Be Sure To Revisit Our Rabbi’s Blog on Shavuot’s Actual Biblical Meaning!

As Shavu’ot 5780 begins at sundown Thursday, May 28, 2020 – why not reacquaint yourself with the actual Biblical meaning of the holiday, and the path by which it was morphed across time into an entirely different focus on the Mount Sinai giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) – a meaning Jewish scholarly leaders freely admit, it is given NOWHERE in the entire Bible. 🙂  The BLOG on this can be found at this link: http://bethelnyc.org/hag-symptomatic-shavuot-invites-a-question

Shabbat shalom, and an early Hag Sameakh! (Happy Holiday of Shavu’ot!)

Why No “Lag BaOmer” at Beth El of Manhattan?

“The Jewish world has as much to learn from what ‘Two-Testament Judaism’ chooses not to do from among standing Jewish traditions, as what we choose to do.” – Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen

 
 
Shalom. As Erev Lag BaOmer falls tonight, it seems appropriate to share why we, as a Jewish synagogal community, choose not to celebrate it.
 
Put simply, Lag BaOmer marks an occasion and a line of theology we consider unhealthy for Judaism.
 
Its focus is The Zohar (“The Radiance”), the keystone literature of the Jewish mysticism called, “Kabbalah“) – and its author, “Rashbi” – an acronym for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai – who died as tradition reckons on the 18th day of the Hebrew calendar month Iyar – now memorialized as Lag BaOmer – in the Hebrew year 3920, or 160 years “c.e.” (our modern era, also denoted “a.d.”). He is remembered with honor, Kabbalah acolytes make pilgrimages to his gravesite, young Jewish boys are given their “abshorren”  (first haircut at 3 years of age), and bonfires are lit on beaches in Israel to affirm “Rashbi” and his writings as great lights to the Jewish nation and the world.
 
Lag BaOmer – is the 33rd day of the 50 days of repeated barley offerings brought to the ancient Temple until the start of the wheat harvest. In the Hebrew language, letters also stand for numbers: the letters L and G are 30 and 3 respectively: thus, L(a)G BaOmer means “the 33rd day of the Omer (barley offering).” Those 50 days take us from the major Biblical holiday, Passover to the major Biblical holiday Shavu’ot. Among Christians, Shavu’ot is called “Pentecost” because that is the Greek word for “fifty.”
 
We at Beth El of Manhattan do not see Bar Yohai or his writings as deserving such focus or honor as present Lag BaOmer customs accord him. Below we explain why.
 
Kabbalah is, in this rabbi’s view, not “Judaism” – it is for the most part, attempted sorcery.
 
The main body of Kabbalah is allegedly special “higher” (mystical) knowledge about the supposed architecture of the universe physically and spiritually, and how to use that knowledge for “better” results from prayer and spiritual activity than people without that knowledge might obtain.
 
The descriptions The Zohar gives of the universe are not proven or provable by any objective means: they are extrapolative ravings with no basis for acceptance, in the model of healthy skepticism held forth by the New Testament:
 
“Do not just believe everything ‘spiritual,’ my brothers! Test it first, to see if it is really from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world!” (1John 4:1)
 
They also violate the proof-requirements affirmed in Isaiah 8:20, and going back to Deuteronomy 18:21 and our People’s question to Moses, when we were told prophets would be coming, and we would need to heed their voices: “How shall we know the word the Lord has not spoken?” It is great question. How shall we know? Not guess, not surmise, not allege, not postulate … how shall we know?
 
It was there and thereafter God installed the tests of harmony with already confirmed revelation (Deut. 4:2, 12:32, Isaiah 8:20), and proving new revelation with 100% accurate predictive prophecy (Deut. 18:22).
 
When the 1st-century Shaliakh, Rav Saul, as recorded in the New Testament, told the new Two Testament congregation in Corinth, Greece he was concerned that their “hearts were being corrupted from the simplicity of faith in Messiah” (2Cor. 11:3)  – he was voicing a similar concern back then.

Paul feared the Parent-Child relationship between Creator and Human Being was being replaced with the idea of learning special tricks that improved your spiritual standing, or gave you more power in the prayer than others.
 
Kabbalah also uses trinkets and talismans in prayer: a good example is the way in which the simple command in the Torah about celebrating Sukkot with fruits and fronds from Israel is, in the Zohar, made into an esoteric, exacting ritual of aiming the leaves and fruit into the points of the compass to “extend God into the Ain Sof (Eternity).” As if mere humans have the power to extend any of God in any way with trinkets and talismans!
 
