Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sukka 44 a, b

The rabbis compare practices surrounding the lulav and the willow branch.  They focus on the willow branch: its appearance, number and use.  The rabbis look backward to try to understand whether the willow branch must be taken on its own or whether it can be combined together with the lulav.  Do we walk it around the Altar?  Do we wave it?  Do we thrust it to the ground?  They debate about the timing of our Sukkot rituals.  They wonder how the rites of the willow branch were added to our Sukkot rituals to begin with.  This opens a questioning of prophetic influence on rabbinic interpretation. 

A short conversation concerns the rights of those with "physical defects" [sic], ba'alei mumin, and thus the rights of priests with these differences.  Is the rite of the willow branch in fact a time when everyone - truly everyone - can enter the Temple between the Entrance Hall and the Altar?

The inherent discrimination against those whose physical bodies are different from the norm is jarring and upsetting.  We know that these understandings of difference, holiness, appearance and halacha continues to plague more observant communities.  Of course, many Jews find these interpretations and halachot to be offensive and antiquated.  However, not enough commentary has been popularized to help the larger Jewish community integrate the notion that "all bodies are equally capable of approaching holiness".  And our community includes large numbers of people with physical disabilities.  Shame on us.

Finally, the rabbis note a number of halachic decisions that were made in similar ways.  They begin with waving the willow branches without reciting a blessing: this was decided upon based on a story told by one rabbi to another.  They describe a ruling regarding a pious man who wanted to ensure that others were not sinning by benefitting from his olive field during the Sabbatical year.  Through this story, the rabbis know that hoeing is permitted during the Sabbatical year if it is being done to seal cracks and not to maintain trees.   To end these examples, the rabbis share the story of one who walked too far from home on Shabbat and could not find even a small fried fish (salted, breaded and fried in oil and vinegar) on Shabbat.  This proved that one must leave enough time to travel and then prepare sufficient food for Shabbat.

Oh, those rabbis and their stories.

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