I absolutely agree about condensing [the material that I provided him for preparation] unless you want to devote nearly the full hour – perhaps at least a half hour to forty minutes and that does not seem quite right to me.
Most of the material is to give you some background as an introduction to the latter material in the text study regarding Shabbat and its observance and application in modernity.
My methodology is quite simple. First and foremost, what does the text actually provide, even if we are looking at a translation and not the “original?” It’s very important because each time one reads this type of literature, one can find new things or new perspectives because our exposure to it over the years allows us to proceed to more symbolic levels,, without losing the groundedness in what the Torah actually states as opposed to what people “think” or “believe” that it states.
The second part begins to examine the implications or inferences that is drawn from the tradition. So, in this setting, I thought it useful to explain the origin of the 39 categories of work and their link to the Tabernacle. This would explain the foundations of traditional practice and the seriousness to which one movement in Judaism will apply not only the principles of the Torah in a very general sense, but to very specific forms of conduct that would not normally consider work.
So, for example, technically, I could move furniture in my house on the Shabbat and work up a tremendous sweat. However, I cannot carry a book from inside my house to the synagogue that is right down the street in the absence of an Eruv (a wire or string hung from trees or poles to create an enclosed space so that one can carry on the Shabbat from a private domain and into a public one). This doesn’t seem right on some level in terms of violating the Shabbat. However, this is the Halakha.
Finally, I look at modern day approaches. So, you were somewhat confused in this approachand that is more my doing by not providing clear examples. The modern Teshuva by the Conservative Movement (the real problem is that they referred to it as a Takanah (another story for another time) was riding an automobile on the Shabbat as a way of getting to and from the synagogue. Should a person forgo his or her prayer community on the Shabbat because to do so would violate the prohibition on lighting a fire. Orthodoxy said yes, but the Conservative Movement which regards itself as a halakhic movement, responded that one ought not forego their community if they so choose. The same could hold true for creating a virtual minyan, or televising a service to those in the hospital or assisted living program. We have the technology now to reach people on the Shabbat to assist them in their spirituality which would otherwise be denied them. I know it seems like I am leaning in one direction, but I am not. Simply because I am not Orthodox does not equate to not loving the rabbinc tradition that expresses itself in Midrash, Talmud, the Codes, and the T’shuvot (Responsa literature) from great minds. These individuals and the people who follow in their traditon regard the Torah as revelatory and I, on some level, do as well.
One last example: My mother lives in an assisted living program; the majority of the residents are Jewish. They are not able to procure a Rabbi or Service leader on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. So, I made a DVD for them that contains key excerpts; such that each service is about one hour. I made one for Yizkor as well. For these people, the service would resonate and they draw an overflow of residents in the theatre rooom. While all of our compassion would be to provide these residents in the absence of a live person these important prayer opportunities, nonetheless (and I don’t mean this in an illogical or judgmental way and it sounds like it because of our humanity and sensitivity for the elderly) the Halakhah would prohibit this. How do we balance, if at all, a system that commands us to do x, when our hearts and humanity tell us to do y that we know in some sense violates x, not intentionally or flouting or showing disrespect, but because of our counterveiling values that derive in part from the same source?
These are questions I wrestle with everyday. Recently, and this happens quite frequently, I went to the hospital late at night to visit an elderly man whose wife is at the end of life. She made her husband promise that she be cremated, which you know uuder Jewish law is prohibited. These two live far away from Hanover. He wants a service for his wife to be done by a Rabbi and has requested me. They do not have a Rabbi in their community.
I could not tell him the Halakhah allowed for cremation; in fact I told him that it prohibited cremation and that I could not endorse this practice (in a quiet and subdued tone), yet I understood and appreciated his deep desire to honor his wife’s wishes. But I told him, there is a counter-veiling consideration that if something halakhically is forbidden and cannot be undone, you simply move forward with the situation as it is. Here, it was a little different. I was being told upfront that cremation was going to be done. I am, in essence, looking the other way. Should I, as a matter of policy, state no so as to not encourage this kind of practice and support the tradition or should I comfort the human heart with all that is at my disposal. Where is my “halakhic” or Jewish line in the sand?
I know these questions may not be of great interest to some, but I wonder if students who are sensitive in nature and care about moral and ethics within a system of commandments and a civilization that extends thousands of years are equally concerned about such a balance.
I hope so