I’ve grown to really love the art of spending time with non-Jewish friends on Shabbat. On Thursday, I called my friend Emerson and asked if he was going to be around Saturday; I was staying in his neighborhood and would love to stop by. I turned up around 6:30 and he and his most excellent girlfriend D. immediately switched off whatever episode of Law & Order they were watching, and we got to the hanging out. Soon it was time for food. Emerson and I had reviewed the specifics of my Jewyness on Thurz (“Okay, right. I forgot you don’t talk on the phone–okay, right, just stop by. So… remind me again. You guys can, like, eat on the Sabbath, right?”) I explained that the whole Shabbos goy thing meant that I couldn’t ask them directly to do stuff, but passive-aggressive communication was sometimes acceptible. (The classic example is that you can’t ask a gentile to turn on the heat, but you can remark VERY LOUDLY about how chilly it’s become…) They were very cute about the whole thing. “Okay, so if we just haaaaapppen to order takeout from X restauraunt, and just haaaaaaaappen to order too much food, and some of it is lying around, might you haaaaappen to eat it? And what kind, exactly, would you be most likely to just happen to eat–just out of curiosity?” They just happened to stuff me silly with sushi.
D. also used the opportunity to ask me Silly Halakhic Questions (at some point I should collect the lot of them that I’ve gotten so far). Best one was, if you can genetically engineer a pig so that it has cloven hooves, can you eat it? What if you genetically engineer the pig so that it’s an entirely separate species entirely, and no longer actually a pig?
I answered the first one by saying that the prohibition against pork is from a specific pasok (rather than falling under a rule) so that would be a no. The second, I wasn’t so sure–there are two schools of thought with halakha, really. Some say if it’s not explicitly forbidden, it’s permitted (and New Strange Animal was not explicitly mentioned in the Torah) and others say if it’s not explicitly permitted, it’s forbidden. Hence the controversey around turkey, which is a New World bird and not around during the time of Chazal. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat it, in any case.
The Shabbos goy thing raises all these funny little dilemmas, especially now that I’ve studied the laws a little more in-depth. Earlier, right after shul, I had gone to say hi to my friend KS, and she asked me if I wanted tea or fizzy water. I did a little mental index in my head of saying I’d like tea = heating water = did I request her to do that, and is it different if she asks me what I want? Not being sure (and guessing this was the right decision in any case), I just took the fizzy water.
Ultimately, I’m just glad that I have the chance to see the people I love, and that my people are so flexible and good-humored about all this stuff. ‘Cause it would be a bummer not to get to spend time with folks if I’m in the area and we’re both free, you know? And Shabbat is, in part, about good solid human connection. Lucky for me, I have lots of great humans with whom to connect.
In other news, my rabbi, Rabbi Alan Lew, is retiring in a week. I’ve known this for a while, but it seems that I’ve gotten into town just in time to catch him on his last two Shabbatot at the synagogue I’ve been attending since I was a 22 year-old thing turning up to Kabbalat Shabbat with short, bleach-blond hair, a wallet chain and an ambivalently athiest identity. He was the guy who connected the dots for me about all the mystical experiences I’d been having and Jewish practice, and Torah. He was the guy who nurtured me and guided me along this path, who encouraged me from early on to consider the rabbinate and then helped me get a whole bunch of tools that I’d need for this long, strange trip. He’s an extraordinarily gifted rabbi and teacher, and I’ve been very grateful to have him as such a strong influence. The good news is, I think he’s still going to be teaching around town and even at the meditation center he founded a while back, so there will still be opportunities for folks to take advantage of what he’s got to teach. But he won’t be at Beth Sholom anymore, and that’s a pretty big loss. Place just won’t be the same without him. Even though two other dear friends are now the chazzan and assistant rav there, it might be hard for me to go back there with that piece missing. Well, we’ll see. It was wonderful to be there this Shabbos and see lots of members of my old community, as much as anything. Time and change.
And so it flows.