“Ki Mitziyon Tetze Torah Udvar Hashem Mirushalayim” (From Zion Shall Torah come forth and Hashem’s word from Jerusalem)
When I read about the growing gap between Jews in the Diaspora, mainly the U.S., and those in Yisrael, I am filled with a sense of loss, and great distress. Some have been unhappy about Yisrael’s policies toward the Palestinians. Recently, however, many American Jews have expressed hurt and humiliation with Yisrael’s conversion laws and other rulings by the Rabbinate.
Let us be honest, Jews have rarely been, internally, a united group. We all are familiar with the saying, “Two Jews, three opinions.” Being at odds with each other, questioning, debating and disagreeing has been part of who we were, are and forever will be.
Despite those traits, though, we have always shared one tradition and one set of guidelines about Jewish customs, dates of observances and commemorative events. It started on Mount Sinai where G-d commanded Am Yisrael to follow His laws, adhere to His Torah and set dates of the months and the years. Since Moses was the bearer of G-d’s commandments, the power to determine the interpretation of G-d’s Laws, decide when the Holy Days occur and other rulings was given to him and later to his successors, the Prophets, the Sanhedrin and the Rabbinical courts. Naturally, these decisions all originated in Eretz Yisrael, Zion where the Jewish religious authorities, past and present, have always been situated (except on a few occasions where these guidelines were still followed). Their decisions were uncontested and unchallenged.
For instance, in ancient times, the rabbis decreed that Jews in the Diaspora should celebrate Holy Days for two days. Some still do. There is a good reason behind it.
The Lunar Calendar which is what determines Jewish Holy Days was, at times, confusing. Prior to the arrival of the fixed calendar, the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court, situated in Zion, Yerushalayim, the Spiritual center of the Jewish People would establish whether any month was 29 or 30 days depending on the first sightings of the new moon. Accordingly, if there was a Holy Day on that month, communities in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora would know when to celebrate and observe it.
Once the Sanhedrin found the testimonies of detection of the new moon legitimate and decreed that a new month began, the message was disseminated to distant Jewish communities outside of Eretz Yisrael via bonfires which were lit on pre-selected mountaintops. When spotted, lookout stations on other mountaintops would light their own fires to transmit the message to the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
Unfortunately, a sect by the name of Samaritans which rejected Rabbinic authority and were opposed to their rulings started to light their own fires in an effort to manipulate the calendar and cause more confusion.
As a result and to avoid disorder, the method of communicating by fires stopped. Instead, messengers were dispatched to pass on the decree of the Rabbis to Jewish communities outside of Eretz Yisrael. Messengers were much slower than the fire lighting and resulted in confusion among distant communities concerning the precise date of the New Month.
Due to the disarray surrounding the start of the new month, the Rabbis ruled that outside of Eretz Yisrael, every Holy Day should be celebrated for two days to ensure that at least one day of the observance of that Holy Day would be on the correct day.
Since the fixed calendar came into use in the 4th century CE, some may ask whether the need to keep the two days observance in the Diaspora is still relevant.
One answer is provided by Rabbi Hai Gaon who was an undisputed authority on Jewish law in the 11th century. According to him, the obligation to keep two Holy Days dates back to the days of the prophets.
And herein lies the root of what some may consider a problem. There is a general rule that once a rabbinical sanctioning has been made by the Sanhedrin and accepted by the entire Jewish people, it can be absolved only by a court in a similar prominence to the one that decreed it. However, finding nowadays a court that will equate the Sanhedrin in stature is almost impossible, let alone one that would equate with that of the prophets who were divinely inspired.
And that is but one example.
Which brings us back to the titular message. Tradition, as prescribed by the religious authorities in Tzion (Zion), has kept Judaism going for over two millennia. It is this tradition that has helped preserve us as a People that survived when many around us disappeared and forgotten. Do we wish to end up like them and enter oblivion? Do we want to re-form that which has proved to be the best form, one that withstood the storms of time, one that ensured our survival, one that has connected Jews the world over and forged us into the strong eternal entity that we are today?