Almost 2000 years ago, a clandestine society was formed in what is now Iran. Since it was created, the group, called Opus Vey, has operated as a kind of shadow Sanhedrin, debating and creating revisions to Jewish law. Today the group still exists, run by direct descendants of the founders who set up the Society.
I found out about Opus Vey when some friends sent me copies of recently uncovered documents from the group. These
documents talk about the group's goals while naming some of its very prominent members. The documents were found in the
wreckage of an abandoned supermarket in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, buried beneath aisle 4 (frozen foods).
The papers were written by three of the groups most famous members: Morris Davinsky the renowned painter, who once
covered an entire Brooklyn townhouse in only two days and with just one coat of paint; Melvin Adler the author of the
prize-winning winning novel, "Fear of Flayshik;" and Barbara Joan, the famous singer and political activist, who has created
four Christmas albums that have gone platinum.
Apparently the secret society was created right after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem. The original members
were the children of the Jewish Hellenists defeated by the Maccabees. They felt bad about the problems caused by their
parents and resolved to protect Jews everywhere. Initially they were directionless. But within a few short centuries they found
The elders of the group decided that if the Jews are supposed to be a "light unto the Nations" then they must learn to fit in.
They also felt that children must have the heavy load of observance eased or they will move away from their faith. In order to
meet their goals, senior members of Opus Vey got together every year to suggest the nuance changes in Torah commandments
that will allow Jews to fit in. After the basic ideas were agreed upon by senior members, the individual branches were
empowered to determine how they are to be implemented.
Let me give you an example of how the group works. In the early 1950's the Society met and decided that Jews needed to
assimilate even more. One of the first things they discussed was that the observance of Kashrus (kosher dietary laws) must be
watered down. They ruled that Jews shouldn't eat differently that their host countries. Not only does it make them stand out
as being too different, but it deprives the children of the cheap little toys they can get at McDonalds and besides it really cuts
down on the number of early bird specials that the seniors can go to during their winters in Boca Raton, Florida.
The elders decided on a gradual approach. The first step was to have its members teach people that that all the rules of being
kosher were man made, they had nothing to do with G-d wanting Jews to eat certain foods, and they were created for health
reasons. Since being Kosher was now a tradition not a heavenly commandment it became easier to wean Jews away from the
practice. The local Opus members (called Veyismeres) created new Jewish traditions such as three sets of plates (Dairy, Meat
and Chinese), having a barbeque for non-kosher meat and of course, keeping kosher only in one's house. Soon those who
stayed within the rules of kashrus were thought of as some kind of religious freaks.
It was also the Opus Vey group that created the tradition of auto-walking to shul. You remember that one… it's when you
drive your car on the holidays, but park it three blocks away from Shul. Then you walk to synagogue from there. That way
everyone thinks that you've walked the entire distance. Through further investigation I have heard rumors that Opus Vey might
be working at changing that rule because over the last few years this tradition has become so popular it seems that the Gentiles
are complaining about the lack of parking spots in front of their homes.
According to these once hidden papers, Opus Vey deemed to make worship really impactful by concentrating it. The elders
felt that going to a synagogue every week creates over-exposure. Again the brilliance of the Society's step-by-step approach
was incredible. They started by changing the purpose of a Bar Mitzvah. It was originally spiritual occasion, marking the
beginning of adult Torah responsibilities; a religious coming of age that was an early step in a long process of learning.
Sometimes the ceremony would be followed by a celebration. Opus Vey kept all the pieces of the program and just changed
the emphasis. Bar Mitzvahs were now considered an ending, a graduation from religious leaning with emphasis being on the
big party that followed.
Once those changes were made, it was very easy for the Opus Vey field team to teach fellow Jews that once their Bar Mitzvah
training was over, attendance at Synagogue was only necessary three days a year, on the High Holidays. A side benefit, of
course, was that instead of being stuck together doing family activities on the Sabbath, parents were free to drop off their
children at soccer, dance and Little League.
In the same meeting the elders of the society decided to turn Chanukah, a minor holiday created by the Rabbis, into a major
holiday. This new Chanukah was even more important than the three major festivals in the Torah which were commanded by
G-d. This change was important because it allowed Jewish families take advantage of the pre-Christmas department store
sales and it enabled Jewish children to be able to celebrate a holiday at the same time as their Gentile neighbors.
Recently there has been some turmoil in the Society, one of its senior members, named Sammy Benark, has been thrown out
and other members have also quit as a result of all the fuss. A major part of the papers is a transcript of those proceedings.
Benark had grown disillusioned by the rulings of the society. His behavior became very unusual for Opus Vey. He desired a
more traditional observance of Judaism. First it was the little things: he started to go to Synagogue every Friday night and
Saturday, then he started to eat only kosher meat. He began to publicly attribute things to his maker-- it seemed that almost
everything he said ended with "thank G-d" or " G-d willing." It was too corny for words. Finally, when he began to have
Shabbes dinners in his home on Friday nights he was brought up on the charges of conduct detrimental to the Opus Vey
Society, public displays of faith and endangering the future Jewish people by making them look different.
The elders of the judicial committee tried to cut Sammy some slack; before all this he was a member in good standing. They
begged him, "Sammy" they said, "You weren't like this when you signed on. We will help you. First, you must show us that
you want to come back into our good graces." They encouraged him take a small step, give up one Saturday, miss services
and go to the beach. Sammy was steadfast, "This is a matter of faith!" He said that he would go to the beach on a Saturday
as soon as G-d moved the Sabbath to a different day.
Sammy then tried to turn the tables on the committee. He asked them if they considered themselves Jewish, they all nodded
their heads yes. He asked if they believed in G-d, they all nodded again. Sammy admonished the committee, "If you are
Jewish" he said, "and you believe in G-d, who are you to decide which of his commandments to observe?"
According to the Davinsku papers, that's when thing really got heated, "Don't you get it?" the Chairman said, "It's for the
children. If we saddle them with all this ritual and observance, they will never fit in. They will get resentful and we will lose
them to the faith. The chairman called Sammy a hypocrite because he wasn't fully observant.
"I may not be fully observant now," Sammy said, "but every day I do a little more, each day I try to get closer to G-d, that's
the important part." He went on, "You folks have it all wrong, we are supposed to be a little different ---through our
observance of the Torah we are like a lightning rod to draw people to G-d." Then came the kicker. "Before you make
decisions about the whether kids feel saddled by Jewish observances, go watch them dance on Simcah Torah, or look at the
warmth of a family sitting at a table for a Shabbes dinner, giggling as they are singing songs together." You light candles every
Chanukah, but you act like our ancestors, the Hellenists. Fitting in to this world and this culture has become more important
than being close to G-d and the beauty of your own traditions."
That did it. The committee was so angry they broke their own protocol. Instead of retiring to make a ruling, they threw out
poor Sammy right then and there. He was last seen in a department store, buying Christmas lights on the after holiday
close-outs so he could use them to light his Sukkah come October.
As far as the society goes, my understanding is that they have turned their efforts to peace making. Opus Vey was a major
player in the creation of the Oslo Accords, and most recently, they have been working to though their people in the U.S. State
Department, trying to convince the Israeli Government that by turning the Temple Mount and the Tomb of Rachel over to
Palestinians they will finally achieve peace. They need to be more careful though, the lack of consistency in State Department
Mid-East policy is starting to make people a little suspicious.