Beth Hillel Congregation B’nai Emunah, Wilmette, IL
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September 16, 2011 / 17 Elul, 5771
Shabbas is here
The FJMC Shabbat Niggun
The FJMC and the IKC commissioned Cantor Randy Herman to write a Shabbat Niggun for the 2011 FJMC International Convention. We think you'll like it, but be warned, once you hear it, it stays in your head until Shabbas!
All photos were taken prior to or immediately after Shabbat at the convention

By Rabbi Wayne Allen

Mishnah: A deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor cannot fulfill an obligation on behalf of the many. This is the general rule: any on whom an obligation is not incumbent cannot fulfill that obligation on behalf of the many. (Translation by Herbert Danby)

Commentary: The previous Mishnah addressed the case of a person incidentally and accidentally hearing the shofar blown by someone else on the day of Rosh Hashanah. It centered on the listener. This Mishnah returns to clarify which person who blows the shofar is capable of fulfilling the obligation of hearing the shofar for those who are listening. It centers on the blower. The Mishnah uses two techniques. First, it offers a short list of those who are not qualified to blow shofar for others. Next, it articulates a rule that transcends any example. The benefit of list-making is that it provides clear and specific instances that are included in the rule. But the disadvantage of list-making is that it may not cover every imaginable case. Moreover, it does not offer the reason for inclusion on the list, that is, some common denominator that links all the examples. For the purpose of a more thorough understanding of an important concept, both techniques are in evidence; the Mishnah includes a list and a rule.

Noteworthy is that the Mishnah expresses no opinion on the quality of the shofar-blowing or the skill of the shofar blower. The musical ability of the shofar-blower is not at issue. To the Mishnah, the underlying question is not whether one person can generate a sound that is louder, clearer, or more impressive than another. To be sure, these skills would be desirable but they are not the determinant in who is qualified to serve the public.

Two of the three specific individuals listed as unqualified pose particular problems to the contemporary readers. Most people have little concern over the exclusion of minors. Children are generally not considered to be moral or religious agents held accountable for their actions. Accordingly, listing children as legally incapable of fulfilling the obligation of blowing shofar for the larger community is neither surprising nor troubling. But the exclusion of those who are considered physically handicapped or mentally challenged runs counter to contemporary thinking. People today have largely embraced the notion that no one should be excluded because of a condition beyond their control. Yet the Mishnah is not making a judgment on the worthiness of human beings. It would be a mistake to conclude that the Mishnah is suggesting that deaf-mutes or those who cannot properly care for their property (cf. Hagigah 3:2) are inferior or abnormal. Further, the Mishnah is concerned with majority needs rather than individual “rights.” It is the broader goal of ensuring the religious needs of the community be secured that is the focus of the Mishnah rather than the narrow goal of allowing every individual the public means for religious expression. As Star Trek's Mr. Spock once put it: “The needs of many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

The Mishnah is interested in establishing the legal parameters of a community in which religious obligations are performed. Those within the community are defined as those with identical obligations. And only those with identical obligations can fulfill the religious requirements of those in the same community. Both the deaf-mute and the imbecile had limited obligations because, it was assumed, they lacked the full capacity to understand and appreciate what they were doing. Accordingly, they remained legally “outside” the community. As outsiders, they could not, therefore, fulfill the religious obligations of others.

This week's Haftarah commentary was written by Rabbi Wayne Allen, Ph.D.,
He is the author of Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Israel, e-mail: Books@schechter.ac.il.
Rabbi Allen is editorial board member, The Unraveller.

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

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Blessings our Loved Ones in this Modern Day

There is no greater act that we perform each week on Shabbat then blessing our Loved Ones.

Yet, in our modern society, we often find our children and loved ones not living close enough to share this wonderful Shabbat tradition each week.

At our recent Convention in California, a group of men discussed how we can perform these Blessings on Shabbat, despite the absence of our children and family at the Shabbat table.

In our modern day, an email, a text or a tweet, can often be a simple electronic connection, bringing the family together in anticipation of Shabbat. Many in our group have continued this modern day means of communicating each week, when it is just difficult to reach all of our family by phone before Shabbat.

Perhaps your Men's Club can send out a reminder each week to Bless Your Loved Ones.

Give it a try, there is nothing like getting that text back, “Shabbat Shalom Dad”.

Alan Sussman

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