April Events Update!

Please RSVP to all events!

Falafel Friday: This Friday at 6:00 pm-Israel Independence Day

Spartanburg Earth Day: Celebration at Unitarian Universalist Church, Saturday, April 21

Sunday Speaker Series: Sunday, April 22 with David Alvis:

“Michelangelo’s David and the Politics of the Chosen People”

Sisterhood Board Meeting: Sunday, April 22 at 12:00

Hadassah Meeting: Wednesday, April 25 at 11:00

Rabbi’s Brown Bag Lunch: Wednesday, April 25 at 12:00

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday, April 27 beginning at 5:30 with refreshments.

Saturday Service: April 28 at 9:30 am

Sunday School: Sunday, April 29 beginning at 9:20 with Hebrew


Mourning the Passing of Max Massey

Dear Friends,
We are saddened to report the passing of longtime member Max Massey who left at the age of 97 years. An internment graveside ceremony will be held on Sunday at noon. As Rabbi is out of town, at the request of the family, Alvin and Ben Stauber have kindly agreed to officiate. We encourage you to send notes of condolences and the family has asked that donations to cemetery fund* in his memory be sent to the Temple.  
*Make your check payable to Temple B’nai Israel with Cemetery Fund in the memo line.

The Dietary Laws: Fitness for a Life Well-Lived



The dietary laws presented in the Book of Leviticus are intended to draw us closer to God. But even I, as a rabbi, sometimes have difficulty understanding how the Torah intends for this to happen.

The second part of Sh’mini (Leviticus 10:12-11:47) takes up the subject of food. Everything from taboos to general permissions are commanded forming the foundation of later, Talmudic, legal interpretations on what is kosher (fit for consumption) and what is t’reif (unfit). Reform Judaism has gone around the block on the subject of kashrut. Notwithstanding biblical and Talmudic rules, and laws about what is “fit” for personal consumption, Reform Judaism has sought an authentic response to expectations for kashrut that would meet individual and contemporary norms.

The earliest Reform response was inscribed in the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, the first declaration of Reform Jewish principals. First, the Platform placed Mosaic legislation (Biblical Law) into a new context for contemporary life. Not devoid of significance, but surely far from contemporary life, only those laws that elevated life in modernity would hold sway over the Reform Jewish experience:

“We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.” (CCAR 1885 Pittsburgh Platform)1

Second, regarding kashrut laws, the 1885 Platform was unequivocal about its opinion:

“We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.”2

In the next iteration of Reform Jewish principals, the 1937 Columbus Platform, there was less emphasis on obstruction of spiritual elevation and more regard for adaptation of spiritual ideals in each generation.

“Being products of historical processes, certain of its laws have lost their binding force with the passing of the conditions that called them forth. But as a depository of permanent spiritual ideals, the Torah remains the dynamic source of the life of Israel. Each age has the obligation to adapt the teachings of the Torah to its basic needs in consonance with the genius of Judaism.”3

Since then, Reform Jews in synagogues, organizations, and at home, have taken responsibility to define for themselves what the standards for kashrut would be. In the last twenty years, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) applied a standard for its affiliates and, in particular, its summer camps, to avoid pork and shellfish, and to separate milk and meat. Likewise, many Reform synagogues adopted this as a standard baseline, though some would choose to do more or less. The latest significant publication on the matter is the book The Sacred Table, 4 which collected opinion pieces from rabbinic and other Jewish authorities for discerning progressive Jews (non-Orthodox) who seek to transform the mundane task of eating into a sacred duty, a mitzvah.

As an expression of social justice that flowed from one’s personal or communal social conscience, The Sacred Table illuminates ways to meet one’s Jewish obligation by not rejecting laws of kashrut wholesale, but by identifying ways to be true to Jewish and modern realities about food. The Religious Action Center (RAC), an arm of the URJ, assembled a discussion guide and action items to lead Reform Jews in their quest for meaningful responses to contemporary food choices. Chief among the questions are these:

  1. To what extent is dietary practice a useful measure of religious observance and of ethnic identity?
  2. What aspects of eating connect us to God or make us more aware of the world around us?
  3. What Jewish values would be important for you to include in the creation of a food ethic?
  4. How do you think Reform synagogues should respond to the challenge of ethical eating?