We are to pray to Our Father in Heaven, as Messiah directly demonstrated when His followers asked him, “Teach us to pray.” We ask for things, with our child-hearts trained to accept a decision on our requests from a wiser Father in Heaven. We do not manipulate Him: we would not do so if we could. We want what He thinks best.
 
God responds: “Yes, No, or Wait.” – or with wisdom, direction, (James 1:5) or provision (Luke 11:3,8). He can’t be controlled, coerced, or compelled to respond because we wave a trinket at or for Him.
 
Even the Messiah got a “no” from His Heavenly Father about the thing He wanted most in His entire human lifetime!
 
Messiah asked for God to provide another way for Himself and Humankind toward atonement that did not require Messiah to suffer and die on a Roman cross. God answered, “No.” Yeshua of Nazareth replied, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
 
Kabbalah draws people away from what we are told “is eternal life: to know the One True God, and Yeshua the Messiah whom He sent.” (John 17:3) It focuses people on learning tricks and spells (disguised as special prayers not in accord with the Parent-Child model Messiah taught), not learning to know God and Messiah.
 
 
If you read much of it, especially the totally arbitrary charts of the structure of the universe – I am sure you will understand why we are lighting no bonfires. 🙂 
 
Yeshua our Messiah taught us the standard, “We speak what we know.” Spirituality in Judaism is not composed of guesses, ruminations, or unproven and unprovable “visions” – that is how the world got Islam, a religion resulting from an ecstatic visionary experience by an illiterate person who often made broad statements about the contents of the Scriptures of Israel he was incapable of reading: which makes it little wonder Mohammed is so often misquoting and misapplying The Scriptures in his book, The Quran (The Written or Readable) – which was dictated because he was illiterate. The Zohar is likewise a collection of ravings by a visionary – the source of whose visions is by no means affirmed as God according the standards of the very Hebrew Scriptures he claims to affirm – just as did Islam’s Mohammed.
 
The Zohar is no gift to our people or humankind.
It is, in great part, a distraction – and in part, a danger.
 
So – we do not celebrate the holiday marking the death of its author. And – we do not light the traditional bonfires declaring him a great light to our people and the world. No more than we light Jack O’Lanterns on Hallow’een – which we also choose not to celebrate.
 
So – if anyone asks you if you celebrated Lag BaOmer – now, not only can you confidently answer, “No” – but, as Scripture exhorts us, you can “make an answer for the faith that is in you” (1Peter 3:15) by explaining why :-).
 
Happily – real holidays are near: Yom Yerushalayim and Shavu’ot will be upon us soon. As your Rabbi, I look forward to celebrating those wonderful holidays in accord with Isaiah 8:20 with you.
 
For Zion’s sake,
 
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
Erev Lag BaOmer 5780 • 11 May 2020
 
 

 

Passover Practice Guide • ©2020 Revised Edition

A USER-FRIENDLY GUIDE TO
BIBLICAL PASSOVER OBSERVANCE

Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
(© 2020 Revised Edition)

This little guide is to make easy and understandable the Biblical standards of “kosher for Passover.” Many varied traditions and standards of practice have evolved over the last few thousand years; so what I present here is the core set of Biblical standards, which in my view, are very “user-friendly” – and far less confusing than many traditions. Enjoy.

BIBLICAL PASSOVER IS SEVEN DAYS LONG
Let us begin with what is clear and straightforward.
Rav Saul (Paul) wrote in the New Testament of his concern that even well-meaning religionists might produce “extra” religious practices that “lead your minds astray from the simplicity of faith in Messiah.” (2Corinthians 11:3) This paper is meant to strip away the extras accumlated through centuries of “s’yag l’Torah” (fence around the Torah) Talmudic theology having created man-made commandments as “a fence around” the original commandments to prevent their breakage.
Both Testaments clearly affirm that Passover and The Feast of “Passover” and “The Feast Of Unleavened Bread” are both names for the same seven day long holiday:

Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat matzah; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eats leaven from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

Exodus 13:7 Matzot shall be eaten seven days; and there shall be no chametz seen with you, neither shall there be se’or seen with you in all your borders.

Ezekiel 45:21 In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have The Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.
Mark 14:12 And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, His disciples said to Him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare so you may eat the Passover?” (also see Luke 22:1)

So – Passover, aka The Feast Of Unleavened Bread starts on the 14th of Nisan, the day on which the Passover lamb is slain “between the evenings.” Jewish calendar days begin at sunset, due to the Genesis pattern of “there was evening and morning, one day.” (Genesis 1:5-31). The passages installing Passover as a holiday (Exodus 12:1-14) state the holiday begins before sundown on the 14th of Nisan when the pesach lamb is “killed between the evenings.” Passover’s beginning is thus on the 14th, but “the beginning” of the holiday carries over into the 15th: and the “first (full) day of Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread is technically Nisan 15th … despite the observances having begun before sunset on Nisan 14th.
The Scriptures also say …
Leviticus 23:6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord: seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

Numbers 28:17 And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten.

