Now that the sukkah is up, except for decorations, I’m feeling almost mellow, unlike other years when work was getting in the way of holiday preparations. I guess the rabbis who set the Torah readings were also relaxing a bit, since they decided on the same readings for both first and second days, Leviticus 22:26-23:44 (it’s also read on the second day of Passover) and, from the second scroll, Numbers 29:12-16 (obligatory sacrifice verses). The first scroll reading is mainly about observing the “fixed times”, i.e., Sabbath and holidays. The verses pertaining to Sukkot are 23:33-43. The haftarot differ, though, Zechariah 14:1 – 21 on the first day (happy Bar Mitzvah anniversary, Alan), an end-of-days type vision in which the Lord wages war against the nations that defeated Israel; and on the second, I Kings 8:2-21, about the dedication of Solomon’s temple. Both haftarot contain references to Sukkot.
The first intermediate day (Chol HaMoed) this year is Shabbat. The first scroll Torah reading is Exodus 33:12-34:26, in which Moses gets to see the Lord’s back and makes the second set of tablets. The second scroll reading picks up where we left off, Num. 29:17-22 (sacrifices). The haftarah is Ezekiel 38:18-39:16, about an apocalyptic battle, the Lord versus Gog and Magog. It is also traditional to read the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet); but I believe I’ve only attended one service at which they tried to chant the whole thing, and the congregation mutinied. Ecclesiastes, which is attributed to Solomon in his old age, is often wise (3:1 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven”) but also depressing (1: 8 “All things are full of weariness”), and the connection between it and the happy holiday of Sukkot is not obvious. Perhaps it’s meant to be an emotional counterweight, but that contradicts the Biblical command to be totally happy on Sukkot. Dr. Roberta Louis Goodman http://www.reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/chol-hamo-eid-sukkot/everything-there-season-turn-turn-turn-kohelet suggests a connection between the fragility of the sukkah and the uncertainty of life as described in Kohelet:
“Even at this season of rejoicing, as we sit in our shaky booths and read Kohelet, may we remember the fragility of life and reach out to all, for as Kohelet reminds us: ‘Two are better than one . . . . For if they fall, one can lift up his comrade. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, and has no one to lift him up’ (Kohelet 4:9-10).”
Sukkot has experienced a renaissance of sorts since I was a child. (See, e.g., a Wall Street Journal article on this phenomenon at http://bangitout.com/images/SukkahWSJ.pdf .) It is now not uncommon for individual households to have their own sukkot and lulav (an assemblage palm + myrtle twigs + willow twigs. To be carried and shaken.) and etrog (citron) sets, in addition to those provided by the synagogue. Not too many years ago, about 20 congregants carried lulavim and etrogim in the Hoshanot processions at my synagogue. Those of you who have followed these missives over the years have read about our family’s various sukkah sagas. We are using the Tinker Toy – type kit of steel pipes and connectors that we bought 2 years ago:
The Tubular Sukkah:
Taking the Concept of Klutz-Proof to a New Level
I am happy to say that set up went almost without a hitch (I inadvertently put the canvas screen in front of the back two uprights instead of in back, but it is otherwise securely fastened) despite the mild warpage of two pipes that we noticed last year (how can steel pipes warp?). And I almost escaped without a splinter; steel poles do not produce splinters, but one of the bamboo poles did.
Hag sameach and an early Shabbat shalom,
(My husband found this item and the next. Thanks, Rich!)
I’m sure you’ve heard about the tefillin scares and other such terrorism-generated craziness aboard airlines in recent years. They’re trying to get it all under control. For example:
WASHINGTON — US authorities released travel guidelines for Succot ahead of the Jewish holiday. “TSA’s screening procedures do not prohibit the carrying of the four plants used during Succot – a palm branch, myrtle twigs, willow twigs, and a citron – in airports, through or security checkpoints, or on airplanes,” the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement, noting the dates of this year’s Succot holiday, from Sept. 18-25.
The TSA notice said, however, that all passengers undergo security screening at checkpoints.
In a separate statement, US Customs and Border Protection also noted that the four species were allowed entry, but noted a number of restrictions subject to inspection.
“Travelers will be asked to open the container with the ethrog and unwrap it,” its advisory stated. “The agriculture specialist will inspect the ethrog. If either insect stings or pests are found, the ethrog will be prohibited from entering the United States. If neither is found, the traveler will be allowed to re-wrap and re-box the ethrog for entry into the United States.”
Twigs of willow from Europe are banned, it continued, and any sign of pests or disease will mean confiscation of the product.
In a press statement noting the allowances, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, also urged observant Jews to cooperate with airline staff and authorities, for instance when praying aboard aircraft.
“Particularly, one should let flight attendants know if they will be davening in flight BEFORE they begin, and understand the implications, as well as potential prosecution, for ignoring requests to sit down when requested, etc.,” said Shemtov, who consulted with Rabbi Abba Cohen, the director of the Washington office for Agudath Israel of America, in setting out the guidelines. “For example, flight attendants do not usually understand ‘nu,’ ‘uh,’ and hand signals, etc. especially when you are already in tallis and tefillin.”
