Saturday, March 3, 2007

High Holiday Anxiety I

Sometime in July many people of my persuasion begin checking the Jewish calendar to find out when the Jewish holidays “fall”. Are they middle of the week deals, weekends or do they fall just before the weekend? These aren’t idle musings for bored people with nothing else to do. It really matters – because determining when Rosh Hashanah is will determine the pattern for the month of holidays, Yomim Noraim, or to quote C.N.Bialik, The Days of Awe. And awesome they are – not so much for content but for what they represent and when they appear on the calendar. The reason why I say not so much for content is because there is a lot of redundancy in the tefillot. I mean, how many ways can you say G-d is King? When one reviews the Malchios, Shofros and Zichronos it becomes obvious that there are only so many ways one can review our history and theology without getting repetitive ad absurdum. To be sure, there are a lot of beautiful Piyutim, but they tend to carry the same theme throughout, with minor variations. I think that by the time Elul is over with all the Selichot having been said, and the Shofar sounded for an entire month, R”H and Yom Kippur are almost anti-climactic with very little left to the imagination.

Boredom manifested by fidgeting, talking and a glazed over looks are but a few of the signs that there is “over kill” in the structuring of the Tefilot and Machzor. Perhaps the biggest problem is the fact that so few people are familiar with Hebrew Language let alone the more esoteric Hebrew language and grammar of the Machzor’s tefillot and Piyutim. Of course, the shul goers can read Hebrew with fluency in a myriad of accents ranging from Galitzianer to Litvishe to Sepharadic. But that doesn’t mean that they have a clue as to what they are reading. So what you have is a lot of people shockling in rhythem to prayers they have a very vague idea about. It is no wonder that most are greatful when the Kriyat Hatorah begins because it’s an unofficially designated time to talk, certainly between Aliyot. But the time lapse between Aliyot can be staggering – with all of the m’sheberachs. Getting thru a few pasukim can take an hour.
Where the holidays fall during the week of that particular year become more important than the holidays themselves and trumps the significance of the Holidays. If the holidays fall out in the middle of the week, unless you are unemployed or sitting in a Kollel, it is devastating. Devastating, because the Holidays dominate the month. Productivity in the work place goes down to zilch. If you are an employee it’s tough getting off and maintaining good will with all the other employees and supervisors, especially if it is a gentile company. If it is a Jewish company and the owners aren’t religious it could be worse taking off the second days of Yom Tov due to their resentment, but care not to violate your civil rights. Remember you just don’t take off for the Yom Tov there is also Erev Yom Tov. If you own your own business or practice, you loose touch. Remember this isn’t just a one time deal-this pattern repeats itself three times: R”H, and twice for Succot, with another hit on Yom Kippur. As beautiful as the Holiday spirit may be, it can be challenging, especially if you are a student who doesn’t attend the big three: Y.U. Stern or Touro. If you attend almost any other school there is a ton of catch up accompanied with a lot of anxiety.

If it falls out towards the end of the week it’s also not good because it can pose the possibility of a three day Yom Tov. A three day Yom Tov is heavenly for the type that loves living in a totally closed environment. A three day holiday means problems with hygiene, because the frumer you are the less likely you are to bathe or shower. For men, as for women there is no shaving. The glitch in that is laying out a fortune of money for all the new clothing so that you can show it and strut into shul. Put on a new prada outfit on a body that hasn’t washed fully for two days! How about putting on that new $500 hat over that beautiful sheitel, not having washed your hair for a couple of days. And what about all those calories consumed without going to the gym once during the three days. Imagine, your only exercise is walking to shul and walking to different homes for lunch and/or supper. The real issue however, is the plight of the Bala Buste preparing Shabbat meals on Yom Tov which is “vorbotten” unless of course you have resorted to that legal loophole called Eruv Tavshilin.

The best of all situations is when the holidays fall out on the weekend-like this year. You can’t get better than that – in a sense. When the holidays fall out on the weekends there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that it’s clean. It’s only two days-and they’re on the weekend. There is no work loss with the exception of Yom Kippur – which is acceptable L’chol Hadayos-even, the most reform Jew. If you are super frum at most you miss showering just one day, because “mema nefshach”, you weren’t going to shower or shave on Shabbat anyway. And beside Sunday is traditionally a lazy day. How many of us shave and shower compulsively on Sundays. The only chisoron is the caloric intake and sedentary life style for those two days. But it’s not so bad because come Sunday night and right after Yom tov you can get in a quick workout and then get back on track for the workweek. Perfect. The bad news however is that when the Yom tovim fall out on Sat.-Sunday we miss Shofar on Shabbat, Tashlich the first day of Yom tov and Benching Lulav and Esrog on the first day of Succot. That is very bad news and I’ll explain why in my next installment.