What is more important? A synagogue or a cemetery?…ask the rabbi

October 30, 2017 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Which is more important for a new community to establish – a synagogue or a cemetery?…Rabbi Raymond Apple gives the answer.

THE WORST OR BEST OF TIMES?

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Wouldn’t you agree that this is this the worst time to be living?

A. It seems like it. We are surrounded by violence, intolerance and suffering. Things go wrong all the time and we can’t brush aside the evil as an “act of God”.

Governments are floundering, leaders are mired in corruption, terrorists are a constant threat, and ordinary people fear what tomorrow will bring.

Yet people always thought they were living at the worst of times. There were evils and tragedies in every age. It probably seems worse today because communications are better.

Actually in many ways this is one of the best of times. Developments in medicine and technology are magical. The human mind is creative as never before. Life is much easier and more comfortable than in the past.

People no longer just want to weep and say, “There’s nothing we can do about anything”; there is a sense of moral vigilance.

What should we do about the negative things?

Never condone evil. Even if you fear your voice will not be heard, keep speaking to yourself and never lose heart.

Praise the people who do good things: shame the others.

Be realistic: recognise, as Seymour Siegel said, that the world is not perfect, but even in an imperfect world there is still a great deal to be done.

DOUBLE WEDDINGS

Q. Both our daughters have just become engaged, but I was told that we shouldn’t have a double wedding? Why not?

A. There is a Yiddish saying, “Every child brings its own blessing into the world”. This could be extended to every marriage.

My experience of conducting weddings is that no two marriage ceremonies are the same, and there ought to be something personal about each one.

A few times in my career I was asked to conduct a double wedding and in applying halachic principles I said that I wanted each wedding to have its own personality.

The halachah has a general doctrine, “Ein m’ar’vin simchah b’simchah” – “We do not mingle one celebration with another” (Mo’ed Katan 8b).

The sages give the example of having a wedding on “Chol HaMo’ed” (the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot) and they talk about each celebration being given its own attention.

As far as weddings are concerned, the usage I followed was to have the first wedding late in the day and then a time gap to enable the second wedding to proceed at the beginning of the next Hebrew day. There was one combined wedding reception afterwards.

In some places (I believe Britain is an example) it is permitted by the rabbinic authorities to have the two weddings follow each other on the same day.

The Shulchan Aruch points out that if there is a joint wedding feast for both couples, the “sheva b’rachot” (Seven Marriage Blessings) can be said jointly after the grace After Meals (Even HaEzer 62:3).

SYNAGOGUES OR CEMETERIES?

Q. Which is more important for a new community to establish – a synagogue or a cemetery?

A. Which is more important? Both.

Let me quote myself. I have consecrated a number of synagogues in my time, and also a number of cemeteries.

When it was a cemetery I was consecrating, I always congratulated the community and said it was a sign of life when a group needed a cemetery.

It showed that they regarded themselves as so firmly established in a place that they expected to do there all the normal things that are part of life, including dying and being laid to rest in a location which relatives and friends would visit in time to come.

There are many kinds of Jews, A Jews, B Jews, C Jews, D Jews and E Jews. The B Jew is concerned with burial as a Jew.

We need A Jews too, alert to Jewish thinking, C Jews, committed to Jewish living, D Jews, dedicated to Jewish causes, E Jews, enlightened and educated about Judaism and the Jewish heritage.

Worry about dying as a Jew, but don’t forget to live as a Jew too.

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