Common practice embraces the ambiguity by ignoring it: the “first day” of Passover as the 14th of Nisan – but since the Seder runs “between the 14th exiting-15th oncoming evenings,” the day-count starts with the 15th of Nisan and runs to the end of the 21st, thus giving 7 full days of eating unleavened bread.
The commonly observed eighth day is a Talmudic contrivance called, “isru hag” (bind the sacrifice) meaning, keep the Biblical feast an extra (8th) day to insure no one anywhere in the world breaks the commandment to observe for 7 days. Since the modern world is not as calendar-challenged as the ancient world, this concern is moot; and the Torah also makes a direct provision by positive commandment in Numbers 9:10-11 for any who missed the Nisan Passover to observe it in a 2nd window in the next month of Iyar, which we see King Hezekiah having done in 2Chronicles 30:13-22.
In sum: Passover is simply a seven-day holiday – period.

DEFINING THE “LEAVEN” WE ARE TO AVOID & DISCARD
The things commonly called “leaven” in English, and which the Pesach laws tell us to get out of our homes, and forbid us to eat during the seven days of Biblical Passover, is called by two different Hebrew words: חָמֵץ “chametz” and שְּׂאֹר “se’or” – and also, any bread/cake that is not מַצָה “flat.” The key passages using these words are:

Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat מַצּוֹת (matzot, flats); on the first day you shall put away שְּׂאֹר (se’or leaven) out of your houses: for whoever eats חָמֵץ (chametz, leaven) from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

Exodus 13:7 Matzot מַצְות (flats) shall be eaten seven days; and there shall be no חָמֵץ (chametz, leaven) seen with you, nor shall there be שְּׂאֹר (se’or leaven) seen with you in all your borders.

It is significant to notice that in some English translations, the phrase “leavened bread” is often casually interchanged for the one word chametz in Passover passages, when the Hebrew word for bread (לֶחֶם) is not there at all. The key in the passages is not “bread,” but the two words chametz and se’or, referring to all forms of rottenness, active fermentation, and decay.
Chametz חָמֵץ is the yeasted-fermented dough material used in ancient times to cause bread to rise, and also it is the word for vinegar, which is, of course, fermented-to-rot grape juice. It basically means something yeasted or fermented to the point of decay. (This does not include alchoholic drinks per se, because all Passover models include wine, and wine is fermented. Thus, the issue regarding beverages is more in regard to rottenness than mere fermentation.
Se’or שְּׂאֹר is a word for remainder or left-over, referring to that all decaying left-overs or rotting remnants usually kept to be used for dough-raising and other household purposes.
In plain terms, we were told to get everything rotten out of our homes., and every bread product inflated by it, or by any other inflation-agent like baking soda. (See just below.)

What we were positively commanded to eat (specifically, but not only) was something called, matzah (מַצָה) flat – the plural is, matzot flats, as in the Scriptures quoted from the Torah at the start of this paper. Matzah in Hebrew is from the root-word מֵץ (metz), which means “press” or “oppress.” “Matzah” is technically an adjective being used a noun describing something flattened, or pressed-down. In modern usage, women call certain shoes, “flats” – although, strictly speaking, “flat” in English is an adjective. Even so for the bread of Passover: it is “flat” – matzah. Plural are matz’ot – flats.
We are to eat “flats” for seven days.
“Flats” are eaten instead of anything we normally eat that is not flat because we use leaven (whether chametz or se’or or any other inflation-agent like baking soda) in to make it not flat.

A BETH EL CORE VALUE APPLIED HERE

One of Beth El’s bedrock standards is to adhere as closely as possible to to the Scriptural specifics above. (Isaiah 8:20) In regard to Passover, this is the avoidance of all rotting and decaying agents, and leads to the following ideas also.


All foods with yeast or active rotting agents (like the live cultures in yogurt) in them are unkosher during Passover, because yeast is a still-alive and active rotting agent: a chametz חָמֵץ or se’or שְּׂאֹר, as are breads or any other foods caused to rise with bread-mold type yeast. Of course, use of yogurt or bread or other chametz-se’or foods for medical reasons is permitted: all dietary laws are secondary to guarding health, per Pikuach Nefesh פִּּיקוּחַ נֶפש: “saving a life.” (See special Addenum below here on Passover law and the CV19 Virus’s impact on food supplies.)
Some Jewish traditions embarking from Talmudic directives call for removal from our home of “The Five Species” – wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats – which are seen as things having potential to develop chametz or se’or on them. This is more reflective of the Mishnaic precept of “a fence around the Torah” – installing extra laws to increase the distance between the commandment and the possible breakage of it – than it is reflective of the actual commandment.


