2710 Genesee St.
Utica, New York 13502
Phone: (315) 724-4751 ✡ email: tbeutica@gmail.com

A Conservative Jewish Congregation Established for
the Worship of God, the Study of Torah, and the Practice of Righteous Deeds

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A Message from Cantor Socolof

CantorA few weeks ago, during the drash at a Friday night service, someone asked how much milk would make chicken soup trayf. I said that the Talmud sets 1/60 by volume as the limit. As soon as I said it, one of the congregants grimaced. I asked him why he made the face. He replied that he found such details bordered on the trivial.

In pretty much any organized system that involves people, a time comes when fine distinctions must be made. Especially to those who are not familiar with the system, where the lines are drawn can seem all but arbitrary; presenting, to the casual eye, as a series of thoughtless restrictions or requirements. To those familiar with the system, who have taken the time to study and fully understand it, the ostensible arbitrariness is replaced by a tapestry of subtlety and nuance, often reflecting changes to the system introduced to perfect it or to make it more accommodating to changing circumstances.


Perhaps it is analogous to how one might feel about molecular gastronomy: creation of food that requires a thorough and painstaking knowledge of the materials and of the sense of taste. Many might consider it a lot of bother. It is a lot of time and trouble spent on a typically small serving of food. For its adherents, it is the application of scientific knowledge to the preparation of foods, resulting in a system of cooking that often has surprising tastes and techniques.


The mitzvot are such a system (you likely figured I was headed in this direction). To a person not familiar with them they can seem onerous; a long litany of things we may not do or must do that easily devolve into a maelstrom of nit-picking trivialities. To those who see the mitzvot as God’s commands, there is the understandable desire to fulfill those commands as completely and correctly as possible. They pursue the otherwise picayune details so that every aspect of their observance, no matter how minute, is done in accordance with His desire.


This divide is well presented in the Haggadah we will be using at our seders this month. When we read of the four different types of children, we are being given a guide to pedagogy. The first child asks specific, detailed questions. Clearly, s/he is fully engaged and “with the program.” We are told to provide this child with the specific detail asked for. The other children are disengaged for reasons varying from active hostility to not knowing what to ask. I believe the proper way to address all of them is summed up in the prescribed approach to the child who can’t even ask: At p’tach lo, you shall open for him.


If we have fellow Jews who are not fully engaged, then we are obligated to open the door for them. That said, we are not required to drag them, kicking and screaming, through the door. But when we follow the mitzvot with love and excitement, viewing them as an opportunity rather than as an obligation, we make our side of the threshold inviting and welcoming. As we prepare for Passover, let us try to be attentive to the details, and let us spend all eight days, not just the seders, in a spirit of joy and gladness, eager to fully observe the mitzvot

Cantor Socoloff

Contact him at uticacantor@verizon.net