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OK, this here is a thread on Jewish law. 1/x

For everybody, but I'll start with a question for my Christian friends: If someone was like, hey, I have a Diet Coke and some Oreos, that'll do for communion, right? Most of you'd probably come back with a pretty strong no, right?
That's because Communion is a particular thing, and not everything or anything will get you there. The fact that it's bread and wine matters. & different Christian communities might have different takes on whether the bread can be a baguette or whether it must be a wafer or etc.
And maybe those discussions are spirited or maybe it's like THIS IS WHAT WE DO DON'T ASK QUESTIONS but the idea is that this encounter with the holy has to happen in a certain way for it to work--for the proverbial engine to go on, for the ritual to do its ritual magic, yes?
Got that? OK. Don't ever call Jews legalistic again. Don't ever suggest that having an investment in the how it happens is pedantic or dry. For us, it's not pedantic at all. It's passionate and invested and spirited and joyful.
Jewish law is meant to impact just about every aspect of our lives, but not in a harsh or limiting way. In a, things matter and have consequence sort of way. In a, here are more opportunities to connect with the holy, sort of way.
You know how contemporary mindfulness language says you should strive to be fully present when you're doing the dishes and chopping the carrots and walking to work?
"You shall love God your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away.... cotd
when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and make them frontlets between yr eyes; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6). Jewish law encircles our lives. It encourages us to strive for that connection.
("Our" "us" -- Jews who live inside this system, not all Jews do, there are lots of philosophies of halakha--Jewish law, literally "the going/the path" and ways to relate to it, I'm speaking broadly-ish here, Yidden, adapt as feels useful.)
We have centuries of passionate engagement around how to live out the details of service to the divine because the details matter. Because "oh, I'm sure whatever is fine" is not, this approach suggests, not how you serve God. Doing it right matters. But we also know+
That there are a multiplicity of ways to do it right, or we honor, often, the multiplicity of perspectives. The Talmud records 5000 disagreements about whether X is kosher or not or whatever and only 50 are resolved on the page.
The Shulchan Aruch--one of our most important law codes--literally has Yosef Caro, the main author, a refugee from the Spanish expulsion who wound up in the Land of Israel going, "You should do X and Y thing" and the Rema, the author of the Ashkenazi commentary, right after it..
going, "Uh, that's not how we do things here. Around here, this is the deal." So you open up the Shulchan Aruch and you see those two voices, one after the other, same paragraph of text, in different fonts so you know who's talking. We sacralize the conversation.
Understand, also, how radical and democratic this is. The Pharisees (the ancestors of Rabbinic Judaism) pushing for living out service to God in all of our day to day lives ran in stark contrast to the Temple-focused Saducees.
Temple focus means only ppl of priestly descent can work in the Temple/be eligible for High Priest/etc, privileges Jerusalem and those near it, privileges those who have $$ for big sacrifices, etc. Whereas everyone can light the Shabbat lamp. Everyone can pray.

Sit down and learn.
OK, now here are some personal/philosophical reflections.
One of the things that I noticed when I first started getting interested in all this Jewy stuff was that, when I did things according to halakha, the halakha was usually smarter than me.
The Jewish legal tradition says: no cooking on Shabbat, no writing on Shabbat, no watching TV on Shabbat, no spending money on Shabbat. These are all activities that I generally enjoy (okay, TV really depends, but you get the idea.)
What I noticed almost right away is that when I refrained from doing stuff that I WANTED to do, I got something that I really, truly, deeply NEEDED. Not doing the things made space for something else to happen inside the quiet and the stillness.
A sort of cellular-level spiritual nourishment, an opportunity to hear the still small voice, for once. And there have been plenty of times over the Shabbatot since then when I’ve felt antsy and cranky and like, say, all I wanted to do was go to the movies or check my email etc
But my commitment to halakha has kept me from running like a drunk elephant after my desires. Even though I have been, many times, tempted to do what I felt that I wanted in the moment, instead I was grounded on a much deeper and profound level.
So that’s one answer–that halakha and halakic living often gives me what I need on a profound level, that it helps guide me into a more sophisticated spiritual practice than I would be able to invent on my own and/or if I were left up to my own devices and superficial desires.
