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March 18, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayikra

“And he shall lay his hand” [upon an animal sacrifice] (Lev. 1:4)Nachmanides interprets this phrase to mean that the owner of a sacrifice must lay hands upon it.

Nachmanides adds according to the Talmud (which he agrees with), that this language excludes laying on the hands of proxies; “although a man’s proxy is like the man himself in all other places, we should not consider him so in the case of the laying on of hands.”

Indeed, what is true of sacrifices is true of Jewish life generally: Judaism is not, properly done, a spectator sport in which most tasks are done by proxies.  The Judaism I grew up with, of huge Reform synagogues dominated by an organ and cantorial artistry, was a Judaism of performances: in retrospect I feel like everything was done by proxies, and that congregants were just spectators to a musical show of prayer and song.

That was fine for my parents when they went there twice a year; however, it wasn’t for me, and I don’t think it would be for most people (which is why most members of such synagogues only go twice a year). By contrast, Orthodox synagogues (and smaller, more tradition-minded Conservative ones as well) tend to be participatory; only the most complex tasks such as Torah reading are done by paid professionals, and most of the service is done by us, the congregants.  And when we take over ownership of the service, we internalize Judaism and want to do more and know more.  In short, a participatory Judaism perpetuates itself.

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