What is Jewish Hospitality?

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is a community focused on the practice of Jewish hospitality. The Jewish hospitality traditions go back to Abraham and Sarah in chapter 18 of the Book of Genesis. Abraham greets and feeds guests soon after he had circumcised himself. The Rabbis saw his readiness to welcome guests even when he was physically uncomfortable as an indication of his extraordinary kindness. In rabbinic literature, the act of hospitality (hachnasat orchim) is greatly cherished and is regarded as a sign of good character and generosity.

The term “panim hadashot”-new faces is found in the Talmud to refer to the practice of inviting people in the community to share in the joy of bride and groom by inviting them to the ancient tradition of seven days of feasting and singing for the bride and groom following a wedding. The guests at these parties had to be new faces who had not attended the wedding celebration. The purpose of inviting new faces was to share joy and abundance with others beyond the bride and groom’s family and friends.  We draw inspiration from this old hospitality tradition.  We reintroduce this practice to modern Jews by helping households to practice home hospitality and the making our Sabbath and Festival tables a welcoming space for new faces-“panim hadashot.”

Jewish hospitality is associated with the observance of the Sabbath. It is traditional to invite guests to the home Sabbath table either on Friday evening or during the Sabbath day.  One sign of a strong synagogue community is an invitation to a newcomer at a home for a Sabbath meal after the service.

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is committed to reviving and adapting the Jewish hospitality traditions in our modern context in which Jewish households are spread out over a wide geographical area and many Jews are not observant or are regular synagogue attenders.   We see Shabbat home hospitality as a way to revitalize a sense of Shabbat in people’s lives. We do this by sharing with our hosts and their guests the best of Jewish music and teachings while opening up the joys of hospitality, relaxed conversation, and sharing a bountiful meal.     

Our hope is that our hosts will endeavor will also open their home to new faces, people outside their family and friendship circle. Welcoming the stranger is a very important feature of classical Jewish hospitality. When we practice hospitality we are able to share our Jewish values as an expression of living in a free, diverse society as well as to learn about the values of the those we host. In a troubled world where people talk of building walls, we wish to do the opposite.  The words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks express the vision guiding our understanding of Jewish hospitality in a world of diversity.

“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others. Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying, ‘if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.’ Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”

Nothing in the Jewish Songbook is Alien to Us

Franz Rosenzweig, the Jewish philosopher of the early 20th century, once adopted a famous line from the ancient Roman playwright Terence: “as I am human, nothing human is alien to me.” Rosenzweig gave the challenged his Jewish reader to assert that, as a Jew, “nothing Jewish is alien to me.”

“What Rosenzweig understood is that no one leads a life that is simply “human.” Just as we speak a particular language, not language as such, we live and flourish within particular communities, cultures, and traditions. Rosenzweig’s claim was not that everything Jewish was worthy of celebration, only that it was worthy of understanding, and he suggested that a “Jewish Renaissance” could begin with just these words.” Abraham Socher <https://jewishreviewofbooks.com/articles/102/editorial/>

Last Friday at our Shabbat at Carkeek Park, I was mindful of Rosenzweig’s saying as I introduced our wandering musical service through the woods of the park. I shared that, “Nothing in the Jewish songbook is alien to us.”

I was preparing the participants for different melodies that the Heart of Shabbat Ensemble planned to share during the Kabbalat Shabbat service. “We are not afraid to introduce new melodies or to tap the outer regions of the Jewish music.” We introduce melodies from different Jewish communities and from new composers as a way of letting the prayers speak in new ways. We seek to access different moods that new melodies open up and to provide new/old paths to communicate with or to reflect about God.

Having been a congregational rabbi for many years I learned how easily it is for groups of people to become accustomed and conditioned to hearing the same melodies over and over again. Songs also can anchor us to the regular to the expected. Songs can also help secure a sense of order in this chaotic world. I respect this. But at Panim Hadashot-New Faces, we also want to explore the “new faces” of Jewish music. Some of the songs we introduce will not catch on, but we believe that many will and that they will surprise us with a sense of the incredible richness and renewing character of our singing culture.