There is, in truth, no way to totally eradicate fermenting spoilage from our dwellings: molds and rot-inducing bacteria are everywhere in the air and on surfaces, and impossble to elimate in totality: this is why we pray the prayer of “Bittul Chameytz” (a plea to God to nullify whatever leaven we could not find or eliminate) after we do our best in “Be’or Chameytz” to eliminate all leaven possible. The Scriptures are not concerned on Pesach so much grains which might develop microscopic presences of molds, as it is clearly seen and visible (see end of Exodus 13:7) items that are chametz and se’or. There is no rot of we can see (with reasonable due diligence) we should allow to remain.
Pasta is a good example of the above concepts in contrast. Pasta is forbidden by Talmudic precept: but pasta is usually made with unleavened grains; so there is no reason to avoid it or throw it out on Pesach. Talmudic observers throw it out because it might form a chameytz or se’or presence on its surface across the seven days of The Feast. Scripture specifically calls our attention to leaven that can “be seen.” (Exodus 13:7)
Finally, “leavening” does not refer in Hebrew so much to rising, as it does to rotting. However, the directive to eat matzah (flats), which does not include use of the word for bread, seems to indicate our best observance would be not to make raised things that would normally be raised by leavening with chametz or se’or – because even without a rotting agent, such would not be “matzot” (flats).

KOSHER FOR PESACH WINES & LIQUORS
As to wine: The core standard for a wine to be kosher for Passover is that the yeast used to ferment it does not come from a bread-mold source; and no preservative containing anything considered chametz is used. This seems a sound standard in line with the holiday’s mandates. However, Talmudic standards of kashrut (fitness) for wine demand that wine only be prepared and handled after preparation by Sabbath-observant Jews, because some other religions use or dedicate wine to other gods. This is, obviously, a concern with roots in antiquity.
Talmud permits wine handled by non-Jews, or possibly affected by unkosher contamination, to be consumed by Jews after it is מְבוּשָׁל “mevushahl” (“boiled,” or, in the modern era, flash-pasteurized). Since very little wine today is grown by people who make offerings of grapes to Bacchus or other dieties, we do not share the idolatry concern to the extent that we would not allow non-Jews to be involved with the manufacture or handling of wine – especially as guests at our tables. (Acts 10:28) Most modern wines are put through a pasteurizing process that would cause them to be considered mevushahl, anyway.


“Hard” drinks like whiskey, vodka, and others which have been fully fermented and then arrested by pasteurization and preservatives are Biblically-kosher for Passover, just as is wine. Since all chametz and se’or issues is killed by the processing, and since the flatness issue does not concern drink, these grain-based drinks are considered kosher for Passover. Ironically, wines that are kosher for Passover are not necessarily chemically prevented from recommencing fermentation after the bottles are opened – so fermentation in many of them actually begins again at the Passover table … as it most likely did at Yeshua’s Passover (since no modern preservatives like BHT existed in those days).

EATING LAMB DURING PASSOVER
In regard to lamb being kosher for Passover, the only direct prohibition is that the entire lamb is not to be roasted and served, because such a sequence is too similar to the actual Pesach sacrifice, and might be mistaken as an attempt to offer the sacrifice with the Temple gone. This concern is explained in The Code of Jewish Law by R’Yoseyf Caro: Shulhkan Aruch, Orach Hayyim 476:1. So, you can serve lamb as long as it is so obviously only part of the lamb that it cannot be mistaken for an attempt at observance of “the Pesakh” lamb-eating mitzvah which roasts and consumes the lamb entire, and mandates everything left over to be burned rather than preserved.

A SPECIAL 2020 CV19 PANDEMIC ADDENDUM

Pikuach Nefesh פִּּיקוּחַ נֶפש: “saving a life” is the phrase describing the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule. When a life is in danger, almost any mitzvah lo ta’aseh (command to not do an action) of the Torah becomes optional-to-inapplicable. In the Talmud, this precept is so entrenched as a precedent that even on Yom Kippur, if someone’s health is failing due to fasting, that person may even be given unclean (non-Kosher) food until “the light returns to their eyes” (the danger of death or harm is past). TB Yoma 83a.
In this season of coping with the effects of the CV19 pandemic which include the looming plausible shortage of food – it is this synagogue’s Rabbi’s view that the Passover commandments against having leavened foods in our homes may be omitted this year: no leavened or non-flat foods must be thrown out that might, during or after Passover, be needed in a plausibly-looming food-shortage.


