Yiddish word for synagogue.
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards: This is a committee of the
Rabbinical Assembly that sets policy for RA rabbis and for the
Rabbinical Assembly: The international association of Conservative rabbis.
Responsa: Written decisions or rulings of a rabbinical body of authority.
Halakha: The collective body of Jewish law, which covers both religious
and everyday life.
Tikkun olam: Repairing the world (through social action)
I borrowed ideas and occasionally short phrases from:
Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan, Main Line Reform Temple, Narberth, PA
Jill Jacobs, rabbinical student, Jewish Theological Seminary
Rabbi Lewis John Eron, Jewish Family and Children's Service, Cherry Hill, NJ
Rabbi David Golinkin, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem
Rabbi David Thomas, Beth El, Sudbury, MA
The Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism
Judaism 101 at http://www.jewfaq.org