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Two Jewish Practices…Matot74 – Riemer 1

TORAH-FAX 5774 MATOT
MATOT74
TWO JEWISH PRACTICES THAT NEARLY DISAPPEARED
BY RABBI JACK RIEMER
I don’t know if this is going to e a good sermon or not! "t one thing I am #rett$
s"re of% I do"t if there are &er$ man$ #eo#'e here toda$ who ha&e e&er heard a
sermon ao"t the two Jewish #ractices that I am going to ta'k ao"t toda$ efore in
a non(Orthodo) s$nagog"e*
One of these #ractices has its origin in the sedra of Ta+ria! which we read some
month ago! and one has its origin in the sedra of Mattot! which we read toda$* ,"t
when we read them in the Torah! most of "s scarce'$ #a"sed to think ao"t what
the$ meant then! or ao"t what the$ mean now*
One of these two #ractices was near'$ forgotten $ non(Orthodo) Jews for man$
$ears! "t is now ha&ing a remarka'e re&i&a'* The other is sti'' a'most tota''$
"nknown among non(Orthodo) Jews! "t I e'ie&e it is worth o"r knowing ao"t!
and #erha#s it is e&en worth o"r reconsideration*
The first is the mit+&ah of going to the mik&ah* -hen I was a chi'd! the mik&ah
a##eared nowhere in the c"rric"'"m of the schoo' that I went to! and we knew &er$
'itt'e ao"t it* -e kids had a &ag"e! ha+$ idea that it was a #'ace that married
women went to once a month! "t we were not ."ite s"re wh$ the$ went there! or
what the$ did when the$ got there* *
In those da$s! mik&ahs were something that e'onged to the o'd co"ntr$! and no
one e'ie&ed that the$ had m"ch of a f"t"re in America* ,$ the 1/01s there were
'ess than two h"ndred mik&ahs 'eft in America! and the$ seemed destined to soon
disa##ear*
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,"t now! things are &er$ different* O&er a h"ndred and eighteen new mik&ahs ha&e
een "i't a'' o&er America since the $ear 2!1113 4ome of these mik&ahs are #'"sh
and ea"tif"''$ designed* Instead of the ench! the c'othing hook and the co'd
shower that the$ "sed to ha&e in the o'd da$s! there are man$ now that #ro&ide
Jac"++is efore the immersion! and that #ro&ide f'"ff$ white roes and fanc$
towe's! and e&en strawerries and choco'ate tr"ff'es after the immersion* There is a
new one on the "##er 5ast 4ide ( e'ie&e it or not ( that has a grand s#ira' staircase!
fine towe's im#orted from aroad! f'"ff$ roes! a #re# room fragrant with &ani''a(
scented cand'es! a f'oor in 6hinese ti'e! and an eight(7et Jac"++i* The mik&ah itse'f
is eneath a mosaic of '"e sk$ and white c'o"ds* And those who "se it testif$ that
the who'e #'ace is an aesthetic de'ight as we'' as a #'ace in which to f"'fi'' their
rit"a' o'igations*
And where the mik&ah was once of interest on'$ to the Orthodo)! there are now
man$ 6onser&ati&e and comm"na' mik&ahs eing "i't a'' o&er the 'and* The most
inno&ati&e mik&eh in the co"ntr$ is the one ca''ed 8Ma$im 9a$$im: ( ;i&ing
-aters ( which is 'ocated in ,oston! and which was created $ Anita <iament! the
a"thor of the Red Tent* 4he sa$s that Ma$im 9a$$im is a twent$ first cent"r$
creation! rooted in the ancient tradition! "t geared to meet the needs of the Jewish
comm"nit$ of toda$* =o to their wesite! and $o" wi'' see what that means%
Ma$$im 9a$$im hosts o&er fo"rteen h"ndred immersions! as we'' as a h"ndred
and ten ed"cationa' #rograms a $ear3 The$ ha&e a ga''er$ where art e)hiits are
often he'd! and the$ ha&e a rece#tion room that #eo#'e rent for #arties! and an
a"ditori"m where fi'ms of Jewish interest are shown! and a'' these he'# to finance
the mik&ah*
Peo#'e come to Ma$im 9a$$im in order to to"r and to 'earn! as we'' as to immerse*
4ome #eo#'e come to #re#are themse'&es efore a wedding or a at mit+&ah*
Others come to hea' from an i''ness or from a tra"matic e)#erience* 4ome #eo#'e
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come as #art of a con&ersion ceremon$* Others come to #re#are themse'&es
inward'$ efore ?om @i##"r or some other s#ecia' da$ in the ca'endar* And man$
come in order to 'earn more ao"t a Jewish #ractice that the$ know nothing ao"t*
The mik&eh at Ma$im 9a$$im is strict'$ kosher! according to Jewish ;aw! "t
the$ ha&e taken a #ractice that man$ tho"ght was archaic and o"tdated! and made it
into something new and attracti&e* It stri&es to make e&er$one who comes (
whate&er their moti&ation ma$ e ( fee' we'come and inc'"ded* If $o" are a ma'e
or a fema'e! a #erson of co'or or a Jew $ choice! an Orthodo) Jew or a memer of
another gro"# within Jewish 'ife! the door is o#en! and there are #eo#'e there who
are read$ to he'# $o" and answer $o"r ."estions*
And so! this is the first forgotten #ractice that I want to te'' $o" ao"t toda$* =o to
the Ma$im 9a$$im wesite! if $o" wi''! and $o" wi'' find m"ch more information
ao"t it* ?o" wi'' find essa$s on the meaning of mik&ah for moderns* ?o" wi''
find a 'ist of fi'ms and ooks that are a&ai'a'e there* ?o" wi'' find #hotogra#hs of
the #'ace so that $o" can see for $o"rse'f the good taste with which this "i'ding
has een designed* And $o" wi'' find a ma# for how to get there! a 'ist of the ho"rs
it is o#en! and a wa$ to make an a##ointment*
-hen I 'ooked at that wesite! I co"'dn’t he'# "t wonder% -hat wo"'d o"r
ancestors! some of whom had to c"t the ice in the ri&er when the$ wanted to go to
the mik&ah! think if the$ came ack and 'earned ao"t Ma$im 9a$$im and the
#'aces 'ike it that are now a&ai'a'eA
The second instit"tion that I want to ta'k ao"t toda$ is e&en 'ess we'' known than
the reg"'ar mik&ah* It is the mik&ah for ke'im! the mik&ah in which oser&ant Jews
immerse their dishes! their c"t'er$! and their cooking "tensi's efore the$ egin to
"se them*
Two Jewish Practices…Matot74 – Riemer 4
I confess that I ha&e had e&en 'ess e)#erience with te&i'at ke'im than with the
reg"'ar mik&ah* I knew there was a sign indicating that there was one 'ocated near
the 'oca' Orthodo) Rai’s office! and I wo"'d see it whene&er I went to &isit him!
