Saturday, July 19, 2014

Yamim Ba'im- Kabbalat Shabbat at Jerusalem's First Station

While according to Jewish tradition Eliyahu HaNavi will announce the arrival of the Moshiach, who will announce the arrival of Elyahu HaNavi? I think I saw some worthy candidates this past Friday afternoon.

In the 16th Century, Kabbalos Shabbos was introduced in Tzefat by the kabbalists. While today, Kabbolas Shabbos has become a formal part of the Friday night service, it started out quite differently. Combining eight perakim of tehillim with the kabbalistic “Lecha Dodi”, it was originally sung before Shabbos, accompanied by music. The rabbis from Tzefat modeled this on the talmudic idea of going out to the field to welcome the Shabbos queen.

In the last decade, there has been a Jewish renaissance  among secular Israelis. While this interest is expressed through Jewish learning and practice, it is decidedly not halachic. In cities around Israel, Kabbalat Shabbat has taken root among the chiloni community. Intrigued by this idea, I went to see and experience the communal Kabbalat Shabbat in Jerusalem.

As I entered the Old Central Train Station, which has been transformed into an upscale outdoor mall and open space, I saw approximately 200 people sitting on plastic chairs. The crowd included men and women, young and old, religious and secular. Men with velvet black kippot stood waiting near women wearing shorts and t-shirts. Couples dressed in a way that identified them as coming from the national-religious camp, mixed easily with their secular counterparts. The band, which was made up of four men and one woman, seemed to be a mix of religious and secular musicians.

Then, the most soulful Yedid Nefesh I have ever heard, began. It wasn’t just the musical accompaniment that moved me so deeply. It was the setting, the people, and the sun beginning its descent over Jerusalem, as well as a sense that something magical was happening here. I closed my eyes, swayed to the music, and sang along un-self-consciously. It was followed by a devar Torah by a bare-headed man, and a moving Carlebach-y “Lechu Neranena”.

I found myself thinking about what I was observing. For the halachicly fastidious, there was much to critique. Still, it seemed to me that to use such a prosaic calculus was to miss the unique experience that I was missing. People from groups that don’t commonly interact, together sang the most sublime of words. Jews who long ago had sworn off the Shabbos of their ancestors, were trying to create their own. Could it be that none of this is at least somewhat pleasing to God?

I looked around wondering if the one who would announce the arrival of Eliyahu Hanavi might just be there. Could it be the older gentleman who sat joyously singing with such emotion? Perhaps it was the young woman dressed in neo-hippy dress, who was giving each newcomer a pamphlet which contained a warm welcome, and the words to Kabbalat Shabbat. Several children looked like worthy candidates. With experiences like this, perhaps they will grow up with the ability to connect with all Jews. Even as I felt sad thinking that it might take a while for them to reach the age where they would share the joyous news of the prophet's arrival, I was filled with hope that I might yet live to see that joyous moment.


  1. "Could it be that none of this is at least somewhat pleasing to God?"

    Yes, that could be.

    1. Please, G-d doesn't really care about being "halachicly fastidious." That's just for fuddy-duddies. What's really important is having a "unique experience." And, of course, you know the kol mevaser is obviously going to be a chiloni, because reasons.

  2. Neither I nor you know the answer to that question.