Mishkan T’shuvah: I have a draft!

So it took like 20 years and a dozen committees to create Mishkan T’fillah, the current Reform siddur. Mishkan T’shuvah, the forthcoming new Reform machzor will take significantly less time for three reasons:

  1. It’s got a small core committee.
  2. They’re committed to a 2014 release date.
  3. All the major *ahem* style work was done on MT’f, which MT’sh is intended to be a companion for

Also, I am like a giddy schoolgirl. I have received a PDF of the current draft of the Rosh Hashanah morning service. I have not looked at it yet.

Why have I note read it already? Because I want to create some semblance of objectivity. So, before I read that draft service, here is some kind of rubric thing for it.

I will judge it on these four factors:

  1. Design and layout: I can’t expect them to break with the design standard that began in MT’f. However, if they insist on going with that one-prayer-per-page-with-commentary design, I hope this time they fill up all the blank space it leaves with engaging commentary. I’ll be judging them on what they manage to do within the constraints of the MT’f layout/design style.
  2. Quality of commentary: Part of the success of Mahzor Lev Shalem, as I’ve said before, is in the diversity of its commentary and the many levels of knowledge it appeals to. MT’f’s commentary, however, often plays only to the least knowledgeable members of the audience.
  3. Liturgical integrity: I’ll have to ignore day-to-day and week-to-week liturgical issues of the sort that have already been addressed in MT’f. I fully expect them to receive the same treatment in MT’sh. But I will be looking at the unique liturgical issues raised by the season.
  4. Translation.

The obvious fifth category might be the alternative readings. But I know I’m gonna hate them, so I’m just not gonna bother.

I don’t know how long it will be before I actually write about it, but if there’s anything anyone else thinks I should look out for, let me know in the comments.

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41 responses to “Mishkan T’shuvah: I have a draft!

  1. anything else? yes, simply – what piyyut is in an what is out?

    • To the extent that I can ascertain such a thing from this draft, I’ll take a look at that for you.

      Though it is my recollection of MT’sh’s predecessors, Gates of Repentance and Union Prayer Book II, that they had little interest in piyyutim.

  2. A few suggestions for other evaluation criteria, which you may already be planning to include in the “liturgical integrity” section:

    - Extent to which it is reflective of “normative” Reform theology
    - Extent to which it encourages/fosters kavannah in the unique spirit of the yamim noraim
    - Extent to which it reflects the fact that for many (most?) it will be the only Reform siddur (or only siddur at all) used during the year.

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  4. Jesse and I seem to be pretty much on the same page.
    While it may be reasonable to critique the design of the book in comparison with all other machzorim, the content needs to be evaluated in the context of this being a Reform machzor for a very diverse Reform movement. Jesse’s “normative” covers a fairly broad span.

    One of the frequently heard criticisms of Mishkan T’filah (although we hear it less now that people have become accustomed to the book) deals with its weight. I expect that the editorial committee will be mindful of this, and that mindfulness seems likely to be reflected in a minimalist approach to commentary — of which there is very little in M’Tf, and none in GOR or UPB.

    That this will be the only prayerbook used by many or most congregants is largely significant, I think, because they will be evaluating it against GOR and UPB, and the format innovations of MTf will be new to them.

    Even with the accelerated publishing schedule that you describe, I suspect there will be less pressure to hit the streets than there was with MTf, so I anticipate more consistency and fidelity in the translations. You mention translation as one of the planks of your evaluation, but do not indicate what you will be looking for in the translation.
    One guess about the translation: Avinu malkeinu will be “translated” as Avinu malkeinu.

    • that mindfulness seems likely to be reflected in a minimalist approach to commentary

      This assumes that the heft of MT’f was due partially to an overabundance of commentary. On the contrary, it is due entirely to an overabundance of blank space. So what I hope to see is one of two things: Either they will quit wasting so much paper with all the blank space and they’ll give in to putting prayers one after the other, multiple prayers on a page OR they will keep the one-prayer-per-page scheme, but this time they’ll give the users something useful in all that extra space. (And by something useful, I mean commentaries and more diverse readings and that sort of thing.)

