The Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events

The Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events

by Nina Beth Cardin, Ilene Winn-Lederer, Ilene Winn-Lederer

In The Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events (Behrman House, 2000), Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin presents Judaism as a cloth textured with layers of old and new meanings. With descriptions of both traditional and contemporary practice, The Tapestry of Jewish Time hands us our tradition as an heirloom and shows us how to remake…  See more details below


In The Tapestry of Jewish Time: A Spiritual Guide to Holidays and Life-Cycle Events (Behrman House, 2000), Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin presents Judaism as a cloth textured with layers of old and new meanings. With descriptions of both traditional and contemporary practice, The Tapestry of Jewish Time hands us our tradition as an heirloom and shows us how to remake that tradition. In Part One, Jewish Holidays, Rabbi Cardin tells the story of the Jewish week, month, and year, showing us the struggles and celebrations we share with our ancestors, and how we have transformed those struggles and celebrations. Rabbi Cardin teaches that Jews once celebrated Passover by sacrificing a lamb, but Jews now celebrate Passover by foregoing chametz, leavening. Jews have always left a cup of wine for Elijah; today some leave a cup of water for Miriam as well. But we all celebrate Passover with a family meal and the telling of the freedom story.

In Part Two, Jewish Life-Cycle Events, Rabbi Cardin reveals the eternal cycle of Jewish life through contemporary and ancient stories. She writes about marriage in the down-to-earth language of Genesis, the poetic language of the Song of Songs, and the devout language of the Talmud. But Rabbi Cardin also describes the variety of wedding ceremonies Jews choose from today, shows us how Judaism releases men and women from unhappy unions, and remembers the widow and the widower.

Perhaps most strikingly, The Tapestry of Jewish Time teaches all of us to knit our personal stories together with those of our ancestors. The chapter Prayers and Rituals for the Home shares blessings in Hebrew, English, and transliteration, empowering us to transform our everyday life by speaking those ancient words. The beautifully decorated Personal Weavings write-in chapter invites us to weave memories and experiences from our own lives into Tapestry itself.

About the Author: Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is the Director of Jewish Life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, and the Chair of the Editorial Committee of Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility. She was the editor of Sh'ma from 1993 to 1998, and Director of the National Jewish Healing Center in New York City from 1995 to 1997. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, Rabbi Avram Reisner, and their children.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This intelligently crafted guide to Jewish living likens the fabric of Judaism to a tapestry woven of communal celebration and personal spirit. Cardin, a Conservative rabbi in Baltimore, explores the structure of Jewish time and its ability to lead us to the sacred, by weaving together history, Jewish law, legend, practice, ritual both ancient and contemporary and suggestions for celebration. What distinguishes this comprehensive handbook is Cardin's imaginative, poetic language and her inspiring willingness to share intimate experiences in her own life, from her husband's illness to her young son's declaration that he wanted to be a Christian. Cardin compares the onslaught of the daily world to being in a bakery too long ("the smell is still there, but we no longer notice") and suggests that Jewish patterns of prayer, blessings and sacred deeds "help us remain conscious of the artistry of everyday living." Part I features 14 Jewish holidays, including Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh (the New Month), while Part II elaborates on life-cycle observances, from birth and bar mitzvah to marriage and death. Cardin explains concepts and offers instructions clearly but not simplistically, enriching the text with snippets of ethical wills, memories, women's prayers, blessings and "personal weavings" (blank pages to be detailed with the reader's own observances). Meticulously researched and filled with tidbits of practical information, the book reads like a conversation with an intuitive friend. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

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Behrman House, Incorporated
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Entering the Story

It happens every now and then as I sweep the kitchen floor of fallen debris from hurried breakfasts or groceries unpacked after an early-morning supermarket run. The sun streams through my eastern window, and there they are—shimmering particles of dust, high-riding renegades floating aimlessly, leisurely, in the air about me, kicked up by the vitality of life the morning has witnessed.

    I have two thoughts about this dust, one common, the other ethereal. The common thought is this: If the dust is floating now, it will come down later. My kitchen will once again be dirty.

    A more noble, enduring, even transforming thought pushes that mundane thought aside: The dust, of course, is always there, but I do not always see it. It takes a certain light, a certain attentiveness and a certain moment of stillness to see it. How many of us would have passed right by that burning bush in the desert thousands of years ago, giving it a wide berth, simply thinking "Man, that is hot" when in fact it would have been wiser to say "God, is that you?" If seeing what is evident requires attentiveness, stillness, even faith, how much more is required to see what is hidden.

    What do we need to sense the love, caring and kindness that swirl around us? What do we need to imagine the desire of God? Can we know, see, feel holiness all around us? From what wellspring do the motivations for our everyday deeds flow—from the pools of selfishness or selflessness or from the place where those deep, pulsing watersconverge?