That doesn’t mean that it’s always fun. Sometimes in the quiet of Shabbat (for example) I hear for the first time that I’ve been angry or hurt or scared all week long–in the noise and running and activity I can repress that knowledge, and if I let myself do whatever I desired..
also on Shabbat, chances are often pretty good that I’d choose to keep taking in stimuli so that I didn’t have to notice and deal with whatever’s been going on there. When I say halakha is smarter than me, that’s what I mean. I’ve often said that halakha is the monastery.
It’s the framework that keeps one’s focus, on a daily and minute level, on one’s relationship to the Divine. It affects every aspect of one’s life for a reason. And yet, it’s portable–with this system, one can live in the monestary and the world at the same time.
Another answer–one that is much more to the core of how I understand things now–is that halakha, for many of the same reasons, is, through its act of connecting the practitioner to the Divine, a form of Divine service itself. Not eating treyf is a form of Divine service..
making sure that you say the Shema on time is a form of Divine service, returning lost objects and building a kosher Sukkah and rending one’s shirt when one hears that a close relative has died–they are all ways of servicing God, both directly and indirectly.
Whether or not I “want” to do a specific thing at a specific time becomes less relevant. It’s not All About Me. There’s certainly some stuff in there about ego-nullification and humility in there–but
like the “I gain something from doing this” argument, ultimately places mitzvot observance as a utilitarian value, one that can be replaced if we find another thing that does the same thing. But mitzvot are to be done for their own sake, something to do as worship, commandment.
Maimonides teaches that it ultimately doesn’t matter if we find reasons for the mitzvot or not. The reason for mitzvot are mitzvot.
Notably, even as the the system is set, the particulars of how it's lived out are always evolving. Which, for me as a feminist, queer person, trans ally etc. is important.
As Yeshayahu Leibowitz put it, “What characterizes Judaism as a religion of mitzvot is not the set of laws & commandments that was given out at the start, but rather the recognition of a system of precepts as binding, even if their specifics were often determined only with time.”
And yes, again, the pluralist in me wants to acknowledge again that there are a range of ways to engage with the system and a range of ideas about how and when those specifics get determined (and who can do it), but the idea is that in halakha, we live inside a system.
If you do all the stuff of Jewish law--blessings before and after you eat because the food isn't ours, it's a gift, blessings in prayer, blessings before doing other things, etc--you say 100 blessings a day.
Think about how much time that is spent blessing. Orienting ourselves towards God. Think about how that can impact a person.
And yes, there's a whole conversation about intention and form--some days you go running and you don't get a runner's high, but your muscles get stronger anyway. And sometimes you feel like you're in the zone. Both count. When you've got good intention it's better, but
we're not always going to get there and our system says, do your spiritual practice anyway. And there's a lot to be said for that, and whats and whys.
Also, to note: Jewish law covers ritual things, like until what time can you say certain prayers or how high is a kosher sukkah or what do you do if your spoon for dairy food accidentally falls into the meatballs. Sure.
But it also talks about things like, how to give someone appropriate rebuke. How to repent when you've screwed up. How much money are you obligated to redistribute philanthropically. The obligation to pay workers a living wage.
When I said earlier that the idea is that the system is all-encompassing, I didn't just mean we say a lot of blessings (though we do, awesomely). But that everything we do in life--how we treat our workers, how we treat our spouses, whether or not we gossip--is of consequence.
And not just of consequence, but that brilliant people over thousands of years have spent time engaging in the pursuit of understanding how we can best reach towards the holy, and what that looks like in our everyday interactions.
For example: Are there times it's permissible to share negative information about others even if we're generally forbidden to gossip? Yes, if we're going to protect someone else from harm. Judaism is realistic and thoughtful, strives for nuance.
It's not angry, mean, dry, the way it's so often painted. It's a process of figuring out how to live in the flow--in the path, the way--of divine and human connection and growth. We are meant to (Lev 18:5) live by Torah, and with it, and through it. Every day.
Ahh here’s a great explainer on the methodology of decisions about halakha by the ever-brilliant @RabbiDoubleA: blogs.timesofisrael.com/how-jewish-law…
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