D’var Torah — on global Judaism

Written by Cantor Tamara Wolfson — 8 October 2021

Some of my favourite moments in Talmud are the ones which remind me that the Rabbis, scholars, and commentators of the time were, above all, human. They had fears and insecurities, they often stood corrected and made mistakes, and like so many of us, they hated when their long commutes were delayed because of bad weather.

 

In a few days it will be the 7th day of the month of Cheshvan: a date on which the Rabbis deemed it permissible to begin praying for rain in the Land of Israel. Why did they wait until this particular day to recite the special prayers for rain during the Amidah? Because they knew that the people who had made the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for Sukkot would have a long journey ahead of them, and they wanted to give even the farthest-afield traveller enough time to get home. They knew that praying for rain might hinder the journey or make it more treacherous.

 

This dispensation struck me, both because it revealed the Rabbis’ humanity and because it recognised that even 1800 years ago, the Rabbis of the Talmud were living in a truly global world. People travelled long distances, not only to make pilgrimages but also to visit other synagogues or batei midrash. Ideas and customs were exchanged and communicated by traveling rabbis who moved between yeshivot in Jerusalem and Babylon, linking the two communities.

 

Today, we are used to exchanging and communicating ideas across long distances. We grew up with handwritten letters and pen pals, then landlines and mobile phones, then texting, emailing, Skype, and Zoom. Google has become the gateway to accessing nearly anything from anywhere in the world. The dizzying rate of information growth and the rapid development of technology have enabled us to feel as though the global gap is truly closing.

 

And the wonders of technology have enabled us to continue to pray as one community throughout these last 18 months, whether inside the building or inside our homes. On a personal note, I am especially grateful that technology has enabled my family in America to join us for so many Shabbat and Festival services. Despite never having attended an in-person service, they truly feel a part of the Alyth family. And they are not alone: on Yom Kippur afternoon alone, we were joined by over 250 people tuning into our services on YouTube from America. In a time when international travel has been so disrupted, it is remarkable that we are still a truly global community, connected across the miles and time zones.

 

As we begin this new month of Cheshvan and enter into this new and perhaps slightly rainier season, let us not take for granted how lucky we are that our Judaism is so global. Just as our ancestors did, we can strengthen our connections to a Jewish world that extends beyond the walls of our homes or our synagogues.

And when there are delays to our buses or tubes due to rainy roads, we can smile at the knowledge that even this slightly annoying experience is an unlikely link to our rabbinic ancestors, who understood that a bit of weather was no match for the power of community.

 

Shabbat Shalom.