    This book tries to answer those questions. It is about reaching toward meaning through the everyday, about how Judaism structures time and about how time well framed can open us to the sacred. It is about pauses and preparation, birthdays and holidays, weddings and pilgrimages. It is a book about days and weeks and years, about hoping and remembering, about public times and private times. For every moment in time involves a choice: Do I stay or go, rest or act, buy or forgo, keep or give away, forgive or take revenge?

A Legacy of Stories

To speak of time is to enter the language of stories. "Once upon a time ..." "In the beginning was the big bang." "When God began to create the heaven and the earth ..." Whereas the present opens itself to action, yesterday and tomorrow lie solely in the realm of stories. Action and stories enliven each other, give birth to each other: Action is the grist for stories, and stories—whether of deeds past or dreams for the future—motivate us to act.

    Stories endure across time and space, through war and oppression. Stories are what we can best bequeath to our children. For eventually everything else can be taken from us, even our lives. But not our stories. For a people without a home for 2,000 years, on the move, chased from one country to another, whose possessions were targets of looting and destruction and loss, our stories are our legacy. They pack easily, travel well and fill the hearths of our new homes.

    To tell stories is to tame time, to frame time, to press it into the service of meaning. Because we can't see time, because we can't color it or hold it or buy it or control it, we tend to believe we are at its mercy. But we have the power to plan, to declare a holiday, to celebrate a birth. Time is as much at our disposal as we are at its.

    Our stories give calendars and life cycles a context, and context gives them meaning. Through stories, an autumn day turns into the birthday of the world, a family trip to Israel becomes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a wedding becomes a metaphor for God's love for us. Stories build a structure from the deeds of our lives. They hold the key that unlocks the portal to the heavens, allowing the sacred to pour out and fill our earthly space. When the sliver of the New Moon reflects the story of our monthly renewal, when a 50th wedding anniversary is celebrated under a quilted canopy made from the fabrics of a half century of love, these moments become sacred. And these moments are then woven into the ever-unfolding story of the Jewish people.

    Stories allow an event to live again and again, transcending the hegemony of time. A story might have been told to me by my teacher or my grandmother, but it becomes mine the moment I begin to tell it. Perhaps that is why Jewish tradition tells us that every Jew ever to live—past, present, future—was standing at Sinai, witnessing God, receiving the Torah. When we tell the story of our people at Sinai, we enter the story, and the story enters us. Stories are the medium that sets our memories and holds them fast. They are more than what we own; they are a bit of who we are.

    This book contains two sections. The first is about the Jewish people, all of us, all together, as told through the stories of the calendar. The second is about Jews, one by one, as told through the celebrations and the rituals of our lives. In reality, the two sections are intertwined. We celebrate our birthdays or mourn our losses in the week before Hanukkah or on the 13th day after Passover as happenstance demands. These occasions form the spiritual helixes of our lives, and we are the products of those interwoven strands of time.

The Uses of Metaphor

Throughout this book, two characters appear: the people Israel and God. Israel comprises everyone who came forth from Abraham and Sarah, the motley group gathered around Moses to flee slavery and meet God in the wilderness, and every individual who has joined the march of the Jewish people throughout the ages.

    It is harder to define God. For some, God is the Grand Storyteller; the Author of the Torah; the Giver of the Commandments; the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel; the Worker of Miracles; the Creator; the Rock. For others, God is the One who cares about the people Israel and all the world we live in, who inspires us and seeks us and pursues ways to meet us but who leaves the storytelling and the lawmaking to us. And for still others, God is not deity but power, the enduring, exalted legacy and wisdom that was born of, lays claim to, and enriches the Jewish people among all people of faith and goodness around the world.

    All those beliefs speak of holiness. All locate that source of holiness somewhere in the interaction between the self and the Jewish people as lived under the canopy of "God." All use the medium of the story—along with the rituals and the deeds that flow from and give rise to stories—to bring meaning into their lives.

    And all—to greater or lesser degrees—use metaphor to speak of God. From King Solomon to Maimonides to the mystic kabbalists, Jews have proclaimed that God is beyond speech, beyond our comprehension, beyond worldliness. Yet King Solomon built a temple for the presence of God, Maimonides wrote volumes about God and God's will, and the kabbalists developed spheres of divinity cast in human form.

    That is because humans cannot help but speak about God, our loss of God, our search for God, our disappointment in God, our love and need and desire of God. When our hearts are bursting with joy or relief, when they ache from loss or hurt or anger, we want to speak to God and speak of God. And we do it in the most human of terms, untrue though they be, bound as we are by the limits of our language. Does God truly have arms that can hold us? A mouth that can kiss us? Does God cry with us in our pain, laugh with us, become angry? So when we speak of God, we have a choice: lies or silence, metaphor or distance. Most of us seek closeness to God and therefore seek metaphor. Throughout this book, I will use metaphor to speak of God—God as creator, God as father, God as mother, lover, judge, warrior, friend, counselor, goad, teacher—just as Jewish tradition does. To speak this way of God, as if God were a person, allows us to draw closer to God. It allows us to believe that we can reach toward holiness.

