Tag Archives: judaism

The battle between Rebecca and halachic stringency

1 Oct

The battle between Rebecca and halachic stringency:

Final result: Halachic stringency 10 – Rebecca 0 (Halachic – pertaining to Jewish laws governing all religious festivals and rituals.)

Nothing like the solemnity of Yom Kippur,  the most awe-inspiring of festivals in the Jewish calendar, when we fast from dusk until sunset the following day and spend the day in prayer, to bring out the halachic OCD lying latent deep within, it seems.

Although still living a Modern Orthodox life, liberal (with a small ‘l’) me likes to feel that I have left the ever-expanding list of stringencies required to live a strictly halachic life far behind in my murky past. I hope that I succeed in existing in a reasonably moderate “grey zone”, following a Jewish lifestyle, keeping to standard halacha and ignoring the multitude of more obsessive details.

Apparently not.

After 25 hours of fasting, no food, no water, feeling parched, exhausted and dehydrated, I would have expected someone  – me in this case – to gulp down some victuals the very second the clock struck 7.30pm, heralding in the grand end of the Day of Atonement.

But no. In lieu of this obvious and reasonable dénouement to the fast, I got my knickers in a right old halachic twist about whether I could make havdala (a blessing recited over wine and a lit flame to conclude the Sabbath or a festival) on a newly lit candle, rather than the customary pre-lit candle which should have been burning throughout the fast – which I had forgotten to prepare.

Haunted by memories of a dear, very religiously observant parent howling with disapproval when we were little and did not wait for them to return from the house of prayer to make the havdala blessing in order to commence our scoffings, I, as a grown woman, became wracked with indecision as to how to make a truly kosher havdala. And as such, refused to break the fast until I had solved this conundrum.

Before I knew it, I had dragged a close relative (known as “SK”) present into a fevered debate about the intricacies of this halachic quandary. 7.30pm came and went but no one was doing any scoffing of any kind.

If we were allowed to use a newly lit candle, could we then make the appropriate blessing over the flame (“boreh meoreh ha’esh” for those in the know), or should this particular blessing be omitted? Would the fact that Yom Kippur had fallen on a Shabbat this year mean that the halachic requirements of the ritual were altogether different? Did we need to make the blessing over the traditional spices or not?

I had a moment of inspiration as to how to resolve our issue, grabbing at the very textual embodiment of humourless Orthodoxy – the inimitable ARTSCROLL machzor (prayer book for the festival). If there was to be a resolution to my dilemma, surely it would be found somewhere deep within that compendium of intricate laws listed in painfully small-print at the back of the Artscroll Yom Kippur machzor.

I pored over Laws #148 – 154 of said manuscript along with SK.


Law  #150 sent us on a rollercoaster of hopes raised then dashed then raised again.

The minutes ticked by and still no one was eating or drinking.

Finally, it seemed that Law #152 was going to provide our happy answer. Yes, one COULD kindle a new flame for havdala….:

“If on Motzei Shabbos such a flame is not available, it is preferable to kindle a new flame…”

BUT…of course with halachic OCD, the answer is never as simple as that. Read on to the end of that sentence:

…and then to use that one TO MAKE A SECOND FLAME. The Havdalah should then be recited over the SECOND FLAME.” (my emphasis)

Not in my wildest dreams would I ever have come up with that most wild of halachic resolutions. Of course it wasn’t going to be as simple as just light a new flame and on yer bike.

Yes you MAY use a newly kindled flame BUT THEN use it to light A SECOND FLAME! There’s your obvious halachic solution!

(Don’t even start to ask WHY – I’m warning you.)

I happily and obediently lit flame number 1 followed swiftly by flame number 2.

And the Havdala blessing to finally put an end to that 25 hour PLUS 15 EXTRA MINUTES fast was finally recited.

A mighty breath of relief was expired, and eating and drinking and merriment were finally given the kosher seal of approval to go ahead.

In conclusion, it seems that sadly, I am a lousy failure at being a failed Jew.



Yuval Noah Harari provides brain fodder

19 May
As part of a campaign to encourage my baby brain to retain a modicum of sharpness, I am listening to an audio version of Yuval Noah Harari’s sweeping work Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
I do keep having to rewind and replay as my sloppy mind wanders and I miss key points, but that notwithstanding, I’m loving the way Harari casually debunks so many accepted truths about the world.
For someone brought up in the Orthodox Jewish community, where God created the world in seven days is an elemental truth, I’m finding it refreshing to be confronted with Harari’s absolute insistence on the fact that all religions are no more than delusional myths that homo sapiens have learnt to tell themselves about the world they inhabit.
Reading Sapiens makes me realise (shamefacedly) that as I’ve got older, I’ve become complacent – or should I say lazy – about my beliefs. When’s the last time I really analysed or even questioned my beliefs about existence?
This complacency is also bound up with becoming a mother. With little children, it’s just convenient (but perhaps also kind of necessary?) to be part of a system and a community (Modern Orthodox Jewish, in our case) that provides clear answers and purports to hold truths about the world.
Is it okay to give ambiguous or philosophical answers to my four-year-old son when he asks his adorable ‘metaphysical’ questions? Or is it not fair to confuse him at such a young age?
Isn’t it hard to be a mum when you are full of niggling doubts and an awareness that you don’t really know what the “truth” is when your child comes to you wanting clear answers?
In any event, thank you, Yuval Noah Harari, for dragging me out of my baby-brained fogginess back into the land of doubt and questioning.
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