A timely fast
It is summer. Spring plantings are blooming. Swimming pools are lull. Softball leagues are in full swing and picnics abound. Kids are headed to camp, recent high school graduates look forwai'd to college and college grads prepare for caixjers. Families take time for vacations — ajid many of us are fortunate to spend time in Israel.
Such revelry contrasts sharply with the Jewish period of mourning in which we find ourselves. With Pesach and Shavuot be-
We can all use the opportunity to
from daily pursuits In an effort to
hind us, many of us see the High Holy Days as the next significant spiritual time. But we should not ignore the Thi-ee Weeks between the Fast of Tammuz, marked this year on July 4, and Tisha B'av, another fast day on July 25.
The first fast commemorates a number of Jewish tragedies, including the incident of the golden calf at Mount Sinai and the breaching of the walls of Jei-usalem by the Itemans in 70 C.E., which led to the destruction of the Second Temple. Tisha B'av is the calendar date on which both Temples were destroyed, the first in 586 B.C.E. and the second in 70 C.E.
During the Three Weeks — also known as Ben Hametzarim, Between the Straits — traditionally no weddings or other celebrations are held and some
people refi-ain fi-om cutting their hail-. Li the last nine days of this period — the first days of the month of Av — meat and wine are traditionally only consumed on Shabbat. Some people avoid any activities that bring joy as the mourning intensifies.
We grieve during this time because the destruction of the Second Temple brought an end to Jewish sovereignty and the beginning otgalut, or exile. With the reestablishment of Israel — whose strength we once again celebrated with the arrival of a new prime minister in the United States this week — Jewish sovereignty began anew.
But today we must address a broader definition ofgalut — a state of spiritual estrangement. No matter the ways in which we each choose to mark the Three Weeks, we can all use the opportunity to separate ourselves from daily pursuits in an effort to improve ourselves.
According to the Talmud, it was hatred among Jews that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. While Judaism allows respectful discussion and disagreement, it warns against infighting. As a community, the Jewish people can use this time to focus on aspects of our tradition that unite us.
We share a magnificent history, a proud legacy and a strong will to guarantee our continued existence. We should learn more about ourselves and, in the process, develop a stronger sense of being one, despite our political and even religious differences. Destruction and rebuilding are recurring underlying themes of our spiritual year.
In a period in our history in which we enjoy great wealth and freedom — and a time of year in which we tend to rejoice in both — the Three Weeks can help us along the path to a greater spiritual wealth to match. □
Have an opinion you'd like to voice?
The Jcwiuli Bulletin welcomes your opininns about issues dealine with the Jewisli work). Tlie Op-Ed section is open to ull points of view. To submit an o|)inion piece (V.'JO words maximum), please send it typed, double spaced and include! a one-line description about yourself. As well, include a daytime phone number and address for verification.
We edit for length, clarity and accuracy. Write to; Editor, Jewisli Uulletiii, Suite 203-873 Beatty St., Vancouver, B.C., V6B 2IV16. Our fax number is 689-1525. Or, send us your opinion piece via the Internet to: email@example.com
Bookin' the Talmud
The Bible is a far more passionate, complex and adult book
RABBI DAVID WGLPE SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH BULLETIN
Certain rituals recur in the life of a nation. Each fall, we can expect a newspaper story on autumn's beauty and changing leaves. Each winter, we can expect a story about winterizing our cars, our homes, ourselves. Each spring, there are photographs of people in shorts and T-shirts, pushing baby carriages through newly awakened parks. And each summer, we get — in addition to the ritual photo of the beach — a spread on summer books.
Summer books are books that share several qualities; They are fat to take up the long lazy days and nights. They are paperback, for easy transport. They are easy to read, since vacation is no time for arduous mental labor. They are "beach books," so we don't care if the sea sprays their pages. When we come back ffom vacation we will donate them, give them to a friend, sell them to the local bookstore for 50 cents.
John Grisham, Danielle Steel, Judith Krantz and other perennial favorites write "beach books," Read one summer, forgotten the next.
The British writer Graham Greene used to call his lighter books "entertainments." Entertainments are wonderful things. But are they worth an entire summer?
When our forebearers had leisure time, they did not spend it at the beach. In Eastern Europe, our ancestors had some remarkable clubs. The names of many of them survive. There was a Mishnah study group of Bered-itchev woodchoppers. A Rashi study group of Krakow merchants. Many of our ancestors, no
matter their occupation, tried to continue to study. They were not averse to entertainment. But they knew that life is too rich to only skim along its surface.
Beach books are fine, and have their place. But a summer of diverting reading alone is a waste. There are more books published in Judaism in English in our day than in any other language at any time in history. There are
Rabbi David Wolpe is assistant to the chancellor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and is the author of many books.
treasure troves of books out there to study, to savor. There are novels and academic works, historical chronicles and biographies, works of tender spirituality and of wild stories. Theology, poetry, plays, philosophy — there is no genre where the Jewish tradition has not produced enthralling, important books.
Do you want to know something of what life was like in the time of the rabbis? Behrman House has just re-issued Milton Steinberg's classic novel As a Driven Leaf. Do tales of Chasidic rabbis from ages gone by capture your fancy? Look for the works of Elie Wiesel, Martin Buber and many others.
Are you intrigued by mysticism? The shelves are full of introductions, journeys, speculations. History? There are many
readable one-volume histories of the Jews, including those of Chaim Potok, Paul Johnson and Max Dimont. Perhaps you could spend your summer finding out where you came from, which is always an aid in figuring out where you should be going.
Many of us have never sat down to read the Bible. It is a far more passionate, complex, and adult book than we remember. Take the new Jewish Publication Society translation in hand, or perhaps the Shocken translation by Everett Fox, and begin reading. The rollicking humanness of the tales may shock you.
Even though it is summer, serious study still beckons. The Talmud translation by Adin Stein-saltz is readily available. Perhaps this is the summer to dip a toe into what our tradition aptly calls "the sea of Talmud."
Too many of us allow our Jewish education to languish. Judaism is not child's play. The strategy of Jewish education ought to be to keep children sufficiently interested so that when they grow up they can find out what Judaism is really about. For it is a complex tradition that embraces the deepest, broadest questions of being human. And it all begins with a book.
Pirkei Avot says that everyone should have a teacher, and "acquire a friend." The great commentator Rashi asks why the word used is "acquire?" One makes friends, but does not "acquire" them. Rashi concludes that by "friend" Pirkei Avot is referring to a book. A good book can be a fnend and companion. So this summer, acquire more than a tan. Open up a book that unfolds the beauty of our tradition, and come back relaxed, enlivened, and enriched. □