Monday, July 5, 2021

Jewish Holy Day Calendar, 2021-22


Here's a guide to scheduling around the Jewish holy days that I thought you might find useful.   I didn't write it, only edited it slightly and updated it each year, but I vouch for its accuracy.

Category I.     MOST JEWS PARTICIPATE.  Please do not schedule meetings around these dates.

ROSH HASHANAH (Jewish New Year) begins at sunset Monday, September 6, 2021 and continues through Wednesday, September 8.

YOM KIPPUR (Day of Repentance) begins at sunset on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 and continues through Thursday, September 16.  While Yom Kippur is a fasting day, meals are prepared in advance for the breaking of the fast at the end of 27 hours.

Typically, even some of the least religiously observant members of the Jewish community do not work on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah.   Please keep in mind that even though the holy day may begin at sunset, these are home ritual centered holy days, so a great deal of advance preparation is required.  In other words, please don't schedule a meeting for the afternoon preceding the holiday because I will be cooking!

PASSOVER (Celebration of Freedom from Slavery in Egypt) begins at sunset
on Friday, April 15, 2022; continues through nightfall on Saturday, April 23.   THE FIRST TWO DAYS (through Sunday evening, April 17, 2022) require refraining from work.    LOTS of cooking and preparation before this holy day.

Category II.   Many observant Jews refrain from work.  I count myself as observant.

SUKKOT (Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles) begins at sunset Monday, September 20, 2021 and lasts through Monday, September 27.  THE FIRST TWO DAYS (through Wednesday, September 22, 2021) traditionally require abstaining from work.

SHMINI ATZERET (Eighth Day Assembly, ending Sukkot) begins at sunset on Monday, September 27, 2021 and lasts through Tuesday, September 28.

SIMCHAT TORAH (Rejoicing with the Torah) begins at sunset on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 and lasts through Wednesday, September 29.

The LAST TWO DAYS of PASSOVER begin at sunset Thursday, April 21, 2022 and last through Saturday, April 23.

SHAVUOT (Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost to our Christian friends) begins at sunset on Saturday, June 4, 2022 and continues through Monday, June 6


TISHA B’AV (fast day marking the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem) begins at sunset on Saturday night, August 6, 2022 and continues through Sunday, August 7.

Category III. Observance doesn't require refraining from work.

(Festival of Lights) begins at sunset on Sunday, November 28, 2021 and
continues through nightfall Monday, December 6.  Every night, candles on the
Hanukkiah (eight-armed candelabra, sometimes called "menorah") are lit.

PURIM - Begins at sunset on Wednesday, March 16, 2022; continues through Thursday, March 17.


And a few other seasonal and historical holy days that I won't mention, because enough already!  If you want to know more about the meaning of these holidays, you might consult or the book Seasons of Our Joy, by Arthur Waskow.

[Dennis] A final note which I thought worth adding from my own experience: Even if someone (who might be Jewish) tells you "It's no big deal" to schedule meetings and
conferences on these days, doesn't mean that that's true for all Jews.   People maintain different levels of observance, and a more secular Jew may work on a day when I would not. 


When in doubt, please ask!  I can't speak for other Jewish consultants, staff, board members, and interns, but I know I always prefer to be asked.

Thank you!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Arguing with God is Sacred (Parshat VaYakhel-Pekudei)

In this week's parshah, the first one I ever chanted from the Torah scroll, there are two very different ideas about our dialogue with God. The first: that there are things we cannot figure out for ourselves and can only learn through being divinely inspired. The second: that we have some things to teach God, too.

God Teaches Us 

"And Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of designer's craft...." (Exodus 35: 30-31)

According to Avivah Zornberg, drawing on Rashi's commentary, the Hebrew words used here for "skill" (or "wisdom") and "ability" (or "understanding") are qualities a human being can possess innately or can learn. The word da'at, here translated as "knowledge," goes beyond that. It is an intimate kind of knowledge: in her words (p. 470), "the mystery of a gift that can be explained in no other way than as 'taught by God.'"

