Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The second night of Pesach we started Sefirat HaOmer, each evening counting the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. We all know that during the first 32 days of the counting of the Omer we hold by certain restrictions to reflect our sadness for the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students.

Lag B’Omer, or the 33rd day of the Sefirat HaOmer, is taking place next week on May 25. On that day, all expressions of mourning for Rabbi Akiva’s students are lifted. It is a day when couples may get married, when we create festive bonfires or even get a haircut.

These activities, special to this period on our calendar, are part of our Masorah*.

On a literal level, masorah means “tradition.” For some members of our community, perhaps some Jewish traditions are looked upon cynically as not jiving with those who seek an Orthodoxy that at times tries too hard to keep up with modernity. On the other hand, it’s exactly these “old shul” traditions that form the very deep foundations upon which our continuity as a people relies.

We don’t often direct you, our friends, our readers, to websites in this space. This time, however, we encourage you to read the online symposium on TorahMusings.com where, over the next two weeks, traditional scholars will take unique looks at the nuances of Masorah. Jewish Link contributor Rabbi Gil Student also addresses on page 38 the need to understand Masorah as a Modern Orthodox community, which sometimes faces pressure to depart from Masorah from within and without.

Is is possible that Masorah is “anti-inclusion”? By sticking to what our fathers and mothers have taught us, are we old-fashioned or out of touch with the modern world? Or is it this body of knowledge of learning and teaching that, as Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb writes, is “the complex combination of adhering to worship and finding meaning in a consistent daily regimen,” and therefore has empowered Jews and Judaism to move forward through a history filled with hardship?

TorahMusings.com will include the writing of Rabbi Alex Ozar as he looks into Masorah as part of analytic philosophy. Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff and researcher Menachem Butler will examine Masorah as it pertains to the bat mitzvah rite of passage. These and other essays on Masorah couldn’t be more timely for our community.

Let us know with your letters and emails where you think Masorah fits into our lives as Jews.

*A note on the spelling of the word “Masorah.” Rabbi Student told us that the Ben Yehudah Dictionary vowelizes the word as Masorah, which is also the standard academic pronunciation, but acknowledges that there is also historical basis for the pronunciation of Mesorah. “While I do not feel bound by arbitrary academic standards, Masorah is also the way I remember my rabbeim pronouncing the word, which seems to me the most appropriate way to determine this issue,” he said.