Judaism is a religion of action; therefore, it’s imperative that actions follow ideas on principles that shape our lives. The RAC suggests that we might do the following:

  1. Shop local! Find a farmer’s market in your neighborhood. Talk to your local supermarket managers about the food they stock.
  2. Make new conscious eating choices, such as moderation over excess, and more sustainable and eco-conscious
  3. Choose foods and quantities that reflect your concern for the environment, justice, health, and so on.
  4. Revisit your synagogue food policy.

Reform Judaism makes no fewer demands on its adherents than other Jewish movements do on theirs. Ours is not to reject, but to educate ourselves and to choose. The 14th-century rabbi and commentator, Bachya ben Asher, wrote about the benefits that accrue to those who, by means of intelligence, overcome competing interests in the world that — unfortunately– are in great supply. His wisdom is timeless. He taught:

“Sanctify yourself through the practice of the commandments and thus you will become holy. Such observance will help you to gain self-control so that your intelligence can govern your appetites. For our intelligence is doubly handicapped in this struggle: We have the appetites from birth, while intelligence develops slowly; and, our environment encourages us to yield to urges, whereas intelligence is a lonely stranger in the world.”5

  1. CCAR 1885 Pittsburgh Platform: The full text can be found at www.ccarnet.org
  2. Ibid.
  3. CCAR 1937 Columbus Platform: The full text can be found at www.ccarnet.org
  4. Mary Zamore, ed., The Sacred Table (NY: CCAR Press, 2011)
  5. W. Gunther Plaut, gen. ed., The Torah: A Modern Commentary, rev. ed. (NY: URJ Press, 2005), p.727

Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM, every Sunday at 6:45 a.m. CT, and is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights 2011) available on Amazon.com.


Three Ways to Celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut


Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, begins April 18. This year, we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of statehood and the vision of Zionist women like Henrietta Szold and Rose Halprin, who played powerful roles in building support for Israel and the creation of the Jewish state.

Three Ways to Celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut

  • As part of our celebration, Hadassah will host a special Yom Ha’Atzmaut Seder led by Dr. Etti Serok of the World Zionist Organization. Join us online on Facebook Live at 11:00 am (ET) — and learn about the Zionist Seder plate, Hadassah’s contributions to building and helping the State of Israel flourish, and more.
  • To commemorate this major milestone, Hadassah is asking you to share with us a word (or two) that embodies what you love most about Israel. Email us your words, and you might just see yourself on our social media. Happy Yom Ha’Atzmaut!
  • In honor of Israel’s 70th birthday, consider hosting a Zionist salon. Bring together friends, decorate with blue-and-white flags, eat some hummus, shakshuka or other Israeli foods and use author-historian Gil Troy’s The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland—Then, Now, Tomorrow — featuring excerpts from Hadassah Zionists past and present. Our customized Hadassah study guide (coming soon!) gives you everything you need to host a lively conversation and make your celebration meaningful. These salons are a great way to introduce potential members to Hadassah’s special kind of Zionism.

Is Passover 7 or 8 Days?



(Note: The information in this post applies to the holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Sh’mini Atzeret, but not to Rosh HaShanah. Rosh HaShanah has a different set of issues that would require a whole separate article to explain.)

When does Passover (Pesach) end? Why do some calendars say it ends after seven days and others after eight? The answer in most Reform Jewish communities is seven days, but the history is complicated.

The festival calendar in the Torah is clear: Pesach begins on the 15th of Nisan and lasts for seven days, and the first and seventh days are what we would now call yom tov, a day off from work. On the first night, there is a seder, with matzah, maror, and the retelling of the Exodus.

Back when the months of the Jewish calendar were determined by observations of the new crescent moon, eyewitnesses would bring their testimony to the rabbinical court in Jerusalem, and the court would sanctify the new month based on this testimony. Since a lunar month is about 29 ½ days, a Hebrew month (which has to have a whole number of days) can have either 29 or 30 days. So the court then had to get the word out to the rest of the Jewish world about which day had been declared the first of the month, so that everyone could observe the holidays on the same day. Originally this was done by signal fires (as in The Lord of the Rings), which transmitted the message rapidly. But then the Cutheans, a sect opposed to the rabbis, launched the first phishing scam and made signal fires on the wrong days to throw people off.

