As Shavuot is fast approaching, I believe I have finally digested, both literally and figuratively, my Passover experience. This year my husband treated our family to a Pesach program at a beautiful resort in the American west. The surroundings were lovely and it was a true luxury to have all the holiday details covered. Usually, our family hosts most of our extended family in our home for the entire eight day celebration.
The participants skewed somewhat more observant than my family, the vast majority being what I like to call Haredi ‘light.’ There were even a few streimels and bekheshes. I joked to my husband that there was at least over two million dollars in human hair sheitels parading around the resort. I was on somewhat high alert for those following ‘Social Orthodoxy’, but it seemed I was celebrating with true believers.
That was before however two somewhat unsettling events. As is the custom at many of these Pesach programs, aliyot on Yom Tov and Shabbat are auctioned off to the highest bidder with the proceeds going to some designated Jewish charity. During one service, the presiding Rabbi was taking bids not only from the men’s section but also from the women’s. I joked to my mother that I should bid on the Haftorah so that I could chant it but that would cause such a brouhaha that the local police would have probably been summoned. As the women were slowly outbidding the men, the Rabbi joked, ‘Hey guys the women are outbidding you. We might have to have a partnership minyan!’ This comment caused a great deal of snickers and laughter. But not to worry, the men prevailed and the curse of partnership minyan was lifted! Normally this dissenting point of view would not have caused me such personal pain but here in this setting I felt personally wounded. If this makeshift kehillah was so scrupulous about mitzvah observance and behavior, perhaps the misogynist overtones would not have been so jarring. However, the next day’s events proved the exact opposite.
On the last day of Yom Tov, when everyone had truly had enough of the chag, most of the program participants were congregating around the pool . My husband and son were joined by two lovely bikini clad young women in their late teens in the hot tub. A number of velvet kippah wearing young married men soon sat down on the edge of the hot tub dunking their feet in the warm water. Their sheitel wearing wives and their children were in the surrounding cabanas. As the young teen age women left, the young men then began discussing the young women’s bodies in a crude, obscene sexual manner–with their kippot and tzitzit visible. My husband and my son were horrified by this obvious non-halakhic behavior. But, hey don’t worry–they will never be part of a partnership minyan because that’s supposedly against the Torah. I guess all those mitzvot bein adam l’chavero–respect, lashon ha-rah, respect for one’s wife, etc.–most have fallen out of their copies of the Shulkhan Arukh.
As Shavuot approaches, we again have the chance the relive the giving of the Torah and the acceptance of mitzvot. The Chachamim at the end of the Babylonia Talmud Tractate Maccot, discuss which mitzvot are the most important. They end their discussion with an analysis of a chapter of Psalms, which in their estimation contained the most important mitzvot. All the commandments listed there are behavioral directives for human beings. Not one is related to ritual law. Now to be sure, these Rabbis were going to simply dump those mitzvot bein adam l’makom. However, there is a great understanding, that if your behavior with your own people is out of whack, God is not interested in anything from you. This idea seems to be lost so many times in the observant community with horrifying results. As with my experience, great observance may be viewed to prohibit partnership minyan but condone sexual harassment. I am pretty certain that is not what the Torah wants from our behavior. It demands a congruency of ethical behavior between us and human beings and us and God. We are privileged to be part of a tradition that understands this struggle, gives us the tools to overcome it and never gives up hope that we will succeed. I hope my faith in our people with be renewed as well but hey, it’s not easy. Maybe I should just stay away from hot tubs on Yom Tov…