      That this will be the only prayerbook used by many or most congregants is largely significant

      Indeed.

      I suspect there will be less pressure to hit the streets than there was with MTf, so I anticipate more consistency and fidelity in the translations

      Ha! Why do you think that? I expect no such thing. Consistency, perhaps. But fidelity? Fidelity has never been a hallmark of Reform translation and I see no indication that MT’sh will be turning point.

      • I did not mean to imply that the heft of MTf was caused by the commentary — I think that the paucity of commentary was a conscious decision, and the presence of any commentary was a differentiator (perhaps an advance) from the predecessor siddurim, GOP and UPB. You seem to be making “white space” into a point of principle; I think it relates more to a commitment to the schema of prayer, transliteration, and translation on the right hand page, interpretive readings on the left.

        Re faithful translations: I came into the Reform movement as UPB was on its way out — but its my perception that, when the editors were uncomfortable with something, they changed the Hebrew and then translated faithfully. With GOP, rather than tampering with the Hebrew (beyond the inherited tamperings), they just changed the English to make it “palatable,” I suspect thinking that almost nobody would know the difference. Without having made a thorough study, I have found most of the so-called faithful translations in MTf to be adequately faithful; and where they aren’t, I think at least in some cases, it was haste or carelessness caused by haste, rather than any attempt at distortion.

        My big translation problem in MTf emerges from the effort to be gender-neutral, especially in regard to God. In particular, I gag at the translation of Psalm 98. There has to be a better solution than substituting God or God’s for He or Him or His — but I don’t know what it is.

        • One more comment on this whole white space balagan:

          I can’t tell you how many times I was informed during the decade-long pilot process that the siddur was intentionally designed with an abundance of white space surrounding the prayers, as a way to foster kavannah by not crowding the eye and mind with text.

          Is it an abominable waste of paper? Most certainly yes.
          Does it foster kavannah for me? Nope.
          Do I think that the space, as you suggest, could be better filled with didactic materials? Oh yes.

          But at the very least, this is an example of the liturgical integrity which you highly prize. The editors established a philosophy here and built up a design around it.

          • It’s an insane and willfully wasteful philosophy. That they have a philosophy of design and that they executed it thoroughly does not impart integrity on that philosophy. The philosophy itself nearly holds the liturgy in contempt, proclaiming that the liturgy is a weighty problem and that the audience needs breathing room in order to cope with it.

            • Sure it wastes paper. If that’s the biggest problem in modern liturgy, let’s put iPads and jumbotrons in shuls and save trees that way. In reality, people mostly want a paper product in their hands.

              I hope we’re talking about the same thing when we say integrity. To me, it means a consistency in philosophy, methodology, and action. I see that in this one feature of MT. If you disagree with the philosophy behind the white space, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s lacking in integrity.

              You raise an interesting point that the abundance of white space implies that the text itself is a weighty problem. I’m willing to buy into this argument. Certainly liturgy is weighty – it’s supposed to be! But it shouldn’t be a problem. The CCAR believes the way to balance the weight of the text is with blank space. On the other end of the spectrum, ArtScroll believes the way to balance the weight of the text is with (in many cases heavier) commentary. Surely there’s something in between, which is what I think you’re looking for.

              Creeping under the surface of this discussion is the question of which audience a siddur should be designed for. Should it appease the liturgical wonks – like you – who understand what’s going on; or should it reach out to the majority of people who need more guidance? The answer of course is yes to both. The subsequent question then is how to do that. Not everyone is looking for commentary; some want that blank space to give them room to digest the keva.

              I’m working on this question over here: http://jepaikin.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/low-davening-fruit/

              • In reality, people mostly want a paper product in their hands.

                Including me.

                I hope we’re talking about the same thing when we say integrity.

