Brookwrite

Columns - 2006

    Sermoncision

    Ten years ago this month, this column first appeared in The Southern Shofar with a single, noble purpose: to expand my writing resume.

    It filled space at the print deadline. It railed against the darkest forces in today's society, including Barry M*nilow, Aub*rn, and the New York Y*nkees. Its regular, penultimate page presence made Hebrew speakers laugh, as they opened the paper right-to-left, at the apparent journalistic standards in America.

    More modestly, it was a small contribution to a family enterprise which I was otherwise uninvolved in due to my proximity to the wrong ocean. In many ways, it was the least I could do.

    In no way was it helpful in getting chicks.

    As the years passed and readership more than doubled, all five of you have witnessed the evolution of this column. It started out as "From the Frontier," giving the perspective of an anomalous Alabama Jew in California, and later became "The Beholder's Eye," an anomalous sidelong glance at various aspects of the Jewish world.

    Some people say it's a humor column, but I don't know why. It's only as laughable as the truth would be if the column ever presented some.

    In these ten years, you've read about long-lost Mishnah tractates, caveman rabbis, and a Holocaust photo exhibit opening at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt (not Kentucky) that I stumbled onto an invitation for while in Germany for work. (Very big invitation; you would have stumbled, too.)

    Being from Alabama in California is regarded as strange enough. Being Jewish from Alabama, in the eyes of Californians I might as well be a Jew from Mars. People check for whether I have horns AND teeth.

    Ten years of empirical observation show that I've encountered no greater bigotry in the world than the bigotry against those who are blindly believed to be bigoted. And the bigger bigotry begets little latitude.

    In ten years in the Weird Weird West, I've gotten to see the Alabama baseball team in College World Series regionals (you can tell my boss now; she's somewhere else, and so am I) and the Alabama women's basketball team in a 1 versus 2 showdown at Stanford.

    I even got to be among the very slight number of very slightly proud who braved near-freezing temperatures, pouring rain, a delayed December 8pm Pacific time kickoff, power failures, and nearly four quarters of trying to gain notice from an ESPN2 cameraman to witness Troy University in its first (and the final, in San Jose) bowl game, where Troy lost not only the game but the State from its name.

    But, as any mirror will ask you, what is reflection if not used for looking ahead? In that spirit, let's revisit the very first column and show potential book publishers how it's still relevant today.

    The groundbreaking (5.6 magnitude) first headline in August, 1996, was "Rabbis Prefer Sleeping During Sermons." Our statistically significant survey concluded that four out of five rabbis actually preferred sleeping during sermons.

    For this survey, our investigative mole (who was since lanced) approached a congregant one Saturday morning and asked if she thought she knew four rabbis who would prefer that people sleep through their sermons. She said, "probably." For completeness, a fifth rabbi was assumed to disagree, in standard rabbinic tradition.

    This survey has not been challenged for ten years, any more than it was challenged at its inception. Its findings can therefore be considered as valid today as then. And now the results have been found to be substantiated by actual Talmudic law.

    Mishnah Berachot, on the first page of chapter four, says, "One may pray Shacharit all day long. However, until noon, he is given reward for prayer in its proper time; thereafter he is given reward for Prayer, but he is not given reward for Prayer in its proper time."

    This Gemara clearly indicates that the morning service is optimally concluded by noon. Rabbis are here to assist people in their optimal observance, not obstruct them. Therefore, this ruling clearly directs rabbis to keep their sermons short so we can be rewarded for prayer in its proper time.

    Whether the Gemara intends here that Shacharit include Musaf is subject to interpretation. This columnist believes, as four out of five of you do, that Musaf should be included in this. And don't try starting the service earlier. We're watching.

    Of course, cantors should beware, too. This isn't an excuse to cut the Torah reading short, either. Instead, it should be motivation to do it well.

    Doug Brook begins this column's second decade ten years older, and none the wiser. But definitely wiseasser. For more information, a photo of him on ESPN2, past columns, and other writings, visit his website at http://brookwrite.com/.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.