A couple of weeks ago there was an article from the Religion News Service which was reprinted in the Washington Post called “A Conservative Reform Rabbi Dies.” (I tried to find the article on the WaPo website and could not so I’m linking to the original from RNS.)
The subject of the article, Rabbi Clifford Librach, was my classmate and best friend in rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. We were both Georgetown alumni but Cliff was nine years older than I because after college he went to NYU Law School and practiced law for several years before deciding to become a rabbi. Cliff was from St. Louis and I was with him, watching the Cardinals in the World Series on TV, when he was notified that his wife had gone into labor with their first child. (In the era before cell phones, it took a number of phone calls before he was tracked down.)
Cliff was a rarity as a Reform rabbi who was known as politically conservative, although he was actually a moderate. He worked with and was close to former Republican Sen. John Danforth (who is also an Episcopal priest) when Danforth was the Attorney General of Missouri but I also recall hearing him describe himself as a “Jackson Democrat” (referring to the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state).
While we were still in rabbinical school, Cliff and I co authored an article called “The Second Day of Rosh Hashanah: History, Law, and Practice” which appeared in the Journal of Reform Judaism, a refereed academic publication. The article had its origin as a paper we wrote together for our Codes class (“Codes” in rabbinical school refers to compendia of Jewish Law such as the Shulchan Aruch, Maimonides’ Yad Chazakah, and the Mishna Berura.) At the time and perhaps today, most Reform temples observed Rosh Hashanah for only one day and as students on the more traditional end of the Reform spectrum, we sought to write a paper demonstrating that it was actually necessary to observe two days and hoped to convince many Reform temples to do so.
Very briefly, Rosh Hashanah differs from the other holidays which are biblically one day but observed in the Diaspora for two days because while most holidays fall in the middle of the month, Rosh Hashanah is on the first day of the month. In Israel Sukkot and Passover are seven days and Shavuot is one day but Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days as at is in the Diaspora. But our research discovered that as recently as 800 years ago or so, Rosh Hashanah was observed as a one day holiday in Jerusalem. When some rabbis made aliyah to Jerusalem from Provence, they convinced the Jerusalem community that their practice was erroneous and they switched to observing two days.
So our research discovered that the question of one day vs. two days was much more ambiguous than we had assumed. As a result, our article still recommended observing two days but we were not able to make the case that it was clearly required. It was an interesting exercise in intellectual integrity where we set out to prove something and ultimately decided we could not actually do so.
Because I switched to the Conservative movement while Cliff remained Reform, we did not see each other as often as we would have liked (except for a few years when we both served congregations in Connecticut.) But when Cliff retired he, his wife, and his two adult children who all lived in Waltham, MA, joined a Conservative shul and that is where his funeral was held. I do hope that you will read the article I linked above as it is a beautiful tribute to an unusual and wonderful rabbi.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian