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Omer - the second day

One of my favourite pieces in the Mishnah comes in the Tractate Bikkurim, the ''First Fruits'', which relates to the ringing of the agricultural offerings to the Temple. Each person who came had to recite a formula and then hand their basket of first fruits to the priest who received it in God’s name. But – this formula was in Hebrew! And at that time – the Second Temple period – the majority of Jews in Eretz Yisrael DID NOT SPEAK HEBREW! They spoke Aramaic, which is admittedly to outsiders very similar in many respects, a semitic language written with the same alphabet, but grammatically different. As a Rabbi in Germany I have now learned a little of how important the difference between Russian and Ukrainian can be. Latin is not Italian.

In ''Bikkurim'' 3:7 we read that each farmer is to recite from Deuteronomy 26:3: ''I acknowledge this day before the Eternal your God that I have entered the land that The Eternal swore to our fathers to assign us.'' But – there were some who could not do this, so the Priest would say it for them, for them to repeat it. Then in turn it became apparent that this was embarrassing, because everyone present could tell who was capable of reciting in Hebrew and who was not. The result was that some people even stopped coming. So - to avoid such embarrassments, the Priest would now say it aloud for each and every donation.

A reform of the ritual and the liturgy was undertaken to avoid embarrassing worshippers. The reality of ignorance of the Lashon Kodesh was taken into account. Theoretically the Priests could have said ''Well, then use the Targum and say the verse in Aramaic'' but since this was the ultimate holy text, maybe they held back.

Whichever, it shows that there was a degree of flexibility – it was considered more important to enable people to come and take part and to avoid anything which might get in the way of that. Maybe there is something there that some of our communities could usefully learn.

Shalom, Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild. (Berlin)


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