Three strikes for the rabbis

If one bonfire generates 10 kilocalories an hour …
Jewish holidays are generally not movable feasts. That is, they must be celebrated on their appointed day, unless they conflict with the Sabbath, which is inviolable. The Jewish calendar ingeniously provides for all such potential conflicts, except for one that made front-page news this year.

Lag Ba’omer, the thirty-third day after the first day of Passover, is celebrated for a variety of reasons, including a temporary victory of Bar Kochba over the Romans. The eve of the holiday is traditionally marked by bonfires.

This year, the eve of Lag Ba’omer falls on May 21, which is a Saturday night. But in Israel, the Sabbath won’t be over until after 8 p.m., which means that there is a danger that it will be violated by the lighting of early bonfires. And because the holiday also commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and half a million people are expected to come to his gravesite in Meron, in the north of the country, the police would have to violate the Sabbath to set up security arrangements in time.

So the rabbis proposed postponing Lag Ba’omer celebrations by a day. The catch was that a national matriculation exam in math was scheduled for that day and it certainly could not be moved.

Nevertheless, Ovadia Yosef, the most revered Sephardic rabbi in Israel, ruled that the celebrations should be delayed, at least until daytime on Sunday. His decision was upheld by the country’s two chief rabbis but angered other rabbis, especially those who do not recognize the authority of the chief rabbis.

According to a report in Ha’aretz, the Boyaner Rebbe, a Hassidic rabbi who traditionally lights the first bonfire in Meron, said he would light it Saturday night, but not until 12:30 a.m. so the police would not have to violate the Sabbath.

As for the pupils who will be taking the exam, they can prepare by calculating how many kilocalories will be generated by bonfires of different sizes and how quickly the air will be polluted by the smoke.

When music comes to Jerusalem churches
The opera festival in June that is to include Jerusalem for the first time has come under fire from the city’s three ultra-Orthodox deputy mayors and one National-Religious deputy mayor. Their objection? Many of the thirty concerts that are to be part of the festival are scheduled to take place in churches.

According to a report in Ha’aretz, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat has agreed to consider removing the city’s logo from some of the promotional materials, though he refused to cancel the festival which he has been promoting so vigorously.

Israelis (and others) have been attending concerts in Jerusalem churches for decades, and they don’t seem to have changed their faith as a consequence. And, as Barkat pointed out, the city supported such concerts even under his predecessor Uri Lupoliansky, who was ultra-Orthodox.

When is a restaurant a place where you can eat?
Somehow I became the Project Manager for a lunch meeting of Jerusalem copy editors with an American colleague who will be visiting at the end of the month.

One of the locals informed me that for a variety of reasons he would not be eating at the meeting, but that he might have a drink. Another member, too, decided that she would not eat. Both, however, would enter an establishment only if it had a certain level of rabbinic supervision.

I thought the task couldn’t be too difficult, because even on Emek Refa’im, my neighborhood’s commercial street that we once thought of as a bastion of secular entertainment, nearly all the restaurants now claim to have strict rabbinic supervision. The catch is that each is under the supervision of a different rabbi or set of rabbis, most of whom are not acceptable to my colleagues.

After considerable searching, with the help of the first fellow who put in the request for the rabbinic supervision, and after ruling out restaurants in neighborhoods where I might not make it through the door because I don’t follow the local dress code, I found a bagels and salad place that I hope will be acceptable to everyone. This puts a whole new spin on the hole in the bagel.

Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.


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