Good evening everyone! It has been a great, but exhausting first day in Rome. I departed the US as Shabbat came to a close. I said the blessing, “hamavdil bein kodesh l’chol,” the blessing that ends Shabbat and praises G-d for creating a distinction between the holy and the profane – the sacred and the everyday. It was a strange blessing to say as I embarked
on a journey that was anything but profane or everyday. It is a sacred and unique mission, the first of its kind.
It was interesting on another level, though. I was going to the Vatican, a city that is for millions, the most sacred place, but for me holds secular rather than holy value. I would be performing sacred music in a sacred place, but the music and place were unconnected with one another and the setting would not be worship. I would be meeting one of the holiest men alive, but a man who is, to me, just a man, albeit one with a great deal of power and influence. I would be working on a sacred mission of peace that would be watched through secular political and media lenses.
Just when I thought these two realms couldn’t get any more mixed up, I began to think about the attire that we were being asked to don for various occasions. In our first meeting today, we were asked (women and men alike to don tallit and yarmulke for: our meeting with the chief Rabbi of Rome and tour of the Rome synagogue, our meeting with the pope, and our concert. Of these three, none falls at a time when one would traditionally wear a tallit and none is a prayer service. Talk about mixing sacred and secular! A tallit is not like Catholic vestments. It is not a part of our everyday street clergy attire. Yet, if you are in a culture where religious leaders are identified by their clothing, doesn’t it make sense that we should have some way to identify ourselves as religious leaders? When in a Rome….
I am conflicted over these questions, and have begun raising them with my colleagues. It will be interesting to see how the discussion plays itself out over the next couple of days. I will respect the decisions of the organizers of this sacred event. But I am fascinated to hear what you think:
For the pope: tallit and yarmulke, just yarmulke, or up to the individual?
For the chief rabbi: same question as above, but what about the question of women. If the women cantors arrive in yarmulkes, will that distract from our mission by alienating the Rabbi. We have been asked to wear long skirts in order to respect his sacred space. Isn’t wearing a yarmulke going to somewhat cancel out the gesture of goodwill? Would wearing a tallit at the wrong time of day and in a non-prayer service risk making us look ignorant or, worse yet, that we were trying to offend?
For the concert: should we wear tallitot in order to create the visual impression of clergy for our non-Jewish audience?
P.S. I blame all bad writing on jet-lag!
P.P.S for TBT people… See anyone familiar?