Since this method of transmission was no longer secure, the rabbis started sending messengers to outlying Jewish communities to deliver the message in person. This was harder to forge, but much slower. Locations within two weeks’ travel of Jerusalem (such as other cities in Israel) had no problem, since the holiday (Pesach or Sukkot) began on the 15thof the month, so they would receive the message in time for the holiday. But faraway communities such as Babylonia (modern Iraq) couldn’t get the message in time, and didn’t know when the new month had begun, though they could narrow the possibilities to two days. So to play it safe, they started observing each yom tov for two days, so that one of the days would be the correct date of the holiday (as determined in Jerusalem). In the case of Pesach, this meant that yom tov was not only the first and seventh day, but was now the first, second, seventh, and eighth days, so Pesach became an eight-day holiday.

Up to the present time, all Jewish streams in Israel (liberal, Orthodox, and secular) follow the Torah’s calendar and observe each yom tov for one day (and Pesach for seven days). But outside of Israel, the two-day (eight-day) custom stuck. In the fourth century, we switched over to a calendar that is based on mathematical computations rather than astronomical observations, so that the calendar can be computed anywhere in the world and the original reason for the extra day no longer applied. But the Babylonian Talmud (Beitzah 4b) advises Diaspora Jews to maintain minhag avoteichem (“the custom of your ancestors”) and continue the practice of two-day yom tov, in case the knowledge of how to calculate the calendar is forgotten some day.

Fast forward to 1846. A group of European rabbis convened in Breslau to debate various reforms to Judaism. They concluded that “The second days of the holidays … have no longer any significance for our time according to our religious sources … Therefore, if any congregations abolish some or all of these second days, they … are thoroughly justified in their act.” These rabbis saw themselves as representing the entire Jewish people, but of course, Reform Judaism eventually became just one of several modern denominations. And within the Reform Movement, one-day yom tov became the standard practice, whether in Israel or anywhere else. Enough time has passed that this has become our own minhag avoteinu; as a seventh-generation Reform Jew, I am proud to inherit this tradition from my family.

The other modern Jewish movements (outside Israel) have taken different approaches. In the1960s, the Conservative movement ruled that individual rabbis were authorized to choose one-day or two-day yom tov for their communities; however, the vast majority of Conservative congregations recognize two days. The Reconstructionist movement also gives congregations the choice, and most Reconstructionist congregations do one day. In the Orthodox world, two days are standard, with the exception of some Israeli expats who maintain their one-day practice even outside Israel.

So the answer is that in Israel and for most Reform Jews around the world, Pesach is seven days, but for many other Jews (including the ones who seem to print most calendars), it is eight days.

What to do about seder? Many Reform Jews do seders on the first two nights of Pesach, even though they don’t consider the second day of Pesach to be yom tov. Is that ok?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a festive dinner with family and friends, singing songs, and discussing the Exodus, even if it is not yom tov. We could do that all seven nights if we wanted (though that would be a lot of cooking!). (However, those who want to be careful about these things should perhaps leave out certain blessings such as kiddush. The blog Mah Rabu has a guide to this situation.)

But maybe Reform Jews should consider introducing a new tradition: holding the “second seder” on the seventh night, when everyone agrees that it is yom tov. This has a number of advantages in addition to consistency with our festival calendar: spacing out the seders provides more time to breathe in between, and creates something climactic to look forward to at the end of the week (besides pizza). In an era when many of us have families spread across the continent, this schedule makes it easier to travel and have seders with both sides of the family, or one seder with relatives in another city and the other seder with our local community. The content of the second seder wouldn’t have to be a repeat of the first, but could focus on the story that our tradition associates with the seventh day of Pesach: the Israelites’ crossing of the sea, accompanied by song and dance. We already have some of the music (e.g., Debbie Friedman z”l has written “Miriam’s Song”), and in time we’ll come up with new symbolic foods and other customs.

No matter how many days you celebrate, have a joyous and liberating Pesach!

Ben Dreyfus teaches physics and does physics education research at the University of Maryland.