Said Rabbi Hamma, the son of Rabbi Hanina: What does it mean, "Follow Adonai your God"? (Deuteronomy 11:22). Is it possible for a human to literally follow God? Rather, this means that you should follow in the ways of God. Just as God clothes the naked, so should you clothe the naked; just as God visits the sick, so should you visit the sick; just as God comforts the mourner, so should you comfort the mourner. (Sotah 14a)

    But that manner of speech also holds a danger in that we will forget we are using a metaphor. We may believe in and cherish our language as much as we believe in and cherish the God that our language is reaching toward. We may forget the limits of metaphor and draw conclusions that are misplaced. Jewish tradition offers a safeguard by creating competing, even conflicting metaphors and bids us to hold on to all the images at once. God is both merciful and just, warrior and lover, forgiving and exacting, male and female.

    As you read this book, remember the strengths and the limits of metaphor.

Truth and Meaning

A word, too, about truth. There is no such thing as cyberspace or La-La Land. Romeo and Juliet never lived; neither did Paul Bunyan nor his ox named Babe. There is no tooth fairy, nor are there little people. And George Washington did not chop down the cherry tree. Yet each one of these myths is a bearer of truth. Many of us meet others more frequently in cyberspace than at the supermarket.

    To capture their truths, cultures create and gather up bundles of symbols and store them in their treasure trove of myths. Myths are not untrue: They are the garments of truth, what truth wears in earthly existence. Americans possess myths of their coming to the free world, of the bravery and the suffering they endured, of their friendship with the Indians, of their triumph in having made it through the first winter. Nations possess myths of their noble beginnings (often expressed in national anthems) and the values that they hope become ingrained in the souls of their citizens. Every society, every culture, has its myths.

    For me, the question to ask about the stories in the Bible and in our tradition is not Did they happen? but What do they mean to us? Why did our ancestors savor them, preserve them and teach them diligently to their children? What lessons did our fathers and our mothers find in those stories? What truths do these stories possess for us? What questions do they answer? When we speak to our children, will we tell them these stories? Other stories? After all, the stories we give them will be the legacy of our lives.

    All Jews answer these questions in their own way. I love the stories of my tradition. I don't agree with them all; I am not proud of them all. But I keep them anyway. Some I keep to feel close to my past. They are my only heirlooms from family long gone. They bear the souls of my past within them; they are my substitute for an ancestral trunk, a trunk that exile and oppression denied me. But most of all, I keep those stories because they keep me. They are my counsel, my identity, the wisdom that guides me as I make my choices every day.

Authenticity and Change

Here is a story about change: From the earliest weeks of my marriage, I listened to my husband sing Friday-night Kiddush, the blessing over wine. He sang the melody, he said, that he learned from his father, who in turn learned it from his father before him. For years, I listened to that tune, believing I was hearing a faithful rendition of a generations-old song. And then my in-laws came to visit for Shabbat. We invited my father-in-law to make Kiddush. I began to hum along, confident in the rhythm, the pace and the melody of the prayer. Not eight words in, I faltered. His was not my husband's melody. It had a different pace, different notes and a slightly different rhythm.

    I cast a glance at my husband. He seemed not to notice. He was hearing the melody of his youth, the melody he thinks he sings. It was a lesson in cultural transmission. Why would I ever imagine that a song would behave as the printed word behaves, unchanged by time or by those who give voice to it? And why, by extension, would we ever expect a dynamic tradition like Judaism to clone itself—unyielding to change and mutation—generation after generation?

    In the very process of preserving our past we often unwittingly change it. One day, the Talmud tells us (Menahot 29b), God allowed Moses to return to earth to visit the academy of the early rabbis. Moses slipped in and sat in the back. After listening to a lesson by the famed Rabbi Akiva, he became distressed, for he could not follow what the rabbi was saying. A student rose and asked Akiva, "Master, from where did you learn this?" And Rabbi Akiva replied, "It is a law given to Moses at Sinai."

    The most authentic Judaism is a Judaism of change. The only vibrant Judaism is a Judaism of change. This book of Judaism could not have been written 12 months ago. And it is not the same book I would write a year from now. By then, new stories, new traditions, new insights, will have melded themselves into our common text. Knowingly and unknowingly we create new traditions wrapped in the language of the old. Out of the deeds of our daily lives, new ways are born, new ways that lead us back to our roots.

    "Let the old become new and the new become holy." So said Rav Abraham Kook, a mystic and the first chief rabbi of modern Israel. So it is when each of us weaves the sacred into our lives. May this book help make that happen.

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