Oz Torah:Ask the Rabbi TU B’AV: THE UNKNOWN YOM-TOV

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TU B’AV: THE UNKNOWN YOM-TOV.

Tu B’Av used to be an important day.  For centuries no-one has heard of it.  In the standard books on the festivals it does not even rate a mention.

Yet the Mishnah reports,

“There were no happier days for Israel than 15 Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the daughters of Jerusalem used to go forth in white garments… The daughters of Jerusalem went forth to dance in the vineyards.

“What did they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you would choose for yourself. Set not your eyes on beauty, but set your eyes on family…’” (Ta’anit 4:8).

Leaving aside for the present the reference to Yom Kippur, it is clear that 15 Av was a midsummer moment (some translators call it the Youth Festival) when marriages were made.  Not all the maidens could have been beautiful, hence the advice to look for lineage rather than looks.

In their own way the shadchanim of later centuries followed a similar approach, urging prospective bridegrooms not to think that appearance is everything.

Today there is an additional problem in that some singles find wonderful partners (without the help of shadchanut) but are reluctant to commit to marriage.  They need to be reminded of the old rabbinic notion that when Adam complained that God had robbed him of his rib in order to create Eve, the Divine reply was,

“But think how much more you have gained in place of your rib!”

The person who cannot commit may be afraid that they will be robbed of their independence, but think how much more they would gain if they acquired a loving, supportive partner for life and in due course a family to enrich the relationship.

SONG AT THE SEA IN THE SIDDUR.

Q. Why do we include the Song of the Red Sea in the daily prayers?

A. After the daily Passages of Praise we add this song (Ex. 15:1-21) in praise of God’s redemption of our ancestors from Egypt.

It teaches the resurrection of the dead, since it says Moses and the Children of Israel will sing this song in time to come (Sanh. 91b). It tells us to observe the commandments with beauty and splendour, since verse 2 of the song says,

“This is my God and I will glorify Him” (Shab. 133b).

It shows that even the supposedly least person is precious to God, since the sages say that at the Red Sea even the lowliest servant girl experienced prophetic spirituality (Mechilta).

The prayer book says that the people sang the song “in great joy” because of the exhilaration of the moment, though the “high” did not last and shortly after leaving the Red Sea the people began grumbling.

RELIGIOUS VS. SECULAR LAW.

Q. Which takes priority – religious or secular law?

A. We have a principle, “dina d’malchuta dina”, “the law of the land is the law”.

Enunciated in the Talmud several times, it does not override religious law but is part of it in situations in which the regime has a direct interest.  Thus if the government tells a Jew to put butter on a steak, it is intruding upon religious law and is out of order.

In some countries where shechitah was banned, Jews had no choice but to suspend the performance of shechitah – but the fact that they would not eat t’refah meat was their business and not the government’s.

However, the government has a direct interest in securing enough taxation revenue to keep the country going, so “dina d’malchuta dina” tells a Jew that paying taxes is not only a government but a religious requirement.  Generally in a democratic society the two legal systems co-exist and indeed the secular law is of assistance to the religious law.

There is a halachic question concerning the law of the State of Israel.  As religious Jews see it, every aspect of Israeli law (torts, criminal law, property law, commercial law, etc.) ought to be halachic, and when the State was in its infancy various rabbinic experts urged this.

In the event, the Knesset enacted a Foundations of Law Act which requires reference to Jewish legal principles when there is a gap in the law, but though some derivations from halachah have entered the law of the State, many problems remain.  Some say that Israeli law has the status of “dina d’malchuta”, which would endow government legislation with Jewish legal status.

A major theological and ethical issue arises when there is a conflict of duties between obedience to God and obedience to the government.  If a government imposes on its people racist, discriminatory or immoral requirements which conflict with Biblical and religious ethics, must a Jew obey?

One view is that “dina d’malchuta” cannot apply to a country which has a “wicked government” – a phrase the rabbis used for their Roman overlords – but whether a modern democratic nation can be tarred with this brush is debatable.

America involved itself, for example, in controversial wars ranging from Vietnam to Iraq, and though many citizens profoundly disagreed with the decision to go to war and used adjectives which included “wicked”, it is impossible to deem the United States a “wicked government” in halachic terms.

The advantage of a democratic society is that there are built-in ways of legitimate protest, but then the issue is how many good, loyal members of the military have to lose their lives before a fragile policy is changed. Further, political issues are rarely straightforward and simple, and the populace is often not fully enough informed to enable them to exercise a wise judgment.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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