Why must this year’s Yom­tov be dif­fer­ent from all other years?

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JEN­NIFER LIP­MAN PASSOVER

PE­SACH IS late this year. It will still creep up on us, re­duc­ing us to panic-buy­ing ground al­monds and sleep­less nights count­ing just how many hard-boiled eggs are needed for Seder, but it falls late in the cal­en­dar year, end­ing on the May Bank Hol­i­day week­end.

Good news for keen matzah ram­blers; less so for tra­di­tion­ally ob­ser­vant chil­dren at­tend­ing non-Jewish schools — a de­clin­ing num­ber, per­haps, but still a size­able group — for whom it’ll be matzah sand­wiches in the class­room.

I can’t say I have fond mem­o­ries of those years when Pe­sach failed to co­in­cide with the Easter hol­i­days; soggy ‘‘sand­wiches’’, mini Baby­bels and Snowcrest crisps come to mind, plus days off school in that cru­cial pe­riod be­fore ex­ams. If only, I used to think, Pe­sach and Easter could al­ways be at the same time.

So I was in­ter­ested to hear of the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury’s am­bi­tion to se­cure con­sen­sus for a fixed date for Easter. Justin Welby re­vealed last week that he is in talks with the Pope and the Cop­tic and Ortho­dox Church lead­ers to set Easter Sun­day as the first Sun­day af­ter the se­cond Satur­day in April.

Wouldn’t it be great if our rab­bis could do the same? Fix Rosh Hashanah and Suc­cot as al­ways fall­ing Shab­batSun­day, there­fore al­le­vi­at­ing the need for work­ing adults to be out-of-of­fice for most of Septem­ber? En­sure Shavuot is in half-term, to avoid clashes be­tween all-night learn­ing of To­rah and all-night cram­ming for GCSE Span­ish? Set Chanu­cah as co­in­cid­ing with Christ­mas, so that, come De­cem­ber 25, Jews also have a win­tery cel­e­bra­tion in­volv­ing over­con­sump­tion of lardy goods?

It’s a stretch, I’ll ad­mit. Chris­tian­ity has the up­per hand on this — Christ­mas al­ways falls at the same time so fix­ing the date of Easter would be a less rad­i­cal al­ter­ation. But if not that, what about the rab­bis agree­ing to stan­dard­ise other capri­cious aspects of Jewish life?

The ob­vi­ous choice would be two­day Yom­tov. Aside from the rab­bis, who have a clear vested in­ter­est in 48-hour chagim, who would miss that se­cond day? To mis­quote Os­car Wilde, to ob­serve one Seder may be re­garded as a mis­for­tune; to ob­serve both looks like fool­ish­ness. Once upon a time a Ju­daism with re­gional vari­ances made sense; it is noth­ing short of lu­di­crous in a glob­alised, in­ter­con­nected world.

Or what about Shab­bat? Much of what we are pro­hib­ited from do­ing is about the spirit of the law, since our bib­li­cal fore­fa­thers didn’t have cars, TVs, ovens or mo­bile phones. And yet we seem will­ing to com­pro­mise on aspects of this ‘‘spirit’’ — us­ing hot­plates and time-switches, say, or Shab­bat lifts in Is­raeli ho­tels — yet ob­sti­nate about main­tain­ing oth­ers. Why are we al­lowed some loop­holes and not oth­ers?

Across Ortho­dox Jewish life, a bit of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion might not go amiss; the gap be­tween milk and meat, for ex­am­ple, or whether wheel­chairs are ac­cept­able for use on Shab­bat, or ex­actly what women are per­mit­ted to do in shul. The old joke about two Jews hav­ing three opin­ions ap­plies, yet the lay­man has noth­ing on our rab­bis.

If it sounds like I’m ar­gu­ing my­self into an­other branch of Ju­daism, I’m not. I’m ar­gu­ing for a Burkean ap­proach — change in or­der to con­serve. Iron out the mad­den­ing, fu­tile in­con­sis­ten­cies to reach a sen­si­ble con­sen­sus, with­out be­tray­ing what it’s all about. Just as Welby is try­ing to do.

His mis­sion makes sense, not least in the con­text of record lows in church at­ten­dance in the UK. But Ju­daism is hardly im­mune to the same fate.

There may be a thou­sand ha­lachic rea­sons, in­clud­ing log­i­cal ones, to main­tain the sta­tus quo, and th­ese is­sues clearly mat­ter less to those who live their lives guided solely by the He­brew cal­en­dar. But there’s one com­pelling rea­son to act, which is that Ju­daism around the world Cracked it: If Easter’s for­malised, then why not our fes­ti­vals, too?

is po­lar­is­ing be­tween the strictly Ortho­dox and those who do noth­ing at all. The middle ground needs some help.

There is much about mod­ern Ortho­dox Ju­daism that I love, but also much that I – and oth­ers — find dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile with mod­ern life. On their own, th­ese in­con­sis­ten­cies might not mat­ter, but be­ing religious in the con­tem­po­rary Western world is al­ready a chal­lenge, al­ready some­thing that makes us Other. And while not all of religious prac­tice is meant to be easy, need it be so hard? Need we make it harder than it is?

I know it’s a pipe dream. Still, the church first sought stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of Easter in the tenth cen­tury; if they can achieve progress, why not us too?

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