Sunday, October 16, 2005

My traditions

After reading my recent posts, you might think I don’t care about tradition.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I grew up in the home of divorced parents, not in the same town as my grandparents. I always wanted a more complete family life. Even as a young kid, I made a “Relatives Book” where every family member needed to fill out a page writing down all of their details.

Additionally, my father’s father died when my father was 4. And my paternal great-grandfather died when my grandfather was 7. There are major gaps in my family traditions (another post will probably describe how I found out we are actually Levi’im, not Kohanim).

My sometimes hobby/ sometimes obsession of genealogy - over 4000 names on the family tree and counting - I believe stems from an effort to connect to the generations past. And my calling up constant distant cousins and saying “You don’t know me, but we’re related” is a way to connect the past back to the present again. Tradition!

Now I have a lot of names, but no “traditions”. I can imagine that if I had my great-grandfather’s kiddush cup or melody for “Shalom Aleichem” - I would use them without exception. And if there was a food back in Skaudvile that my great-great-grandfather never ate on Pesach, I would gladly resist from eating it as well.

So am I a hypocrite? Maybe, but not because of this. First of all, tradition is important, but it doesn’t trump halacha, certainly for humra. I actually do have a memory of a kid having found my grandfather’s tefillin, but my rabbis said they weren’t kosher. I wish I knew what happened to them since, but I wouldn’t wear them despite the rabbis’ ruling. (I would however have no problem trying to find halachic justification for a potentially problematic tradition.)

But just like tradition doesn’t trump halacha, it also doesn’t trump all values. For, in the end, it is a value in itself. But other values also are important - humility, respect for others, etc. Why should my tradition take precedence over another’s tradition? Or another’s need for religious fulfillment?

Even now, I have certain family traditions that I cherish. They aren’t generations old, but in my nuclear family we have songs that we sing, foods that we eat, etc. But when I go to someone else’s home, I wouldn’t dare insist that they enable me to practice those customs. It’s not my house! It would be chutzpa to even bring it up.

The same applies on a community level. Everyone has the right to their own traditions, but has no right to trample the halacha, traditions or values of others.