Monday, September 25, 2006

No war games on Rosh Hashanah

I spent a lot of this weekend with my family, in town visiting my aunt for Rosh Hashanah (for those non-Jews out there, phonetically that's pronounced Jew-Jew-Jewie-Jew-shanah). Traditionally, those observing Rosh Hashanah are supposed to refrain from all forms of work, including driving, watching television, making large budget Hollywood movies, and controlling all of the world's money. This year Rosh Hashanah fell on the weekend, so luckily the world financial markets weren't crippled.

At any rate, like most reformed Jews, my family also has certain rules which they follow when it comes to the High Holidays and certain rules which they don't follow. For example, my aunt always takes off of work, refuses to drive in her car anywhere (including temple), but watches all of her soap operas. My father follows a similar path; he sleeps through the morning and makes sure to catch the daily dose of the Drew Carrey show. So pretty much our standard is: Things you don't want to do? No, it's Rosh Hashanah. Television? Check.

As were were walking back from the running water where you are supposed to cast away your sins for the year (I suggested the bath tub), my cousin asked my aunt if he could play "Lego Star Wars", a computer video game. She quickly responded, "No, I told you, no war games on Rosh Hashanah. You'll have to find another game to play." So I chuckled internally to this, because I've learned not to start that kind of conversation with my family, but I found it to hilarious.

I very much enjoy the way people justify their behavior, to God, themselves, their families, and their contemporaries. Through periods of childhood, my father kept a kosher house but would eat McDonald's Sausage McMuffins for breakfast out of the house. My grandmother would keep the same level of kosher but would simply put newspaper down on the kitchen table when we would bring chinese food or pizza in. A friend from college who wouldn't do anything on the Shabbos would passive aggressively ask us to turn off the light or change the television station. During my only trip to Israel, I came across my my first Shabbos elevator, an elevator that stops on every floor so that observant Jews don't have to actually violate the laws of the Shabbos (the "it's going up to that floor anyway" routine.)

Life and compromise are all about convenience, I suppose. My dad wanted to be pious and traditional, but up until recently he couldn't give up his pork products. My grandmother kept a kosher household her whole life, but if you've got 8 people over and don't feel like cooking, pizza seems like the way to go. My aunt wants her boys to obey and respect the law (at least the spirit) of the Shabbos and the High Holy days, but realizes that she has to compromise, at least a bit, to be able to control them. And so is born the "No war games on Rosh Hashanah" corollary.

Jews are not the only culprits, certainly. Religions where all you have to do absolve yourself of sin is repent seem like a recipe for excess and debauchery. Making exceptions, on lent, etc... always seemed the funniest to me -- "Ok, I won't have any meat on for a month... but I'll have extra meat on Thursdays, get wasted on Saturdays, gamble on Mondays, and have sex on Tuesdays." Amen.

As time has gone on, religion has, predictably and fortunately, shifted further away from the groupthink mindset and more towards the individuals. So people follow somewhat random morsels of tradition and dogma, casting aside those traditions that are just too burdensome or unpleasant. In theory, that's nearly ideal; humans have evolved in every area of life, why shouldn't religion, which in many ways owes a lot of its early tenets to vestigial conceptions, not change along with everything else? The fear, of course, is that religion is not supposed to be easy or convenient. A just life, religious or not religious, is not about doing what's simple and avoiding what puts you out. It's largely the exact opposite, so as people slide away from the old guard rules, will religion remain and will compromise of the "less important" guidelines lead to compromise of the important ones?

As a side note: This Rosh Hashanah I went for a run, watched television, saw a movie, went to a restaurant, drove a car, took three trains, had wine and beer, bought a jacket and shoes at REI, and finished off the weekend watching football. J-E-T-S, Jets Jets Jets!


Blogger terratiburon said...

honestly, if all you wanted to do was write "vestigial" in a column, you could've written something much shorter.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Nikol said...

That's all fine. What, however, do you think about Obadiah Shoher's criticism pf Rosh Hashanah as aholiday that has nothing to do with New Year? Here, for example

5:31 AM  

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