The Religious Life Committee has revised its Kohen/Levi aliyah policy.
The majority of rabbinic opinions say that the requirement to give the first aliyah to a Kohen and the second aliyah to a Levi is Rabbinic, not Biblical, in origin. The justification for reserving these aliyot for Kohen/Levi was Mipnei darchei shalom, for the sake of community peace. Its purpose was to give proper respect to a group of people who had a great deal of responsibility and honor in Biblical times, but lost much of it following the destruction of the Temple.
Mipnei darchei shalom is a sociological norm and as such it changes with time and circumstances. In certain congregations and situations the limitations and restrictions created by maintaining the Kohen, Levi, yisrael procedure, tend to interfere with communal harmony, rather than add to it. Where a Rabbi feels that a congregation or service would better be served by calling people up to the Torah as rishon, sheni, shlishi, it is entirely permissible to do so.
Therefore, the Religious Life Committee has adopted the following practice:
- The first two Aliyot (rishon and shayni) Aliyot may be offered to any Jew of post Bar/Bat Mitzvah age even if a Kohen or Levi is present. Non Kohen/Levi honorees may be reassured that this is “kosher.”
- If a Kohen or Levi is offered an aliyah and will accept only if called up in the customary position this request will be honored. Their names will be so designated in the usher book. Otherwise a Kohen or Levi may take any aliyah.
This unusual Rosh Hashana, hosted by a dynamic Masorti couple, rabbinical student Nava Meiersdorf-Bernshtin and Rabbi Yerach Meiersdorf, at the new Masorti kehillah in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, exemplifies the best of Masorti — the combination of traditional Jewish practice with inclusion, pluralism, and modernity. Here, women and men find joy in celebrating the Hasidic Rosh Hashana, with the inclusive vision of their egalitarian Masorti community. Amazing and inspiring.
Nava tells the story of the fulfillment of her long-held dream of participating –as an equal– in a Hasidic 19 Kislev Rosh Hashana celebration. The Hasidic New Year is celebrated on the date that Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of the Chabad branch of Hasidism, was freed from his imprisonment in czarist Russia.
“I have no words to describe my excitement! In our brand new Masorti kehillah, Ein Keren in Jerusalem, we were able to organize a Hasidic Rosh Hashana celebration, something I had long hoped to experience.. And it all took place in our living room in Ein Kerem on the Hasidic Rosh Hashana of 19 Kislev.”
She continues: “We came with love and faith for an amazing evening.
I think we are the only Kehilah of the Masorti Movement that did something for 19 Kislev. It was as spiritual and beautiful as I imagined! And it was egalitarian! There are many places around the world that celebrate 19 Kislev but we are the only place where women are allowed to sit next to men. The only place where the “tish” was lead by women.”
The “tish,” a custom unique to Hasidim, centers around the rebbe’s table—or “tish,” in Yiddish. After the meal, the rebbe begins a discourse on the Torah or Hasidic lore and song and drink may follow.
Says Nava of the celebration, it “changes with the times and knows how to keep the sparks going in your soul. I’m so thankful our Masorti community could share the sparks after so many years.”
For more about the Masorti Movement in Israel, follow its blogs at masorti.org.