I've been doing this off and on for years, first as a way to explore my own Judaism and play with Jewish ritual and later to make gifts for family and friends. More recently, I've been commissioned to make pieces for rabbis, educators and others by request. A few years ago, I was delighted and honored when Yeshiva University asked me to contribute a few pieces of my Judaica for display in their museum.
Lately, I've had a hankering to make some more stuff, and unusable bike parts have slowly been coming my way. So I've whipped up a few candlesticks, mezuzot and yaddayim (Torah pointers) and decided to offer them for sale. Response at my Facebook post was positive, until someone asked me whether my yaddayim were made of precious metals or not. She pointed out that items made of materials used in war are not allowed to touch the Torah, so a yad made from a stainless steel or zinc spoke would be considered non-Kosher for ritual use.
I was surprised, slightly bummed and amused all at once.
I was surprised because no one had ever pointed this out to me before, including the dozens of rabbis, educators and cantors who have commissioned yaddatim from me and the B'nai Mitzvah students who have actually used my yaddayim in services.
I was briefly bummed because, if it's true, this piece of information so widely shared just shot down any hopes I had of selling a yad. Or my lack of knowledge about this did that before I even got started. (Note: I am not upset with the commenter at all, actually; and greatly appreciate her sharing this piece of information that I had no idea existed.)
Finally, I was amused at my own stupid worry because -- well, does it really shoot down sales?
No, probably not.
Liberal Jews have constantly been pushing -- or outright ignoring -- the envelope that defines something as "kosher" for ritual use. If a ritual item made of materials once used for war is being used for peaceful, sacred purposes, doesn't that render the material fit for use? In my humble opinion, it should, at least in most cases. What about the concepts of environmetal stewardship? or beautifying the commandments? Don't these count? And in a world where resources are shrinking, would they trump the old-school concept of Kashrut? Rav Kook said, "the old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy." Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I'd like to think that if Rav Kook saw my Judaica, well, he might be pleased.
Look, this is Liberal Judaism. The ultra-orthodox very likely have little or no interest in what I'm making, any more than they would be comfortable with my singing out loud in a synagogue or wearing a tallit (made from recycled bike musette bags or from anything else). I don't think much about the strict template of ultra-orthodox Jewish life when I make anything Jewish. And I have stopped taking their lack of regard for me so personally. We both Jewish but we're working with different templates and the likelihood of my ever even praying in the same shul with these guys is highly unlikely. So as far as I'm concerned, no harm, no foul. From where I stand, there is plenty of room for expanding the intention of a thing or an act to make it holy.
So I will keep on making my Judaica and transforming unusable bike parts into something different and new and maybe even a little holy. And if you want to know more about what I make, just get in touch with me over at the "Contact" page of my site.
It is 36F outside here in Portland today, cold and, for now, brilliantly sunny. I'm heading out to the shed, turning on the space heater, and getting down to some sacred work. Or sacred play. Or maybe a bit of both.
Shavua Tov -- a good week!
In a closer reading of all comments related to his topic (here and over at JEDLAB), I have come to understand that the prohibition against materials used for war is not about halacha (Jewish law), but about tradition. Upon closer reading of that word "tradition" in articles online and elsewhere, I have discovered that some people consider "tradition" to be the same as "custom" -- not actually "the law" but not something folks may want to mess with, either. Meanwhile, some people consider "the tradition" -- yes, I stuck an article in front of the word -- as some kind of law. This has been very confusing and mindblowing, and proof once again that it is absolutely right that I never became a rabbi OR a lawyer. I am grateful to Ellen, Dan, Rob and others who have messages and emailed me to share additional info and perspectives about all this and in so doing have educated me further. Thank you tons!