                I don’t think we are. You mean that the philosophy itself is internally self-consistent. I mean that it’s not a worthwhile idea and that it lacks intellectual worthiness and that it has lead to a continuation of Reform dumbing-down of liturgy. The notion that the solution to people not know what’s going on is to give them airier pages makes no sense. I’ll say it again: They need a worthwhile commentary.

                The CCAR believes the way to balance the weight of the text is with blank space.

                Here’s what this approach doesn’t make sense. If you take five difficult mathematical equations and print them up on a page and give them to me, I am no more or less likely to grasp them than would be if you put them on five different pieces of paper and handed to them to me in a packet. However, if you space them on on the one page and add commentary about them in between, I’m more likely to get it.

                ArtScroll believes the way to balance the weight of the text is with (in many cases heavier) commentary. Surely there’s something in between, which is what I think you’re looking for.

                Indeed, it is what I’m looking for. In fact, I’ve found it. It’s in Siddur Eit Ratzon and it’s in Mahzor Lev Shalem.

                Should it appease the liturgical wonks – like you – who understand what’s going on; or should it reach out to the majority of people who need more guidance? The answer of course is yes to both.

                Reform Jews talk about this like it’s a zero-sum game, as though the knowledgeable people and the less knowledgeable people are impossible to please simultaneously. How can that be?

                On RH/YK of all times of year, there is only one audience. They all need guidance on a variety of levels. And blank space is no excuse for guidance. It’s just blank space.

                • You say that you don’t think we’re talking about the same thing when we say integrity. Far be it from me to redefine your blog’s lexicon, but I think you might want to check up on that. Integrity refers to self-consistency and standards. I agree with you on the worthiness side of things, but that’s a separate side of the debate.

                  “Reform Jews talk about this like it’s a zero-sum game, as though the knowledgeable people and the less knowledgeable people are impossible to please simultaneously. How can that be?

                  On RH/YK of all times of year, there is only one audience. They all need guidance on a variety of levels. And blank space is no excuse for guidance. It’s just blank space.”

                  Amen!

            • I actually don’t think it’s insane or wasteful because of the multitude of choices on the page. Working with MT every week and every other week with b’nei mitzvah guests who generally don’t know what’s going on liturgically simply because they don’t attend regularly, the white space is needed to keep people from getting lost. Remember the concept was to have both a multitude of choices and no need to announce page numbers.

              I think it’s a reasonable debate to see if it’s successful or unsuccessful at achieving those two simultaneous goals, but that doesn’t make it insane or wasteful.

              • And yet there is no multitude of choices! In what universe is three (the maximum on most spreads in MTf) a multitude?

                • It’s comparative to a linear service where you have only one path. When you have four choices for every page the combinations get huge (4*4*4*4 etc.). And, by the way, the number of people who get lost grows as well.

        • You seem to be making “white space” into a point of principle; I think it relates more to a commitment to the schema of prayer, transliteration, and translation on the right hand page, interpretive readings on the left.

          There’s nothing wrong with a little artistic white space, but in MT’f, it’s applied with a bludgeon rather than a brush. And it relates less to that schema than to a commitment to the bizarre obsession with one prayer per page. (Siddur Eit Ratzon has a quite rigid layout on each page, but a new prayer begins where the previous one ends, rather than new prayers beginning always on then next page, regardless of how much space is left on the current one.)

          Re: Translation, it’s not that I expect to find mis-translation aimed at white-washing troubling theology. What bothers me is over-poetic translations that try to make the translation into just another “reading.”

          • What you call a bizarre obsession was a fundamental concept — based on the idea that one prayer to a spread would allow the service to flow without constant page reminder. Yes, a totally linear approach might have achieved the same thing — but would not have created the sense of newness, of rethinking the siddur, that the chosen concept does. I’m inclined to think that the bizarre obsession is more yours than theirs.

            I haven’t noticed any troublesome overly-poetic translations, but then, I haven’t been looking for them Can you point me to some examples? (I did wax indignant over GOP’s translating l’vyat hamet as consoling the bereaved — even though I consider it a more compelling mitzvah.)