"t I ne&er ga&e it m"ch tho"ght "nti' recent'$* And then! in the ;os Ange'es
Jewish Jo"rna' of a'' #'aces! I read an artic'e on the meaning of te&i'at ke'im $
Rai 4hm"e' ?ank'owit+*
-hen I saw his name! I was #"++'ed* Rai ?ank'owit+ is one of the grad"ates of
?eshi&at 9o&e&ei Torah! which is a o'd and inno&ati&e Orthodo) ?eshi&ah* 9is
foc"s has a'wa$s een on iss"es of socia' 7"stice* 9e has demonstrated on eha'f of
hote' workers who want to earn a minim"m wage* 9e has fo"ght on eha'f of
#risoners in 7ai' who are ke#t in so'itar$ confinement for m"ch too 'ong* 9e has
fo"ght for the rights of immigrants who work in s'a"ghter(ho"ses where kosher
meat is #re#ared* 4o I wondered% -hat is he doing writing ao"t something as
arcane as te&i'at ke'imA -h$ wo"'d he care ao"t a rit"a' that! on the s"rface!
seems to ha&e nothing whatsoe&er to do with ethics! as a'' his other #ro7ects doA
;isten to his answer% 8The Torah is ao"t transformation* It is ao"t transforming
o"r se'f! o"r re'ationshi#s to each other! and o"r re'ationshi# to societ$* The
mits&ot are the means that we Jews "se for accom#'ishing these transformations*
Te&i'at ke'im is the wa$ we transform o"r re'ationshi# to the "tensi's on which we
ser&e o"r food* ,$ taking the time and energ$ to immerse o"r "tensi's! we
cha''enge o"rse'&es to think ao"t what it means to own and "se these o7ects for
the #re#aration of o"r mea's* -e ask o"rse'&es on a dai'$ asis tho"ght #ro&oking
."estions ao"t what kind of food is worth$ of eing #'aced "#on a "tensi' that we
ha&e transformed into a ho'$ o7ect* Once we ha&e sanctified the dishes and the
si'&erware we "se! we can no 'onger think of eating as a mere'$ m"ndane acti&it$*
-e ha&e to think ao"t s"ch ."estions as% 9ow were the workers! the anima's and
the 'and treated in this mea'’s #re#arationA And what choices sho"'d I make that
Two Jewish Practices…Matot74 – Riemer B
wi'' e'e&ate the food that I eat and that I ser&e m$ fami'$ and make them more
s#irit"a'A:
9a&e $o" e&er tho"ght of the mea' that $o" eat in this wa$A If immersing o"r
dishes in the mik&ah has the #ower to foc"s o"r minds on ."estions 'ike these! then
#erha#s we sho"'d no 'onger think of this rit"a' as something archaic! or something
that on'$ the Orthodo) are concerned ao"t* Instead! #erha#s we sho"'d think of
this rit"a' as a 'esson in how to sanctif$ the mea' that we eat! and the food that we
take in! so that we can 'i&e more tr"'$ h"man 'i&es*
I offer $o" these two re#orts ( one on what is ha##ening in the wor'd of the mik&ah
in o"r timeCand one on how immersing o"r dishes and o"r "tensi's ma$ ha&e the
#ower to raise "s "# mora''$! s#irit"a''$! and eco'ogica''$! so that $o" ma$
consider whether these near'$ aandoned! a'most forgotten! Jewish #ractices sti''
ha&e the #ower to s#eak to "s toda$*
M$ #arents "sed to sa$% ne&er throw an$thing awa$ eca"se $o" can ne&er te''
when it wi'' come ack into fashion* The$ "sed to sa$ to "s% Toda$! e&er$one ma$
e wearing narrow ties! "t ho'd on to $o"r road ones eca"se tomorrow the$
ma$ come ack into st$'e* Toda$! e&er$one ma$ not e wearing straw hats! "t
ho'd on to $o"r straw hat an$wa$ eca"seCwho knowsA ( tomorrow the$ ma$
come ack into fashion* And #erha#s the Orthodo) were wiser than we were when
the$ chose to ho'd on to these two re'igio"s #ractices when the$ went o"t of
fashion! eca"se now the$ ma$ e coming ack again ( with new 'essons to teach
"s ao"t how to 'i&e tr"'$ mora' and s#irit"a' 'i&es*
At 'east the$ are worth considering! are the$ notA If $o" agree! wi'' $o" 7oin me
and sa$ amen*