Calendar and Convenience

For some of us today has been spent gearing up for the final days of the Passover Holiday starting tonight. Having had Seder Monday and Tuesday night last week and then Shabbat of Chol HaMoed Pesach it has been a very busy week . For someone like myself who enjoys a lack of structure and is trying to lose some weight, it has been hard week filled with ritual eating.  Juxtaposed my traditional observance of the the rhythm of the Jewish calendar there has been an increasing number of people moving their observance of the Passover Seder to a time of mutual convenience. Recently I saw this phenomenon of moving the Jewish calendar to make sense in the lives of North American Jews being pointed out in Judaism Unbound, one of my favor Podcasts, in an episode by Vanessa Ochs, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Professor Ochs points out that it does not work for her, but it is clearly working for the practitioners. What is ritual if not to make meaning for the practitioners?

I was thinking about this shift in practice when looking at the Torah’s description of this time of the year. There we read:

And you shall count to you from the morrow after the day of rest, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the waving; seven weeks shall there be complete; ( Leviticus 23:15)

During this time of the year we are told to count seven complete weeks of the Omer. Traditionally this means from the second day of Passover until Shavuot. But if you look in the text it actually says that we should count “from the morrow after the day of rest.” The Rabbis determined that “Shabbat” here means a day of rest and refers to the first day of Passover. According to this calculation, Shavuot will fall on the day of the week after that of the first day of Passover (e.g., if Passover starts on a Thursday, Shavuot will begin on a Friday).

Karaites differ in their understanding of “morrow after the Sabbath”. Karaites interpret the Sabbath to be the first weekly Sabbath that falls during Passover. As a result, the Karaite Shavuot is always on a Sunday, although the actual Hebrew date varies. Could one reread the Rabbinic interpretation that “Shabbat” here refers to the first day of Passover in reverse? What if Passover Seder was the Shabbat closest to Passover? That would make everything a lot easier.

I doubt that the current trend to move Passover to be at a time of convenience is remotely connected to any of these readings, I assume they are just doing what is convenient.  Just as I look at the Karaites with some skepticism, it is curious to imagine how future generations if not today’s generation might read the Rabbinic stringency around the Jewish calendar. I can admit a sadness that the Jewish people might separate as we have from the Karaites in the past. If we are out of sync with ourselves in not keeping a single Jewish calendar will we still be one people? But what is Jewish ritual if it has lost his meaning to a vast majority of Jews. When thinking about recreating relevant Jewish ritual Rabbi Levi Lauer‘s adage comes to mind. He wisely said, ” Comfort is not a Jewish Value.” Is convenience a Jewish Value?

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