            • allow the service to flow without constant page reminder

              And yet people who have never seen MTf before can’t navigate without explanation.

              Yes, a totally linear approach might have achieved the same thing — but would not have created the sense of newness, of rethinking the siddur, that the chosen concept does

              Is a sense of newness, a sense of rethinking better than actual content-ful innovation? I’m not saying that I think you’ll answer yes to that question, but I’m afraid of that mentality.

              I’m inclined to think that the bizarre obsession is more yours than theirs.

              There’s no doubt that I have a bizarre obsession.

              I haven’t noticed any troublesome overly-poetic translations

              Nor have I, but I’m still more worried about the possibility of that.

              • “And yet people who have never seen MTf before can’t navigate without explanation.”

                This is the problem with MT for me because even with explanation they have difficulty. My fear for the new machzor is that the overwhelming number of people will be lost.

                The white space is an attempt to keep people from being lost (pages of dense type with all the commentary you love tend to get people lost). It’s not an overly successful attempt, but it is a recognition that people who are not fluent in Hebrew and confronted with a dense pages of type get lost and frustrated and don’t want to come back.

  5. Eric Hollander

    Y’all come by for Park Slope Jewish Center’s Scholar In Residence weekend with Eddie Feld, editor of Lev Shalem: http://psjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/S.I.R.-2011.pdf
    Rabbi Feld was my parent’s go to rabbi at Princeton U. Hillel 35 years ago when they weren’t so enamored of the rabbi of the only shul in town, Princeton Jewish Center.

    And no complaints about the great design work of my Ansche Chesed Minyan Rimonim buddy Barry “Nostradamus” Sher; I’m sure he just interprets what URJ/CCAR tells him to do.

    • Re “I’m sure he just interprets what URJ/CCAR tells him to do.” Because MTf was the most thoroughly test-marketed new siddur probably ever, URJ and its congregations had some input, I’m sure, into the content of the siddur, but the physical production was fully in the hands of CCAR.

      As a URJ Board member, and as someone who likes the book, I’d be glad to be able to take credit for its appearance; but I’m sure that your buddy took his marching orders only from CCAR.

    • However, MTsh is not being designed by him. This one is being design by–and this next bit is quite interesting–Scott-Martin Kosofsky, who also designed Mahzor Lev Shalem.

  6. Despite David’s distaste for it, and Rabbi Sternman’s reality-based problems with it, Mishkan T’filah has been a resounding success in terms of its adoption by congregations, and at least according to what I have heard, by the fact that congregants like it, once they get over the hurdle of its weight.

    I will not be surprised if Mishkan T’shuvah does not sell as well, for a variety of reasons. First, congregations who could pop for enough copies of Mishkan T’filah to meet their Shabbat needs will find the budget line item to pop for enough copies of Mishkan T’Shuvah overwhelming, and will hesitate to ask congregants to shell out in the current economy. Second, I don’t think GOR is as disliked as was GOP — because it is used less often, because it doesn’t confuse people with a plethora of service choices, and because recent printings have accommodated at least some of the gender issues.

    Somewhat off the subject, but many years ago, I was discussing with my then rabbi why GOP offered so many different service choices, and he said that people get bored with confronting the same stuff week after week. My response: No, Rabbi, rabbis get bored with confronting the same stuff week afer week.

    Insofar as we get bored, it’s interesting that we only get bored in English, not in Hebrew. And I find that I can sing along with the congregation in Hebrew without following in the siddur, but even the most frequently-read English passages (e.g., God’s Torah is perfect, reviving the soul) require me to turn back to the printed page. (Some but not all of this may relate to our tending to sing the Hebrew and recite the English.)

    Which reminds me of something you need to check out for me in your draft copy of MTs — did All the World Will Come to Serve You make the cut?

  7. Frank Castronova

    Like Larry, I’d like to know if All the World is in MTsh. Are these three songs in the shofar service? (they were also masterfully set to music by Binder): The Lord Reigns, For the Mountains Shall Depart, All You Dwellers.

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