Saturday, November 28, 2009

Successful REKA program

On Thursday, aka Thanksgiving, the REKA program was inaugurated at the Young Israel of Hollywood.
From the REKA flyer:

REKA (רקע) means background. As a Jew you may be aware of or familiar with various every day religious practices. But do you know how the methods of performance are informed by Jewish law, history and sociology? We invite you to empower yourself with the knowledge you need to be an "informed Jew" so you can make sensible decisions based on the facts. The classes will not present a conclusion. Rather, various approaches and differing opinions will be presented, leaving you to be the judge and jury in taking charge of your Judaism.

Our first topic was "Views on Others' Holidays" - a discussion about to what degree we may or may not participate in the celebration of American holidays, whether they come from secular sources, or even other-religion sources but have become for the most part completely secularized with no religious significance.

The main sources I used for a starting point were these two articles written by Rabbi Michael Broyde - on Thanksgiving, and on Valentines Day. (The Thanksgiving article also appeared in the RJJ Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society, Vol XXX - without the addendum about Halloween which appears in the online version.)

We also explored the history and sociology of legal holidays through different articles and webpages accessed on the web, including and google searches on the origins of the Christmas tree and other traditions. Here, for example, is a well researched article about the history of Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Bryode summarizes his arguments about what makes or breaks a Jews permissibility to participate in a celebration created by non-Jews.

In general, Rama (YD 178:1) seems to posit that in order to permit engaging in conduct that might have pagan origins, one must show one of four things.

· The debated activity has a secular origin or value.

· The conduct the individuals engage in can be rationally explained independent of the gentile holiday or event.

· The pagan origins of are so deeply hidden that they have disappeared, and the celebrations con be attributed to some secular source or reason.

· The activities memorialized are actually consistent with the Jewish tradition.

We tried to apply the litmus test to the aforementioned holidays, with mixed results.

Holding them up to purely American dates such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Mothers and Fathers Days, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Election Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day - particularly in that most of them are "celebrated" (much like Lag BaOmer) with outdoor activities and Barbecues, or just a day off from work, they don't present a problem of commemoration: None of them have noticeable religious origins.

It was a great inauguration of the REKA program. Hopefully we'll have even more people in attendance on the coming legal holidays, with the interesting topics we have lined up.

Lastly - as a credit to those who came, here are the last few lines of Rabbi Broyde's article on Thanksgiving:

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik would reschedule shiur on Thanksgiving day, so that shiur started earlier, and ended earlier, allowing the celebration of Thanksgiving. It is important to note the Torah study was not canceled, or even curtailed. Rather, the day was rearranged to allow for a full compliment of Torah, hand in hand with the requisite "civil celebrations." That too is an important lesson in how we should mark Thanksgiving.

Torah learning must be an integral part of what we do, and how we function. Sometimes, because of the needs of the times or our duties as citizens, we undertake tasks that appear to conflict with our need to study and learn Torah. But yet we must continue to learn and study. Thus, Rabbi Soloveitchik did not cancel shiur on Thanksgiving. We, too, should not forget that lesson. Torah study must go on.

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