January 4, 2019 – WEEKLY MESSAGE RABBI ARNOW

Dear Kol Rinah Family,

Please do read to the end today-there’s an important piece of Torah I’d like everyone to read at the end of the e-mail.

There’s a lot going on this Shabbat! First, mazal tov to Sara Levenson, who will celebrate her bat mitzvah Saturday afternoon offsite. Mazal tov as well to her parents, David and Stefanie, and her siblings, Sam and Leah.

Tonight will be our family-friendly First Friday service at 6pm in the lower auditorium. We’ll be done by 7pm, and all are welcome for a quick, high-energy Kabbalat Shabbat and maariv (evening) service, with grape juice and challah. Candle lighting is at 4:35pm.

Tomorrow morning services begin at 9am. We’ll be bestowing a Jewish name on Charlotte Moss, the daughter of Andrew and Lauren Moss, granddaughter of Jim Singman.

Rabbi Shafrin will be leading Torah Talk at about 10:10am. MifgaShabbat, for our elementary school kids, will begin at 10:30am, and a Tu BiShvat-themed Tot Shabbat will start at 10:45am, led by Tammy Arnow.

Mincha is at 3:40pm, and Shabbat ends at 5:38pm.

I’ll be teaching a training class on being a mashgiach (a kosher supervisor) three Sunday evenings beginning this Sunday night: January 6 (6:30-8:30pm), January 13 (7-9pm) and January 24 (6:30-8:30pm). These classes will focus on the theory of keeping kosher and on the theory of being a mashgiach, and are open to the entire community.

Following those classes, those who are interested in training to become mashgichim at Kol Rinah will have three sessions of instruction in the kitchens at Kol Rinah with Meir Zimand, followed by three sessions where, individually, people will follow Meir as he serves as a mashgiach for events, and as it progresses, where he follows you as you serve as the mashgiach. The Ritual Committee decided last month that it made sense to limit participation in the training with Meir to those who keep kosher at home. If you’re curious to know more about that, I’m happy to discuss with you.

There are also some great classes being taught by our community members that are beginning soon. Particularly, Wendy Love Anderson will be teaching on Miraculous Healing in Jewish Tradition 7-8:30pm on 1/9, 1/16 and 1/23 at the Jewish Federation, and Rabbi Tracy Nathan will be teaching on Israeli novelist Yochi Brandes’s The Orchard, looking at the rabbinic sources it weaves together. That class meets on Monday evenings from 7-8:20pm at the Jewish Federation, beginning 1/7. Details for both classes are available here.

Minyan has been a real struggle this week, especially since some of our regulars have been at shiva minyanim. Coming to minyan is such an important way to show up for the other people in our community.

And now for a little Torah… I want to say something about pronouns. One of the most confusing things about chanting Torah can be pronouns and pronominal suffixes (suffixes that indicate pronouns). In the Hebrew Bible, the gender of certain pronouns changes seemingly arbitrarily sometimes, and plural pronouns are sometimes used for singular objects, and singular pronouns are sometimes used for plural objects. It’s all very confusing, and sometimes, logical, and sometimes, not especially logical.

One example in this week’s parasha is after a genealogy telling about where Aaron and Moses come from in Exodus 6:14-25, the next verse, v. 26 says, hu Aharon uMoshe-translated as “It is the same Aaron and Moses who…” But hu in Hebrew means “he,” not “they.” So here you have a singular pronoun being used for two people.

We simply have to take the pronouns the Torah gives us as they come. We don’t change them. Perhaps you’ve heard the mystical teaching that each letter of the Torah represents an individual Jewish soul. Those souls are as they are, with whatever pronouns they need in the Torah-they choose their own pronouns, so to speak. We don’t choose for them. And we don’t go around correcting the Torah. And even if we may not like their grammar, who are we to change words of Torah, that is, to change souls?

As we have learned more about the construction of gender and gender fluidity, we are realizing that not everyone fits neatly using he/him/his or she/her/hers pronouns. In certain settings (particularly the arts, certain nonprofits, and higher education), it has become common to include one’s preferred pronouns as part of their e-mail signature.

I would ask each of us to use the pronouns that a person feels are correct for him/her/them. Perfect grammar is not so important to the Torah, and neither should it be so important to us; rather, human dignity should come before grammar. (And by the way, “they” has been used, I hear by Shakespeare, even, for centuries, for the singular when one prefers not to specify gender.)

If you’re not sure of the pronouns someone prefers, first, ask yourself why you need to know. Is it just curiosity? In which case maybe you don’t really need to know. You can listen to hear what others say. Or you can say to the person, “My preferred pronouns are… What are your preferred pronouns?” And if you make a mistake, as when you’re reading Torah, correcting yourself or someone else is important, because every letter, every word, every soul, matters, when speaking words of Torah, and when speaking to and about human beings.

Finally, I ask that we not joke about this. It’s not funny at all for the people, the human beings, for whom this is really important. So please take it seriously, and don’t joke it about.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Noah Arnow