By Hannah Reich Berman
What a pity it is that I missed the boat. I missed a lot of boats. Right now I’m dealing with thoughts that come in the form of questions that begin with What if: “What if I had been a male?” “What if I had been around a few thousand years ago?” And the biggest what if of all: “What if I had been appointed to the Sanhedrin?” I’m not sure that the elders would have considered me for appointment, but I guess we’ll never know.
The Sanhedrin was responsible for answering all questions relating to religious law. Among other things, they supervised various rituals and traditions, including the burning of the Red Heifer. They also set harvest tithes and rendered judgment in cases of adultery. And they were in charge of the Jewish calendar. And that—the calendar—is where I come in. Or at least it is where I would have liked to come in!
Since economics isn’t my thing, I would not have been an asset when it came to figuring out tithes. And, as I am somewhat squeamish, I would have had a hard time with the burning of the Red Heifer. But my shortcomings do not mean that I couldn’t have been of some value. I would have been just great with the calendar! I don’t know exactly how I would have managed it, but I surely would have tried my best. And I would like to freeze the calendar as it is at this time of year.
I would have seen to it that, every week of the year, Shabbos would start and end at the same time. Not being totally intractable, I might have allowed for a few minutes more or less, but no more than that. I offer as an example the fact that right now things are just perfect. Shabbos is not too long and not too short. It begins about 6 p.m. on Friday and ends somewhere in the vicinity of 7 p.m. on Saturday. What could be better?
I don’t like how it works in the spring and summer months, when Shabbos doesn’t end until well after 9 p.m. That hour feels much too late for me. I’m not sure what I would do with the time if it ended earlier, but that is irrelevant. It is how I feel. Then again, I am also not overjoyed in the late fall and winter, when it begins as early as about 4 p.m. That’s much too early for me.
All of this is not due entirely to the religious considerations that are associated with the Jewish calendar. Much of the inequity here is due to the fact that we switch between Standard Time and Daylight-Saving Time. Oddly—at least I find it odd—it is the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that is in charge of time changes. As a result, my wish list is not one-dimensional. Not only do I wish I could have been part of the Sanhedrin so that I could have had some say about Shabbos hours, but I also wish I had become a politician and involved myself with the government.
I could have been a member of the president’s cabinet. Had I realized how much power is wielded by the various departments, I might have entered the political arena. I also might have paid more attention in my civics class when I was in school. But who knew back then that so many government decisions would eventually affect my everyday life? That might have been because it also didn’t occur to me that, as the years passed, new cabinets would be appointed all the time. In short, and in my not-so-humble opinion, both the DOT and the Sanhedrin could have used my help.
Not only does the very early Shabbos and the very late Shabbos make me kvetch, but I also take issue with the “three-day chag.” Ahh, if only I had some influence somewhere—anywhere! It’s a simple thing. I would propose that no Jewish holiday should ever begin on a Wednesday evening. Now why would that be so difficult? And, taking it a step further, it might be nice if we could all live as Israelis do and dispense with the two-day yom tov altogether.
Obviously I am not much of a rabbinical scholar. I don’t have the education or the knowledge. But it does not escape my notice that these things on my wish list contradict halachah. (Especially since I’ve now been told that the starting and ending times of Shabbos were never declared at the discretion of the Sanhedrin in the first place.) This is a clear indication that, even if I had been a male living back then, I would never have been appointed to the Sanhedrin. To be candid, I have to admit that it would have probably been a good thing because, in my heart of hearts, I know I would have argued with everyone else!
Moving forward, today, if it were possible, I would challenge the DOT about our seasonal time changes. But, there too, there would be a problem, as I’m not sure exactly how I would have argued. Do I really want to dispense with Daylight-Saving Time altogether? Or would I opt to keep it year-round and forget about Standard Time altogether? I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that the time changes annoy me. I don’t love resetting three wristwatches, the kitchen clock, my bedroom alarm clock, the clock on the microwave and the one on the oven, and the clock in my car. The biannual time changes also mix me up when I want to call Israel. It means that twice a year I forget the time difference between them and us. My confusion is compounded by the fact that in Israel, they too change their clocks. But heaven forbid they should change it on the same Saturday night that we do! Of course they don’t! That would make my life too simple.
In any case, all of my what-ifs are nothing more than a collective moot point, as it is apparent that I would not be any more of a success as a cabinet member than I would have been as a religious-law-maker. It is a blessing that I was never asked to be a participant in either group.
That’s the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.