Blog: April 2013

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Small world

Tonight I attended the first session of Curious Tales of the Talmud, a six-week class. I hope to write more about the class itself later (good stuff), but for now, something else:

The world is a small place. The class is offered by Chabad, with whom I have no prior connection. There were about a dozen people in the class. One shows up at a writing group I'm part of, one is a user on Mi Yodeya (I didn't know there were any other locals, but I'm a moderator and I use my real name online, so when we did introductions that person recognized my name), and the person sitting next to me recognized me from a past Pennsic. boggle

This last was an interesting story, and I wish I remembered our past encounter better (it obviously made an impression on him). He said he had talked to me while walking in the Pennsic marketplace on Shabbat many years ago, and I had said that I could look at the crafts being offered as we walked by but I couldn't shop then, and he took that as a nudge to do better about Shabbat. Now that's not something I would just blurt out so there must have been some background there, something I don't remember and he didn't tell me tonight. So here it is, something like ten years later, and he's part of the Chabad community, "not 100% shomer shabbat but getting there", and apparently a passing comment I made had some tiny part in that? Um, wow. Perhaps I will learn more at next week's class.

Fun with ceremony (Coronation)

This past weekend I had the chance to participate in something really spiffy -- a recreation of a historic coronation ceremony. Most SCA ceremony is fundamentally modern, dressed up in renaissance trappings; the chance to do more-serious recreation is pretty special.

Of course, there are some special considerations -- historically, ceremonies like this would have been Christian religious services (part of a mass, I think), which in addition to being problematic for some participants (ahem) also would be a violation of SCA rules. So some work needed to be done on that, but I'm impressed by how real it felt nonetheless.

Baron Steffan wrote/adapted the ceremony based on the Coronation service of Maximilian I (1486). Music was a central part (rather than being incidental as is sometimes the case), and we had about 20 singers from across the kingdom (about half from the Debatable Choir), organized and led by Arianna of Wynthrope. We sang four songs: "Te Regem Laudamus" (adapted from a "Te Deum"), Non Nobis Domine, the roll of kings and queens (more on that below), and "Da Pacem Domine", which we'll be using throughout the reign as processional music.

By ancient custom, the coronation ceremony includes the reading of the roll of all the past kings and queens. Usually this is read by a herald; we chanted it (adapting the Te Regem). One thing that was fun about this was that, to make it not clash, we sang Latinized versions of all the names (thanks Steffan!), and "collapsed" different rulers with the same names. So if you listen to the chant you'll hear Christophers 1 through 6, but that's really two different people each ruling three times. Some names underwent more transformation than others; I think the biggest change was "Rurik" to "Rodericus". I wonder how many of them were startled by hearing their names this time. :-)

Dagonell has collected the ceremony, its documentation, the sheet music, and recordings (and other stuff from the event). Check it out! (The recordings here are of the music parts; I do hope somebody was recording the rest of the ceremony and that it'll make its way to that page.)

I don't go to a lot of SCA events any more, and almost never ones not in my local group, but this was totally worth the effort.

Is observing Judaism "all or nothing"?

A question on Mi Yodeya asks: if I can't keep all of Jewish law, for example if I have to work on Saturdays, is there benefit to keeping only some of it? Or is it "all or nothing"?

My answer:

It's not either/or but "both, and".

Judaism has a system of rules, halacha, by which we are to live our lives. Halacha is not negotiable, so that might sound like "all or nothing". Instead, think of it as what you aspire to, even if it's not what you currently do. Halacha calls on you to do all that you can, but also recognizes that all humans are imperfect and does not hold one failure against us in other areas.

As someone else noted, there are conditions where halacha itself provides for prioritization, but this is built into the halachic system, not something that individuals get to decide. If you think your individual circumstances call for a leniency on any matter of halacha, you should consult your rabbi for guidance. Your rabbi is in a position to evaluate the demands of halacha, your financial situation, your family situation, where you currently are in your growth in torah, and so on, and advise you about your job.

When we face barriers to fulfilling the law we should be striving to remove them. In your case, your job currently requires you to work on Shabbat. Can you do anything about that? Can you trade shifts with somebody, even if it means your new shift will be less convenient? Can you find a new job that doesn't have this requirement? If you can make either of those changes, so that you can remain employed and also keep Shabbat, Jewish tradition calls on you to do so. Remove the barrier by changing jobs, rather than saying "there's a barrier and I can't get past it".

I'm not trying to give you personal advice (that's not what this site is for) but rather to illustrate an approach. Yes, Judaism has rules, and when you violate them you are sinning. Yes, Judaism has some affordances for sufficiently-severe circumstances (and for this you should consult your rabbi). And yes, Judaism calls on you to take action yourself where you can to improve the situation instead of waiting for things to get better on their own.

And, all that said, if what you're asking is "if I can't do all of it should I do any of it?", the answer is yes. Every mitzvah you do counts in your merit; it is better to violate Shabbat and still follow other mitzvot than to say "well, if I can't do Shabbat I'll just punt on everything". Doing a mitzvah can lead you to do another; that's a good thing. As it says in Pirke Avot (4:2): mitzvah goreret mitzvah, aveirah goreret aveirah -- one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, one transgression leads to another transgression.

(I realize that this answer is largely lacking in sources.)