So, when Moses says that God has given da'at to Bezalel, it goes beyond conferring legitimacy on Bezalel's direction of the project of building the Mishkan (and let us not forget his assistant, Oholiav, because the #2 is often the person who makes everything work!). Moses allays the people's remaining fear that a building project--like the Golden Calf--that is not supervised moment to moment by Moses himself can lead them away from God, toward plague and death. 

On this, first, reading, human initiatives can be dangerous, and only a "divine spirit" can lead us in the right direction. Our job is to listen.

We (or at least, Moses) Have Something to Teach Too

The link between the Golden Calf and the Mishkan has been implicit throughout the later chapters of Exodus. The midrashic commentary makes the link explicit. 

One commentator marvels that the Israelites can be so generous both for a misguided effort and for a well-guided one. For the building of the Golden Calf, they tore off their gold earrings, and for the Mishkan, they brought so much gold and other gifts that Moses had to call the capital campaign to an end! (Exodus 36:4-7) "The Holy One, Blessed be God then said: 'Let the gold of the Mishkan atone for the gold they brought toward the making of the Golden Calf." (Shemot Rabbah 51: 6)

But did God reach this conclusion by God's self, or did God have a little help? In the midrashic literature, Moses makes a sly argument to drive God toward a position of forgiveness. I quote:

"R. Nehemiah said: When the Israelites committed that sin, Moses began to appease God. He said: 'Master of the universe, they have provided you with help, and You are angry with them! this calf that they have made will help you: You will make the sun rise and it will take care of the moon; You will bring forth the stars and it the planets...'

God answered: 'Moses! Are you, too misled like them! For there is nothing in the idol!' And Moses replied: 'If so, why are you angry with Your children?'"

Moses is saying to God, in effect--what do you have to complain about? We all know the Calf has no power. Given that, what is there to be jealous of?

It is with arguments like these--teasing, cajoling, intimate--that Moses time and again wins God's forgiveness for the people. And Moses is standing in the footsteps of the first father of the Jewish people, Abraham, who tries to save even the people of Sodom and Gomorrah by arguing with God on their behalf. His ultimate failure doesn't take away from the greatness of his example.

On this alternative reading, it would be folly, wickedness, a dereliction of duty for Jews to accept God's instructions passively. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, God is "in search of Man." God seeks the active partnership of humanity in repairing and perfecting the world. If we make it worse through some of our actions, that is no excuse for not striving to make it better.

With our hands and our craft, or with our hearts and our words, we build the sacred in our lives.


I've been reading through Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's amazing commentary on the biblical Book of Exodus, The Particulars of Rapture. Each chapter expounds one of the portions we read in the synagogue weekly. It's slow going because it is so rich with insights, and I cannot begin to do it justice. To keep on track, I have been posting at least one insight weekly for the last ten weeks, and (thanks to God and my study partners) I have now finished the book.  If these reflections have been interesting to you, my blog reader, so much the better!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Did Moses Do the Right Thing? (Parshat Ki Tisa)

Moses Smashing The Tablets Of The Law by Rembrandt

This past week, I have been coming back over and over again to two images: Mookie throwing the trash can through the pizzeria window, in Do the Right Thing, and Moses smashing the tablets he brought down from Sinai, in the Torah portion Ki Tisa.

Mookie's action comes out of frustration with the continued wrongs being done to his Black community. It expresses his anger boiling over, and it leads to more destruction. Yet as I look at the scene, it seems to me that his violence against property prevents worse violence, against people. 

Moses' action also clearly comes out of frustration with the continued wrongs being done by his own people, the Jews. It expresses his anger, too: they have seen God plague the Egyptians for them, part the waters for them, and speak to them from the mountaintop in lightning and thunder, and they can't stand not hearing from God, through him, for forty days? 

Not only are they worshiping God through a visible symbol (which was expressly forbidden), but they're dancing ecstatically while doing the wrong thing!

Yet as I look at the scene, it seems to me that Moses is also identifying with the people. Perhaps even the apparent violence of smashing the tablet is a wake-up call, to snap them out of their trance. Certainly, whereas Moses used to speak for God to the people, now he starts speaking more to God on behalf of the people. He even tells God, in so many words, that he will stand with the people Israel and live or die with them.

