Rosh Hashanah and My Shulchan Aruch

This past spring, I joined Secular Synagogue. For Rosh Hashanah, our rabbi, Denise Handlarski, has challenged us to set ourselves one big goal for the year. In our polarized political climate, I find myself to be very often angry and stressed about political issues that I have no control over. While I believe that anger is a valid emotion, and a rational response to the fascist actions of the Republican Party, I don’t think it’s healthy to stay angry all the time. In our hyper-connected, online world it is extremely difficult to maintain any kind of inner peace when I’m constantly bombarded with news about how awful everything is. So, my big goal for the year is to cultivate inner peace and calm.

I also recently finished reading Casper Ter Kuile’s book The Power of Ritual, in which he provides an outline of what “secular spirituality” can look like in practice. Towards the end, he cites the idea of a monastic rule as inspiration for establishing a personal code of conduct. In other words, explicitly write out how you would like to structure your life, then put that code into practice. I’ve decided to take this idea, along with others that he mentions in the book, and to put it in service of achieving my goal of maintaining some semblance of inner peace. The standard, authoritative law code of Judaism is the Shulchan Aruch (lit. “the prepared table”), which offers definitive rulings on what one must do in order to follow halakha (Jewish law). While this is not a law code, nor is it particularly concerned with halakha, I prefer to call my personal code a personal shulchan aruch rather than an individualized monastic rule.

My Shulchan Aruch:

  1. Shabbat
    • Shabbat must be spent in rest, meditation, and/or study.
    • The cell phone must be turned off for Shabbat. All access to social media, email, or news is forbidden from the time the Shabbat candles are lit until after sunset on Saturday.
    • The prohibition on phones, etc. will also apply to Jewish holidays which traditionally prohibit work.
    • No onerous chores, such as mowing the lawn.
  2. Tzedakah
    • A donation must be made to a charity every month on the day before Rosh Chodesh. The standard amount of the donation will be at least 10% of the amount spent on groceries for the preceding month. The amount can be higher than 10% if desired.
  3. Meditation
    • Every morning, time will be set aside for meditation.
    • Meditation can take any form desired: humanistic reflection materials (such as the New Jewish Humanist Siddur or Here Is Our Light), mantra meditation, or silent meditation.
    • Shabbat morning and holiday meditation may not be skipped. Shabbat morning meditation will utilize Shabbat service materials of some kind.
  4. Study
    • Beginning on Simchat Torah, the Torah portion for each week will be read along with a commentary. The parsha may be read at any point during the week, but if it has not been read by Shabbat, it must be read on Shabbat.
    • After the first year, the Torah cycle may begin again with the same or different commentary, or another text can be chosen for regular study. If another text is chosen, it must be about Judaism or a Jewish topic. As with the Torah, the text must be studied every week.
  5. Holidays
    • The following holidays will be observed:
      • Rosh Hashanah
      • Yom Kippur
      • Sukkot / Simchat Torah (either/or)
      • Hanukkah
      • Purim
      • Pesach
      • Shavuot
    • Holidays that traditionally require refraining from work will have the same restrictions as Shabbat listed above. Otherwise, the means of observing the holiday is up to the celebrant’s discretion.
  6. Food
    • Sweets and unhealthy (junk) food will be limited.
    • At least five meals (excluding breakfast) during the week must be vegetarian or vegan.
    • No more than one meal per week may contain beef (leftovers excluded).
    • Alcohol is limited to either Friday or Saturday night and holidays.
  7. Speech
    • Make it a point to say kind things to people.
    • Reduce or eliminate sarcasm.
    • Speak less and think before speaking. Ask if what is about to be said is necessary, true, or kind.
    • Refrain from lashing out in anger, especially on social media.
  8. Repetition
    • This code must be read every week on Shabbat as a reminder of what I have committed myself to doing.

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