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The Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future

Tradition

A new rabbi comes to a well-established congregation.

Every week on the Sabbath, a fight erupts during the service. When it comes time to recite the Sh'ma Yisra'el, ""Hear, O Israel, the Lord Is Our God, the Lord Is One," half of the congregation stands and the other half sits. The half who stand say, "Of course we stand for the Sh'ma Yisra'el: It's the credo of Judaism. Throughout history, thousands of Jews have died with the words of the Sh'ma on their lips." The half who remain seated say, "No. According to the Shulkhan Arukh (the code of Jewish law), if you are seated when you come to the Sh'ma you remain seated." The people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, "Stand up!" while the people who are sitting yell at the people who are standing, "Sit down!" It's destroying the whole decorum of the service, and driving the rabbi crazy.

Finally, it's brought to the rabbi's attention that at a nearby home for the aged is a ninety-eight-year-old man who was a founding member of the congregation. So, in accordance with Talmudic tradition, the rabbi appoints a delegation of three, on who stands for the Sh'ma, one who sits, and the rabbi himself, to go interview the man. They enter his room, and the man who stands for the Sh'ma rushes over to the old man and says: "Wasn't it the tradition in our congregation to stand for the Sh'ma?"

"No," the old man answers in a weak voice. "That wasn't the tradition."

"The other man jumps excitedly. "Wasn't it the tradition in our congregation to sit for the Sh'ma?"

"No," the old man says. "That wasn't the tradition."

At this point, the rabbi cannot control himself. He cuts in angrily. "I don't care what the tradition was! Just tell them one or the other. Do you know what goes on in services every week — the people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, the people who are sitting yell at the people who are standing —"

"That was the tradition," the old man says.