He also seems to be recognizing that the people's sins are partly his own fault. 

"That Man Moses..."

What is the biggest lesson that Moses has been trying to teach the people, ever since Egypt? That God--the invisible One, with the unpronounceable name YHVH--is God.

Pharaoh is not God, even though he claims to be. The Nile is not God, even though it gives Egypt life by making the ground fertile and capable of growing food. The sea is not God, even though Yam, or Sea, is one of the gods worshiped in the Middle East at that time. YHVH, the real God, triumphs over them all.

The most important lesson, however, is that Moses is not God. And they have failed to learn that lesson--which means he has failed to teach it.

"And the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, and they gathered against Aaron and said to him, 'Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt--we do not know what has happened to him." (Exodus 32:1)

Come again? Who was it that "brought us up from the land of Egypt"?

It may have been some comfort to Moses to know that this people, which did nothing but complain about him for most of the preceding chapters of the story, misses him so much they need to console themselves with a Golden Calf that stands in for him as their channel to God.

But oh, what a dismal realization of failure for Moses to know that they are "idolizing" him!

A New Pedagogical Approach

From that point on, Moses approaches the Jewish people in a different way. No longer is he concerned to overawe them. Instead, he seeks to instruct them.

 * He grinds up the Golden Calf and, diluting it in water, makes them drink it. Thus, they literally internalize the memory of what they did wrong.

* He sets them to work on building the Mishkan, the physical location where they can turn for a sense of God's appropriate times. And he puts other people, skilled craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiav, in charge. That way, no one can say it only works because of Moses.

* He gives them more instructions about Shabbat, holidays, sacrifices and offerings, what not to worship and what not to eat. This Torah--the word literally means "instruction"--is what they are to study from now on.

Moses the prophet and lawgiver becomes Moshe Rabbeinu, "Moses our teacher." And that is a good thing. You might even say, the right thing. 


I'm reading through Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's amazing commentary on the biblical Book of Exodus, The Particulars of Rapture. Each chapter expounds one of the portions we read in the synagogue weekly. It's slow going because it is so rich with insights. To keep on track, I will post at least one insight weekly between now and mid-March, when (God willing) I finish the book.



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Quick thoughts on Moses, Aaron, Garments, and Parshat T'zavveh

Last week, my wife and I each worked hefty part-time jobs: figuring out how to place my mom, Faye Fischman, in a skilled nursing facility where she's likely to spend the rest of her life. So, I did not have the time or the brain cells to spare for writing an organized blog post. Here are some thoughts from reading last week's parshah with Zornberg's commentary:

1. I was talking about the parshah with my friend and study partner Lisa Andelman, and I said, "I am so much more like Aaron than Moses, and I'm glad. Moses has to stand up to the full weight of talking with God all the time, making it up as he goes along. It wears on him, and he gets angry with the people he's leading."

"Aaron, as High Priest, has a defined role. He can innovate--there's a lovely midrash that says that every day for Aaron was like his first day on the job, and he approached it with that kind of freshness and enthusiasm! But he innovates within a structure. And Zornberg says the bells on his garments stand for the ecstasy he feels in the Holy of Holies, in direct contract with God, but the pomegranates stand for the fullness and fruitfulness of daily life in the material world. Aaron is the reconciler and the peacemaker."

But Lisa pointed out, "There's a way that I wouldn't want to be like Aaron. His children have to follow in his footsteps, whether or not they're capable of doing so, and regardless of whether it's the right thing for them. As a mother, I wouldn't want to put that on the shoulders of my children."

2. Literally on the shoulders of the priests are the precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes. They're carrying the weight of the nation on their shoulders--and they're carrying other representations of the Jewish people next to their hearts.

Garments are symbolic. When I was a teenager, my mother made a tallit for each of her children, by hand, embroidering on linen. (My father had the steadier hand with a pencil, so he sketched her design on the material and then she worked the needle and thread.) Recently, my beloved wife Rona Fischman repaired it for me, so all the lines look colorful and new.

Because I am the oldest son, like Aaron, and because originally it was the first-born sons and not the tribe of Levi who were supposed to serve in the Mishkan, the design that my mother made for me includes those bells and pomegranates that Aaron wore. But it also includes the tablets that Moses brought, and the Tree of Life to which the Torah is compared. I cherish her wishes for me: leadership, service, life, and study.

3. I envy people who can praise God with the work of their hands, as my mother did.


I'm reading through Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's amazing commentary on the biblical Book of Exodus, The Particulars of Rapture. Each chapter expounds one of the portions we read in the synagogue weekly. It's slow going because it is so rich with insights. To keep on track, I will post at least one insight weekly between now and mid-March, when (God willing) I finish the book.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Letting God In: Parshat T'rumah

 Terumah: I Love My Partner | Torah In Motion


When you long for God, what's the relationship between failing and succeeding? This past week's parshah, T'rumah, offers an answer.

"And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell [shachanti] among them. Exactly as I show you--the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings--so shall you make it." (Exodus 25: 8-9)

The Mishkan is what often gets called the Tabernacle, which (besides being a swear word in French!) is a wholly inadequate translation of an amazing concept. Mishkan is from the same root as Shekhinah, and that root means to be present, to dwell...even, to be a neighbor. 

The Shekhinah is God's indwelling presence on Earth. The Mishkan is its mailing address.

But the people of Israel sent a letter to the wrong address before!

Golden Calves and Golden Earrings Cannot Mend This Love of Mine

According to Rashi, the great medieval Biblical scholar, the story of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32) is out of chronological order in the text. It actually occurred before this week's instructions on how to build the Mishkan. In some ways, it's a failed attempt to do the same thing.

Why did the Israelites build the Golden Calf? 

Not because they had suddenly become idol worshippers! They didn't think God was the statue, or was captured in the statue. Rather, they build the Calf as a throne for God's presence to descend upon and live among them. 

(Building, as my friends in #ParshaChat on Twitter have pointed out, is what Israelites do. In Egypt, they built entire store cities for Pharaoh. It's tribute, and it's putting their talents into action.)

And why did they need reassurance that God was in their midst?  

Because after Sinai, they had been overawed by God's voice, to the point where they implored Moses to listen to God for them and bring back the message. And at this point in the story, Moses had gone up Mount Sinai and hadn't been seen for forty days and forty nights (the biblical expresssion for "it seemed like forever").

So, on this reading, the Israelites built the Golden Calf out of the same longing for God that would later lead to their building the Mishkan. What's more they build it out of one of the key ingredients called for in this week's parshah: gold, taken out of Egypt. In their eagerness to feel God's presence among them, they rip off their gold earrings and tell Aaron to melt them down to make a place for God.

It doesn't work. It's a disaster. Moses, when he comes back down the mountain, ends up grinding the Golden Calf to powder and making them drink it--like a colonoscopy prep--to flush the impulse out of their system.

No Calf, No Mishkan?

Why does Rashi rearrange the order of the stories? It's not necessary: as Avivah Zornberg points out, other commentators like Nachmanides see the sequence in the text as just right. What's the point of saying that first the Israelites built the Calf and only later the Mishkan?

Sometimes, it seems, it's necessary to try what doesn't work in order to attempt what does.

Sometimes, we aim to slake our longings by having a Lover we can control, who will always be there for us even when we are not ecstatic about them. We build the image of our Lover out of our own imaginings and not what pleases them. But that is self-love, born of fear, and we grow up: we learn better.

A wonderful midrash says that when God commands "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them," those words among them don't mean in the midst of the camp. The words mean in the midst of each person. 

Building the Mishkan according to instructions means taking the same longing for God and fulfilling it in a way that doesn't try to keep God there, but rather, lets God in.


I'm reading through Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's amazing commentary on the biblical Book of Exodus, The Particulars of Rapture. Each chapter expounds one of the portions we read in the synagogue weekly. It's slow going because it is so rich with insights. To keep on track, I will post at least one insight weekly between now and mid-March, when (God willing) I finish the book.