The Eighth Day

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As may Gentle Readers are aware, Your Humble Blogger grew up a Conservative Jew, comfortably within a 70s not-particularly-progressive congregation. Well, I say comfortably, which isn’t exactly true; my family was pushing the congregation on egalitarian/feminist ritual practices, and we were never quite as Zionist as the rest of the gang, but I accepted that our role was to be towards that end of a Conservative congregation. I joke that the definition of a Conservative Jew is a Jew that doesn’t keep kosher, but thinks it is very important that the Rabbi keeps kosher, and that’s more or less how I grew up. The traditions were very important, but I didn’t expect to actually keep any of them myself.

When I started attending services regularly as a grown-up, it was at an independent (unaffiliated) synagogue that used a modified Reconstructionist siddur. I really liked the siddur, and I was interested in the Reconstructionist movement, which I had never come in contact with before, but I didn’t think of myself as a Reconstructionist Jew. I thought of myself as a Conservative Jew who went to an unaffiliated shul and liked the Reconstructionist siddur. At the same time, I was beginning to become aware that I would probably not ever join a Conservative synagogue again. My Best Reader is not Jewish, and I would certainly not join a synagogue that would not welcome her as a full member, any more than I would join a synagogue that would not allow us to worship together. The Conservative Movement has a sluggish and recalcitrant attitude on LGBT issues as well, in my opinion, and that was worse in the time I am talking about, fifteen years ago or so.

Then when we moved to our current town, I joined the congregation I call Temple Beth Bolshoi (not its actual name, of course) after looking around at the seven (!) synagogues in the area and finding the one I could imagine my Perfect Non-Reader being bat-mitzvah in. It’s a URJ shul, big enough and old enough to be fairly prominent in URJ politics, it seems. I still thought of myself as a Conservative Jew, probably, or perhaps as an unaffiliated Jew with a Conservative background. And then, over five years or so, and particularly as I saw a lot of the good things that URJ was doing as an organization, I started calling myself a Reform Jew. Admittedly, a Reform Jew who still preferred the Conservative tunes for the prayers, but a Reform Jew.

Now, I am comfortable being a Reform Jew right now, in part because the Reform Movement has changed so much in the last generation or two. We wear yarmulkes at services (mostly, although nobody seems to look askance if we don’t) and we don’t call our Rabbi Reverend and we don’t actually object to that Rabbi keeping kosher, if he doesn’t flaunt it. We pray in Hebrew! The Rabbi who gratuitously sniped at the Orthodox shul down the road has retired. I am, for the most part, happy to call myself a Reform Jew, and have been for, oh, five years or so. Except for the tunes.

And, it turns out, except for the eighth day of Passover. I understand that there is no good scriptural or legal reason to hold off on pizza until after eight days have passed, instead of seven (this essay by Ben Dreyfus pretty much covers it) but it still seems like cheating, somehow. And the wrong kind of cheating, too—I am happy to tell my children that the sundown on the last day of Passover is always considered, Rabbinically speaking, to occur at the moment that the pizza delivery guy arrives. But cheating on sundown on the eighth day is cheating I am perfectly happy with; after halakhically-correct sundown on the seventh day is not.

I wonder, today, on what for me is the last day of Passover, what my children will do, when they have households of their own. The true rabbinic instruction in these matters is to follow the minhag (custom) of your family, or at least of the family you married into, and not to change it without reason. Will they find reason to change it? Of course, I have no idea what customs they will choose to follow—will they keep Passover at all? Will they celebrate with a seder on the first night and then ignore either seven or eight days following? Will they keep kosher in the house all year? Will they think of themselves as Jews at all, or choose some other religious identity? I hope I am raising them to think that they have the power and right to choose that identity for themselves… but I admit that I hope that I am raising them with enough fondness for my customs and the customs of our household that they will not want to ditch them altogether.

It is a complicated world, that it surely is, and without our traditions, we would notice that we are all fiddlers on rooftops. Of course, some of our traditions have always involved pushing other people off the roof’s edge, and we shouldn’t keep those, but there’s something somehow appealing to me about this nonsensical just-in-case eighth day, a thousand years and more past there being any question of starting the holiday on the wrong date.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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