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Editorial Board
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Rabbi Leonard S. Berkowitz
Rabbi Paul Drazen
Dr Rela Mintz Geffen
Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi
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Randall Smith

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May 13, 2011 / 10 Iyar, 5771
Mishna Ta'anit
Rabbi David Greenspoon

Introduction To Mishnah Ta'anit

The tractate of Fast-days, or Ta'anit offers the contemporary reader an avenue into the spiritual lives of our ancestors. We, like they, struggle with balancing good and evil in the public and private arena. Our ancestors in Israel where dependent on rainfall during a clearly proscribed rainy season. They believed that a cause and effect relationship existed between man and God. God gives explicit warning in Deuteronomy 11- later brought into the liturgy as the second passage of the Shema - that rainfall signifies Divine response to human behavior.

The absence of rain was not simply a natural calamity. It was a national wake-up call that God was displeased. The response to this spiritual crisis is recorded in the Mishnah and is likely one of the oldest formal collections of popular liturgy generated by the people outside of the Temple precincts and beyond control of the Temple priesthood.

Mishnah Ta'anit 1, 4

Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Who fasted, and what was their practice? If ten days of the rainy season have gone by without rain, then individuals would begin a three-fast. Our commentators both ancient and modern explain this differently. Albeck suggests that these individuals were the sages and communal notables. Kehati cites the Talmud and believes this to refer to the Talmidei Chachamim, the Students of the Sages. I'd think it means exactly what it says: individuals, without any other qualifications.

Consider: Calamity was brewing. The desperate spiritual climate required all-hands, everyone to work together to avert catastrophe. This plain reading of the Mishnah is reinforced by the text that states that “Relief comes with evening nourishment and none of the rest of the mourning practices associated with fasting are mandated.” The simple language of the Mishnah suggests that in everyone had a part in times of potential national catastrophe. One can only imagine if the responsibility to avert a drought was on the shoulders of the religious elite, or even their students, the threshold would have been significantly higher. It would have at least included Torah study!

The ancient Jewish practice of day-fasting is closely paralleled by the contemporary Moslem practice at Ramadan. What other close parallels can you identify between Christianity and Islam and Judaism?

This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Rabbi David Greenspoon

Rabbi Greenspoon serves Baltimore's Beth El Congregation as the new Assistant Rabbi, Director of Congregational Programming. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. A passionate educator across the spectrum of learners, he is a veteran Florence Melton Adult Mini-School faculty member, has served as Rabbi-in-Residence for Camp Ramah (Canada) and as an adjunct rabbinic instructor at St. Joseph's High School in Tarentum, PA as part of the American Jewish Committee's Catholic-Jewish Educational Enrichment Program. He is a U.S. Navy veteran with both enlisted and officer service. Rabbi Greenspoon and his wife Anne live with their two children in Owings Mills, MD.

The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.

FJMC International Convention 2011

mizrahiJoin us as Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi begins his teaching of "an American Nusach" at the FJMC's International Convention in Costa Mesa California. This is a chance to listen, to see and to talk to Hazzanim Alberto Mizrahi, Steve Stoehr, David Propis and Joanna Dulkin in the relaxed setting of the FJMC.
"I have been thinking about what a hazzan/cantor will mean to the Conservative synagogue of the future. It is my opinion we need to create an American Nusach for the American synagogue of the 21st century while at the same time maintaining the traditional “authentic” cantorial sound that we have inherited from our Eastern European Ashkenazic culture. The challenge is to maintain authenticity while introducing an accessible contemporary sound that is led by the hazzan but fully involves the congregation."
See 100 Voices with the stars in the room!
For five exciting days you will learn, meet new friends and greet long-time friends ... and take your learning back home to help your local Men's Club and Region.
Plan to bring your family, and combine the Convention with a vacation in Southern California! Just think about theConvention 2011 fabulous beaches, fun amusement parks, famous tourist spots, and fantastic shopping that Southern California offers!
Register here for the FJMC International Convention 2011

Wednesday, July 13 to Sunday, July 17, 2011 • Orange County Hilton, Costa Mesa, California

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