Shavuot 24 May 2012 / 3 Sivan 5772
Celebrating Shavuot with the newly published Plaut Torah Commentary in Russian
According to tradition, the Torah was given to the Jewish People on the festival of Shavuot. This is the best occasion to celebrate and share the new Russian language Plaut Torah Commentary with Russian readers in your community.
The most widely used Torah commentary edition in Progressive Judaism is the Torah commentary edited by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut. Originally published in 1981 (and more recently revised in 2005), the text is an excellent integration of traditional Jewish commentaries and perspectives on the Torah and modern, critical scholarship. The Plaut Modern Torah commentary is also a substantial resource for explaining and clarifying the Progressive Jewish approach to Torah study and an overall appreciation of the principles of Progressive Judaism.
Now, for the first time in history, this major Jewish resource is available to the Russian reader. A dedicated and enormously talented cadre of Russian speaking Progressive rabbis, Jewish scholars and translators, working at the World Union for Progressive Judaism's headquarters in Jerusalem, as well as within the Progressive movement in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), have completed this 5-year project with remarkable success. Not only were all of the English language Torah commentaries and notes translated into Russian, but this edition also includes a new Russian language translation of the Torah and Haftarah texts.
Plaut Torah Commentary in Russian
The World Union is proud to have produced this substantial Jewish resource and to make it available to the millions of Russian readers throughout the world, whether in the FSU, Israel, Europe or North America.
There is no more appropriate occasion to share this new Plaut Torah Commentary with Russian readers in your community. Each and every congregational library should have one available, and Russian readers in your congregation should be encouraged to use the commentary to enrich their appreciation of Torah study during the year.
The Plaut Torah Commentary in Russian is now available for purchase through the URJ Press website.
Please do not hesitate to contact the World Union for Progressive Judaism's office in Jerusalem with any questions concerning the Plaut Torah Commentary in Russian.
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Presidential reflections on… The Evolution of Shavuot
One of the great examples of Progressive Jewish thinking, some 2000 years before there was anything called Progressive Judaism, regards the Festival of Shavuot.
In the Torah, Shavuot was strictly an agricultural holiday, a celebration of both the first summer fruits and the barley harvest. Our ingenious Rabbinic Sages reformed (and I use that word purposely) the festival into the anniversary of when our biblical ancestors received the Torah at Mount Sinai. We cannot be sure of exactly how it happened but I imagine a scenario much like this:
A group of concerned rabbis were discussing the state of Jewish life much like participants in our wonderful Beutel seminar for congregational leaders, our Bergman center for Jewish educators or Roswell seminar for social justice advocates do here at our Saltz Center today!
One Sage mused, "You know, Shavuot just doesn't attract the great crowds to celebrate in Jerusalem that it once did."
A second Rabbi answered: "That's true, but it's understandable. Times have changed!"
A third participant: "You are absolutely right! When we were primarily an agrarian society, first fruits and the barley harvest were compelling reasons to celebrate. Now, that we have become more urban, those occasions don't mean as much to many people."
First Sage: "What can we do?"
A fourth participant spoke up: "I've got it! If you look at the Torah, Shavuot comes 50 days after the first day of Pesach. That’s just about the same amount of time that it took our ancestors to travel to Mount Sinai after they left Egypt! Even though the Torah does not make the connection explicitly we can infer it and celebrate Shavuot from now on – without denying its biblical roots – as a joyous celebration of when we received Torah at Mount Sinai".
A fifth Sage asks: "Can we do that?"
The fourth responds: “Not only can we, we must!! If we want our precious Jewish heritage to endure, we must be skilled interpreters of biblical texts so that they speak meaningfully to the present and future realities of our people.”
In this way, I can easily imagine, the rabbis of the Talmudic period took a fading festival and gave it a historical underpinning and new life for future generations. In similar fashion, our early Reform leaders made Shavuot the time when ninth or tenth grade students celebrate Confirmation.
The example of what our ancient Sages did with Shavuot – and there are many others – should continue to inspire our progressive Jewish thinking today. If we want our precious heritage to remain vibrant and relevant, we must always be eager to embrace opportunities to make our traditions and celebrations speak more meaningfully to our children and grandchildren!
When we do, let us rejoice that the process of continually "reforming" Judaism is wholly consistent – and not at odds – with the process by which our Rabbinic Sages enabled Judaism to speak to the realities of their time and place.
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