One of the issues around music in Judaism is the prohibition on the playing of musical instruments on the Sabbath and Festival. A good summary of the issues is found HERE.   I am a Conservative Rabbi which means that I come from a movement where there are differing opinions on the issue of playing music on Shabbat/Festival. The two Conservative congregations in Seattle have for years held to the prohibition, while experimenting with introducing music adjacent to the beginning and end of Shabbat. I decided many years ago after attending services at Bnei Jeshurun and Romemu in New York and Ikar in Los Angeles that instrumental music, if prepared skillfully and artfully can deepen the experience of Sabbath prayer. But I also felt more strongly that there was so much music at the table which was being lost by the decline in home hospitality. I wanted to introduce music to home Shabbat gatherings and to get us singing again.   I now follow the lenient position in the Conservative movement which permits instrumental music on the Sabbath.

But beyond the halachic ruling lies the issue of how music and song is presented on the Sabbath. This is something that Ari Joshua and I have thought about deeply. Some of these approaches below are drawn from our teacher, Joey Weisenberg. Others are ones we are developing.

  • Bring the Music Back Home: We believe there is too much emphasis on synagogue based music. By encouraging hosts to hold Shabbat gatherings where we can bring our music, we seek to foster intimate settings for community/group Jewish singing and musical creativity.
  • Shabbat Hospitality is Fulfilled by Music and Song:  Providing a place to sing together is one of the greatest acts of hospitality in Jewish tradition.  We seek to encourage this practice in everything we do.
  • It’s the Music, Stupid: What makes Shabbat special is the singing and music that encourages singing. This is one of the greatest Oneg Shabbats-Joys of Shabbat besides my other favorite, Torah Study.
  • Disappearing Musicians: Musicians make music to enable everyone to sing on Shabbat, but their goal is to seem like they are not there.
  • Tradition and Innovation:  We always absorb the sounds, styles, attitudes, and melodies of older generations while offering Jewish music for Shabbat in the created for the present moment.
  • Lingering on a Melody as Shabbat Rest:  On Shabbat we have no need to rush, so we apply the art of “Slow Singing”, learning one melody, really well. This works best at a meal or gathering when people are relaxed.
  • Shabbat and Rhythm:  Explore the possibility that we can unify in time especially on Shabbat.
  • Communal Intention:  Showing what can happen when we come together on purpose, on Shabbat, to create something bigger than the sum of its parts.
  • No Jewish Song is Alien to Us: We want to show to all who we share Shabbat with, that the treasure house of Jewish music is huge, with so much that is undiscovered.

Nothing from the Jewish Songbook is Alien To Us.

A Time to Act: In Support of Women of the Wall

I am dismayed by the polarizing decisions made recently by the Israeli government concerning Nashot Hakotel (Women of the Wall) and on conversion.   Please read this editorial piece by Lesley Sachs of Nashot Hakotel.

NYTimes: Jewish Women vs. The Jewish State

I had the opportunity to hear Lesley Sachs in Seattle a couple of months ago. It did not appear that she or anyone else saw this decision coming. So much progress had been made. But a short term political decision has evaporated any goodwill that had been built up by years of negotiation and activism.

Unfortunately, these two decisions have driven a wedge between the Israeli government and the much of the American Jewish Diaspora. I am a longtime supporter of Women of the Wall. I have prayed with them in the past.   I raise my voice alongside their voices in support of overturning the shortsighted and hypocritical decisions by the Netanyahu government to cave into the demands of the ultra Orthodox parties in the Knesset.

I am sharing the mission of Women of the Wall, so you can understand the importance of their work. I urge you to support them at this difficult time. A link to their sight is below the mission statement.

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As Women of the Wall, our central mission is to attain social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear wow083prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall.

We work to further our mission through social advocacy, education and empowerment.

In our social advocacy work, we aim to change the status-quo that is currently preventing women from being able to pray freely at the Western Wall. This goal has tremendous ramifications for women’s rights in Judaism and in Israel, and must be achieved through social advocacy in order to raise awareness and change social perception of these issues.

We take it upon ourselves to educate Jewish women and the public about the social, political and personal ramifications of limiting or eliminating women’s right to pray as a group at a holy site. When the law and society silence women in prayer – literally, publicly and deliberately – it is a violation of civil rights, human rights and religious freedom. Education is the key to changing perspectives, laws and lives.

Every time we meet to pray, we empower and encourage Jewish women to embrace religion freely, in their own way. We stand proudly and strongly in the forefront of the movement for religious pluralism in Israel, with the hope to inspire and empower women from all over the world and across the spectrum of Jewish movements to find their spiritual voices and create meaningful Jewish identities.

With this powerful mission before us, our vision is to strengthen and expand our organization, to reach out and influence policy makers and leaders and to demand full access for women to prayer at the Western Wall. In addition, Women of the Wall works to expand our network of supporters and partners around the world who will advocate and take action with us.