Shemtov told JTA that religious Jews should appreciate the efforts of travel authorities to facilitate their travel. “We in the Jewish community are fortunate to live with an unprecedented level of personal liberty,” he said. “I hope everyone will appreciate that cooperation with authorities that are so sympathetic to our traditions is the least we can do in return.”
Etrog-runners held at Ben Gurion
400 citrons seized; one of the suspects is yeshiva administrator
An ultra-Orthodox man examines a citron (etrog) in Jerusalem (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
As many Israelis spend the days before the Sukkot festival browsing outdoor markets for the Four Species, Israeli customs authorities find themselves battling smugglers trying to sneak citrons into the country.
Over the past two weeks alone, four passengers have been caught in three separate incidents, trying to smuggle about 400 citrons, or etrogs, into the country without paying customs tariffs, the ultra-Orthodox website KikarHashabbat reported.
The etrog, one of the Four Species, is the Hebrew name for the yellow or green citron fruit taken with the palm frond, myrtle bough, and willow branch on Sukkot. The fruit can run anywhere in price from $5 to hundreds of dollars.
One of the suspects is a yeshiva administrator in Beitar Illit. The man was caught with a suitcase packed with 125 etrogs and nothing else. During his interrogation, the administrator told customs officials that he had traveled to the Tunisian island of Djerba to buy the fruits, as his community only uses etrogs from the island. He also revealed he was traveling with a companion who had managed to sneak through customs. The second man was soon located and apprehended as well.
Customs tariffs for importing etrogs are assessed at 2.7 shekels per kilogram, plus 18% value-added tax. Importers also require permits from the ministries of health and agriculture.
In addition, a French Jew with some 150 etrogs was caught. The man claimed he was simply trying to perform a holiday mitzvah and distribute them to Jews in Israel.
An Israeli man was also nabbed with some 125 etrogs.
The Sukkot festival, or Feast of Tabernacles, starts Wednesday evening, September 18, and runs until sundown on Wednesday, September 25.
A House on the Roof
Levy built a sukkah on the roof of his apartment building several days before the eight-day holiday of Sukkot began. After the holiday began, the landlord noticed it and demanded that it be removed immediately, claiming it was a violation of the terms of the building lease. Levy refused, telling the landlord that since this was a religious observance, he had the right to build the sukkah there.
The landlord disagreed and took the case to court.
In court, the landlord argued that the sukkah was unsightly, against the terms of the lease, and was a fire hazard. Levy argued that his religious rights would be ignored. The judge, who happened to be Jewish, listened patiently and then offered his verdict.
“I agree with the landlord in this case, and I therefore rule that you have ten days from today to take down your hut.”
—Based on David A. Adler, The House on the Roof: a Sukkot Story. New York: Bonim Books
Oldie but goodie.
An excerpt from A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor (GK), 4/18/98
The Oldest Living Comedy Team
GK: Today is our annual joke show and it’s an honor to introduce my next guests —- we have the oldest living comedy team in the world with us, today.
WB: That’s right.
TR: Twelve thousand years old.
WB: We’re so old we’re in Noah’s yearbook.
TR: That’s old……
TR: [Solomon] was the first one to write down his routines.
GK: He wrote down his jokes?
TR: Ecclesiastes. You ever read that?
GK: Ecclesiastes from the Bible? You mean that Solomon?
WB: Ecclesiastes. That was his whole act. He was very popular up in Beirut. That was like Miami Beach then. “Nothin’ ever changes,” that was his whole schtick. “The rivers run into the sea and yet the sea is not full.” That’s a joke. “Everything is vanity.”
TR: “Look at this garbage,” he’d say, “Nothin’ ever changes. You do good, you do bad, you live a little then you die.” He was a funny guy.
WB: He said, “Whoever increases knowledge increases sorrow.” That was a scream back then. People used to roll under the tables. Funny guy. People’d laugh—- you’d see pomegranates come out their noses, that’s how funny he was.
TR: “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong nor riches to men of understanding, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” People used to sit and howl when he told that.
WB: That’s the whole meaning of comedy right there. You’re fast, you fall down, you’re strong and you poke yourself with your sword, you’re smart and you go broke.
TR: He was an great comedian, Solomon. “Cast your bread upon the waters and you shall find it after many days.” I loved that one.
GK: I didn’t know that was comedy.
WB: A lot of people back then didn’t know it was comedy. You get audiences like that now and then. The Samaritans. Terrible audience. Nice people, but no sense of humor. …
GK: Right. Why do we need to tell jokes?
TR: Because. Life is terrible, its miserable, you wouldn’t wish it on a dog.
GK: So jokes come from misery?
WB: Jokes are misery. You tell a joke, it’s like saying, “Hey, we got a lousy deal,” and everyone who’s listening laughs, because they’re thinking, “That’s what I thought too, but I thought I was the only one.”
GK: So you don’t think there are new jokes?
WB: It’s like Solly said: “The thing that has been is the thing that shall be; and the thing that is done is that which shall be done: there is nothing new under the sun.”
GK: And we’re out of time. What’s your favorite joke?
WB: My favorite joke is: If you could have a conversation with someone, living or dead, who would it be? —- I’d choose the one who’s living. That joke was very very big among the Abyssinians. It’s very funny in Urdu.