Friday, July 17, 2009

Leader Eating on a Fast Day

Question: Can one who is not fasting on lead davenning on a fast day?

Answer:

A baraita on Shabbat 24a (see also Tosefta Berakot 3:10) states that one should include material relevant for fast days at Arvit, Shaharit and Minhah of fast days.  This seems to be something like the עננו paragraph said even today on fast days in the Amidah.  Similarly, Yerushalmi Ta'anit 2:2 reports R. Huna saying that one must mention even individual, elective fast days both at night and during the day in one's Amidah.  A Geonic tradition (Otzar Hageonim Shabbat Responsa #76) rules that the inclusion of this material, while mandatory in Minhah, is optional in Arvit and Shaharit, without explanation.   Rashi reports a Geonic tradition that goes further: we don't include this material in Arvit and Shaharit, for fear that the person saying it will not complete the fast and will end up having lied about it being a fast day.  Only at Minhah (which, seemingly, is said towardds the end of the day) do we feel confident enough to complete the fast such that we say what we know as עננו.  In the end, common practice has engaged a kind of compromise position: the leader on a fast day says עננו as a separate blessing during the repetition in both Shaharit and Minhah (there being no repetition at Arvit), while individuals only include it at Minhah.

This last tradition seems to take a clear stand that one who is not fasting certainly cannot say עננו and would thus seem to preclude someone who is not fasting from leading on a fast day.

Indeed, a Geonic tradition cited first in the name of R. Yehudai Gaon (see Otzar Hageonim Ta'anit Responsa #58-59) states that one who is not fasting should not lead on a fast day, because the person cannot honestly say עננו--"answer us"--because the person is not fasting.  Tur disagrees with this ruling and says that there is no reason that a person cannot say עננו ביום תענית הזה--"on this fast day", as opposed to "our" or "my"--even if not fasting, given that it is indeed a fast day in the community.  [Tur might maintain the Geonic tradition above regarding not saying עננו in Arvit and Shaharit and its implication that one not fasting should never say עננו as being about individual fast days; communal fast days have a reality to them that transcends the individual and thus even those not fasting can talk about them litrugically as fast days.]  Tur ends up concluding that it is preferable to have someone who is fasting as shatz, but clearly allows being lenient, such as if there is no one else prepared to do it.  We might add that one could also be lenient if feelings would be severely hurt.

In any event, Beit Yosef backs away from this and returns to the ruling of the Geonim  that one who eats is disbarred from leading on a fast day, and so he rules in the Shulhan Arukh in OH 566:5.

Magen Avraham merely notes that if the non-faster already began leading, we can take a compromise position between Tur and SA: have the leader say עננו ביום צום התענית הזה in שומע תפלה (where individuals add it in Minhah), as opposed to adding it in between the seventh and eighth berakhot, where the leader normally adds it.  That way, we don't add an entirely new berakhah into the repetition, in case SA really takes a hard line on this issue, but we can rely on the Tur's logic not to consider such a statement to be a lie.  It does seem, however that MA would not want you to say תעניתנו, feeling that to be dishonest, but rather ביים צום התענית הזה.  [Note that Hayyei Adam understood the Magen Avraham to permit adding עננו as its own berakhah in this case, outright relying on the Tur if the person already started leading.]

With regard to Yom Kippur, it is noteworthy that the only axis of concern in the debate seems to be the truthfulness of saying עננו when not fasting.  The Yom Kippur liturgy features no such statements and the leader is thus never in a position of acting as if s/he is fasting even though s/he is not.  Having someone who is justified in eating on Yom Kippur lead thus does not seem to present any of these issues.

Following the Shulhan Arukh, one should never plan to have someone who is not fasting lead on a fast day, and even on Yom Kippur, where the issues raised here do not apply, one should think carefully about what sort of exemplar one wants leading the community on a day when almost everyone else in the room is fasting.  It seems strongly preferable to have someone as a leader who is joining the community in that experience and can thus emotionally connect with them in this regard.  Even if this means that pregnant and nursing women order to eat and drink minimally by their doctors--without such an order, pregnant and nursing women have the same fasting obligation as anyone else--cannot lead during those years of childbirth, having a leader in sync with the community's practice on that day seems a strong value.  But because Yom Kippur is different, perhaps there is more room to be flexible with someone who already accepted a paid position or a pregnant woman ordered to eat by her doctor who a) did not know she would be pregnant when she accepted the position or b) will be drinking in such small quantities throughout the day (which she should ideally be doing anyway, even if ordered to drink), that she will still meaningfully experience Yom Kippur as a fast day.

Certainly, if someone was already assigned the position of leading and it is impossible to replace them, either for lack of someone else qualified or for fear of shaming someone, then one can rely on the Tur to let them lead on a fast day and certainly on Yom Kippur, where arguably no one thinks there is a core problem.  Otherwise, one should make every effort to only choose prayer leaders on fast days who are themselves fasting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Matrilineal Principle and Jewish Identity

What is commonly known today as the matrilineal principle is actually two principles rolled into one:

1) The child of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother is unambiguously a Jew.
2) The child of a Jewish father and a Gentile mother is unambiguously a Gentile.

