Religion & Beliefs

Limmud NY: Playing Instruments on Shabbat, and Patterns in the Story of Batsheva

(While Tamar's at Jewish learning conference Limmud NY, she's bringing us regular updates.) After lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night I opened the door to the “traditional egalitarian” service, saw a guy in the front saying, “Everybody!” and making a … Read More

By / January 20, 2008

(While Tamar's at Jewish learning conference Limmud NY, she's bringing us regular updates.)

After lighting Shabbat candles on Friday night I opened the door to the “traditional egalitarian” service, saw a guy in the front saying, “Everybody!” and making a grand gesture, and turned right back around. Songleading is not my thing. I went to the Orthodox services instead, and after dinner I went to an amazing session about the story of David and Batsheva, lead by Everett Fox. Fox is an incredible teacher—then kind of guy who makes you see things in the text that you would never have seen on your own, but who somehow never makes you feel stupid.

And he did a great job of steering the discussion away from the typical woe-to-Batsheva stuff that you might expect to hear, and instead kept us focused on thinking about why the story is where it is, and what it’s trying to do. He also pointed us towards some great artistic interpretations of the text, like this Rembrandt painting. Sweet! On Saturday I went to an amazing session about using instruments on Shabbat let by Rabbi Ethan Tucker, who I know from my summer at Yeshivat Hadar. Tucker also went a kind of unconventional route, and instead of the whole, “Well they played instruments in the Temple…” song and dance, he took us through laws against making noise on Shabbat, and helped look at how various halachic stratum tried to distinguish between musical noise and other kinds of noise, and which (if either) are permitted on Shabbat, and why. It was, as is normal with an Ethan Tucker session, incredibly intense and great.
After Shabbat I sat in on an awesome session about Tevye’s daughters in The Fiddler on the Roof, and how they’re representative of the three main branches away from “Tradition.” It was a really interesting discussion, and we got to watch clips from Fiddler on the Roof, so what’s not to love, really? Then I drank a lot of whiskey with my friends and flirted with various cute Jewish guys. So far today I went to davening (finally there are a few women at morning services) and then to a session lead by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer about how to deal with prayers that you don’t connect with, or find troubling or offensive. Basically, we took apart a short section of the Amidah and looked at the all of the places that it references in Tanach and the Talmud. It helped give a much wider context to the prayer, and gave a nicer option for interpretation than I’d ever really considered.
Then I sat in on a slightly boring session on how to bridge faith and modernity (the solution is just to not see them as at all separate, apparently), got to hold the cutest baby in the world, and just saw Unsettled an amazing documentary about the pullout from Gaza. I cried through the whole thing, but I think it’s a really important film. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it.