Hamas’s attack on October 7 galvanized the Jewish world. Practical steps – raising funds, procuring supplies and offering comfort and sanctuary to the afflicted – deserve our admiration. Also, we tip our hats to those undertaking a spiritual response – keeping kosher, putting on tefillin, wearing tzitzit and praying more frequently and fervently. Properly, we Orthodox in the US recite special Psalms, concluding with the ancient special prayer for the freedom of captives. So, too, we recite newly minted prayers following Torah readings.
However, in their zeal to do the right things, some in the Orthodox world have gone too far. Expressing solidarity with Israel does not allow us to demean the holiness of Shabbat and festivals. Worse, our desire to help our brethren must not cause suffering for other Jews or wreak havoc with people’s livelihoods. The Jewish faith rejects that type of conduct.
People in all walks of life set aside their emotions and personal turmoil in the interests of a higher duty. We have all heard the expression “the show must go on.” Actually, the correct sentiment “let’s go on with the show” comes from the legendary composer Irving Berlin. His lyrics in There’s No Business Like Show Business, dealing with performers’ duty to the public, carry a deeper lesson. “You get word before the show started/ That your favorite uncle died at dawn/ Top of that, your pa and ma have parted/ You’re broken-hearted, but you go on.” (songlyrics.com)
The idea permeates Jewish law as far back as the Five Books of Moses. Rashi in Genesis 47:29 states that Jacob’s request of his son Joseph to perform “the true loving-kindness” refers to attending to the dead. Yet we read in Leviticus Ch. 10 that Moses commanded Aaron the High Priest and his two younger sons to ignore the deaths of sons and brothers Nadav and Avihu and carry on. Sanctity of priestly duty overrode true loving-kindness. When Moses discovered that they burned, rather than ate, a sin offering, he rebuked Aaron. Moreover ,the High Priest must “not leave the Sanctuary” even in the wake of the death of his parents (Leviticus 21:10-12). Lower-ranked priests have fewer restrictions.
Today, for example, we may not recite the weekday Amidah, with its beseechment for our daily needs, on Shabbat. That day we forget our troubles. If one recites the weekday prayer on Shabbat, one must start over again.
Halacha equates including Avinu Malkeinu (which the Rabbis instituted for fast days and the Ten Days of Repentance) in Shabbat prayers, even on Yom Kippur, with reciting the weekday Amidah, which the text of Avinu Mamkeinu mirrors. Yet in its zeal to show solidarity, an Orthodox congregation in my neighborhood has crossed that line.
For the sake of keeping festivals holy, we may not fast or recite confession (Tachanun) during the month of Nisan (which celebrates our exodus from Egypt). In the prevailing US custom, we omit Tachanun and may not fast after Yom Kippur through the rest of Tishrei, not to desecrate Sukkot and the commemoration of the consecration of the First Temple. Yet, I read of a congregation reciting Tachanun and of many others declaring a public fast during that month.
The Torah teaches us to be wary of unilateral alterations of ritual. King Solomon could make the people eat on Yom Kippur when dedicating his Temple, but lesser lights must tread carefully. Even Aaron the High Priest faced criticism when Moses thought his brother took liberties.
People quite rightly feel the need to curtail frivolous spending. However, an organization helping couples obtain expensive fertility treatments canceled a fundraiser; another called off a charity auction. How does allowing infertile couples or the poor to suffer help anybody? Last week, another Orthodox congregation postponed indefinitely a book talk at which patrons could purchase the volume. Authors and publishers earn their living from such events and depriving them of income hurts innocent people. Would it not make more sense to stage the event and contribute part of the proceeds to Israel?
Sticking to the rules works. To disrupt glasnost, the hard-line Leningrad Communists took a friend as a hostage. A KGB agent entrapped him into carry a silver Shabbat candelabra to her “daughter in Israel.” Our congregation recited the traditional Psalms and prayer for captives. The young man went on trial, where experts said a conviction always ensues, as does prison time, for stealing national patrimony. The first part came true, the second, miraculously, not. The court expelled him from the country, the answer to our prayers. May G-d answer our prayers.