These two halves of the commonly assumed simple truth, "Jewish status follows the mother", have histories of their own that are relevant for how one approaches this issue today.

In the Bible, there is no evidence of a matrilineal principle.  Numerous sources indicate that an Israelite man who fathered a child with a non-Israelite woman could expect that child to be a part of the Israelite nation.  There does seem to have been some possible stigma associated with that child--non-Israelite mothers are often singled out for mention--but no sense that they were outside of the Israelite community.  For the most part, it seems safe to assume that the children of non-Israelite men and Israelite women were generally lost to the Israelite community given the patriarchal realities of the ancient world.  The case of the son of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman in Vayikra 24 seems to be the exception that proves the rule: this character unusually ended up with the Israelite community as a result of the Exodus; normally, such a person woudl not be part of the Israelite community.

The first inkling we get of any sort of matrilineal approach is in the book of Ezra, where a figure known as Shekhaniah, a "son of Elam", proposes to Ezra that all of the returning exiles who have taken foreign wives cast away those wives and their children, causing them to leave the community.  While the need for this edict only underscores that these people would, by default prior to this event, have been considered part of the Israelite community, this measure does seem to mark the beginning of a policy treating the children of Gentile women as Gentiles.

This approach is crystallized in a clear rulingin Mishnah Kiddushin, which states that a Gentile woman produces Gentile offspring.  Even this ruling met with some popular resistance, however.  A few centuries later we have evidence of some in the Jewish community of Tyre wanting to circumcise such children on Shabbat, revealing their sense that "patrilineal" Jews ought to have been a part of the Jewish community.  The rabbinic repsonse is fierce and clear: Such a child is a Gentile, in keeping with the Mishnah's ruling.  We will see however, that the feeling that patrilineal Jews are not identical to other Gentiles resurfaces later on.

On the question of the children of Gentile father's and Jewish mothers, classical rabbinic sources are divided, and a debate persists for centuries.  Some sources--including the Mishnah--argue that such a child is a mamzer, a Jew, fully obligated in mitzvot, but forbidden from marrying Jews of untainted lineage.  (A mamzer can legally marry only another mamzer or a convert, who also lacks pure Jewish lineage.)  Others maintain the Jewishness of said matrilineal child, while either lowering the level of lineal taint--such as forbidding a daughter from such a union to marry a kohen--or claiming that no taint exists whatsoever.  Rabbinic stories about such matrilineal children are suffused with a sense of liminality and conflict, with rabbis at war amongs themselves (and sometimes even with themselves) as to how to treat such children.  Finally, some classical rabbinic sources may open the possibility that that the child of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother is in fact a Gentile, though if this person were to convert, they would be free of any lineal taint of mamzerut.

The Babylonian Talmud's latest opinion on this matter is to reject mamzerut for matrilineal Jews.and seemingly to embrace them as full Jews (possibly with the restrictions on marrying a kohen), and the opinion that they are full Jews comes to dominate and is the ruling of the Shulhan Arukh many centuries later.  But other medieval and modern voices rejected this path and maintained that a matrilineal child is in fact a Gentile in need of conversion.  Sources in the 19th century continue to advance this claim, even as opposing sources try to crack down on this perspective and embrace matrilineal Jews as full, unambiguous Jews.

As noted earlier, the ruling that patrilineal Jews are in need of conversion is much less controversial and accepted as black-letter law by all rabbinic authorities after the Mishnah.  However, modern rabbis, including R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer and R. Ben Zion Uzziel have argued--based on a close reading of a number of Talmudic passages--for the classification of patrilineal Jews as zera yisrael, still of Jewish stock, such that their conversion--unlike that of their purely Gentile counterparts--is truly a reclaiming of roots and therefore to be encouraged.  In other words, while conversion is still required, these authorities understand that the process is metaphysically different from that of a Gentile coming to Judaism without any genetic connection.

All of this material opens of the possibility of recognizing, honoring and meeting the challenges of ambiguous identity presented to those with one Jewish and one Gentile parent.  While the halakhic conversation has clearly gone in a direction that fundamentally treats matrilineal Jews as Jews and patrilineal Jews as Gentiles, there is actually much more ambiguity here than is typically acknowledged  Once could imagine a model in which the standards for conversion for patrilineal Jews are dramatically lowered as they are welcomed to embrace their Jewish identity without ambivalence or ambiguity as well as demanding/respecting/honoring the need for matriineal Jews to do the same, if not with a full-blown formal conversion, than with an act of immerison in a mikveh in front of a panel of 3 as a way of satisfying the halakhic opinions that require this and being honest about the real choices that confront a person who is confronting the complexity of their own ethnic narrative and inherited faith traditions.