This is a voluntary choice to the observer: if people feel moved to discard and destroy their leavened foods – so be it. Beth El of Manhattan’s rabbi is not “directing” people not to do so: only saying, a choice to hold onto leavened foods in this season is not, in his view, a culpable disregard for the Passover commandments. As Rav Saul wrote in Romans 14:5: “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 One who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and one who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and one who does not eat, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” May God’s “Spirit lead each one into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

SUMMARY
So, in conclusion, is a “standing on one foot” (TB Shabbat 31a) summary:
By Nisan 14 get rid of your leaven and non-flats, and on Nisan 14 prepare the Pesach Seder (or retain your foods against plausible CV19 shortages).
• On Nisan 14 evening, as the 15th approaches, start your Seder.
• Do not eat chametz or se’or or non-flat breads or have it in your homes from the the start of preparing the Seder until after sunset on the evening ending the 21st of Nisan.
• The first and final (7th) days of Pesach are “a Sabbath of no work” and a “mikrah kodesh” (a holy gathering for the kehilah). These mitzvahs should be observed, if at all possible.
May Heaven light up your personal understanding of this defining holiday for our Jewish nation ¬– and Messiah-related touchstone for all humankind.

Shalom, and Hag Sameakh!

THE END
www.bethelnyc.org

Holding Our Sacred Services During Corona Virus

 
 
 
Dear Beth El Members & Attendees,
 
Shalom. At present thus far into the Corona Virus containment efforts, Beth El is continuing hold our regular TnT & Erev Shabbat Services.
 
Because CPC is a public building – here is how we will proceed for maximum safety:
 
1. All Attendees are advised to bring their own “Purell” (or equivalent) and to apply to their hands upon entering CPC, and after touching any surface directly with hands; and bring a personal packet of Clorox or Lysol sanitary wipes (they come in purse-travel size packets) would also be advised. CBE will seek to provide a general large Purell source in the lobby … but we might not be able to guarantee one. Having your own personal source will avoid lacking this important aspect of antiviral precautions.
 
2. All Attendees are advised to bring a “sneeze/cough” clothe (a few folded layers of a standard paper towel will do), and to sneeze/cough into it (or crook of elbow if no time to get to the cloth) when necessary. Purell hands immediately after dealing with a sneeze or cough.
 
3. Attendees who are not family (dwelling together) should sit 3 feet apart in pews.
 
4. Instead of hugs and handshakesfist-bumps & elbow-bumps are recommended greetings.
 
5. If anyone sneezes or coughs nearby in your direction – move away, and if “droplet” landings on your clothing or your skin seem possible, then immediately Purell the surface, or apply a sanitizing wipe of some sort.
 
6. Immediately upon arrival at home after services, deposit clothing worn at shul directly into hamper for washing. Do not “recycle” clothing worn at shul into use without laundering.
 
7. [Recommended] It is advisable, after outer clothing having contacted shul furniture or surfaces are off, to wash hands for 2 rounds of 🎶 “Happy Birthday to you …” 🎶  –– or –– optimally, shower immediately, in shower soaping hands like hand washing before washing any other parts of your or your child’s  person.
 
8. We are looking into broadcasting our services virtually for anyone under quarantine or otherwise ill – but we do not want to go too quickly to virtual services, because that represents a danger from decline in service attendance due to the ease of stay-at-home viewing. “The Loneliest Generation” (the present teens and twentysomethings) has had their loneliness crisis by the mistake that digital contact is as good as in-person contact: and science is showing clearly, it is destructively nowhere near the equal. We are designed for fellowship-in-person with other people: not merely seeing their image on a flat screen. FYI.
 
We are looking forward to seeing the COVID-19 bug brought under control as soon as possible; and until then, we will continue to provide our services to the Manhattan and larger community as our calling, balanced with sound wisdom, lead to prudent continuation of our community’s vision and mission.
 
Shalom u’bitachon – (Peace and safety) to all, 

Be Sure To Revisit Our Rabbi’s Blog on Shavuot’s Actual Biblical Meaning!

As Shavu’ot 5779/2019 approaches this Saturday evening, June 8th, why not reacquaint yourself with the actual Biblical meaning of the holiday, and the path by which it was morphed across time into an entirely different focus on the Mount Sinai giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) – a meaning every Jewish scholar freely admits, it is given NOWHERE in the entire Bible. 🙂  BLOG can be found at this link: http://bethelnyc.org/hag-symptomatic-shavuot-invites-a-question

Shabbat shalom, and an early Hag Sameakh! (Happy Holiday of Shavuot!)