Rosh Hashanah notes, part II: Miriam and imahot

Some stuff I noticed during RH this year:

I was surprised to find Miriam appearing along with Moses here in the lead-up to Mi Chamocha. I must have noticed her lurking in here last year, but she still managed to take me aback again this year.

I also noticed their bracketed use of the mamas along with the un-bracketed papas. (Again, must have noticed it last year, but….) This is interesting, if we look at it the context of the Conservative movement’s history with the matriarchs. In the original release of Sim Shalom (and its forebears, it goes without saying), avot just had the avot. The second edition added a B-page, such that there are two versions of the first page of the Amidah, one with the imahot and one without. But the page that has them does not have it worded quite like Reform liturgy does. Whereas R-liturgy says, “…vElohei avoteinu ve’imoteinu…” and then lists them all, C-liturgy says leaves it alone, except for the list. So they don’t say ve’imoteinu is my point.

Between then and now, R-liturgy reoriented itself to include the imahot all over the place. In Mishkan T’fillah, every time is says “avoteinu” it aso says “ve’imoteinu.” In MLS, C-liturgy catches up. Kind of. On the first page of the Amidah, we get both options. And the ve’imahot option not only lists their names, but it now says “vElohei avoteinu [ve'imoteinu].” That continues throughout the siddur. Every time it says something about the avot, we get a bracketed word for the imahot.

Now that the Rabbinical Assembly has announced that they’re working on a new siddur, it’s interesting to notice the new stuff that’s already crept into this machzor. I have to wonder how much Reform and Conservative liturgy is going to continue to converge. I assume the line will be drawn at least at Musaf, but I wonder how much else will be the same. How long before C-liturgy doesn’t give us the avot-only option at all?

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20 responses to “Rosh Hashanah notes, part II: Miriam and imahot

  1. David, I’m working on the new RA Siddur (and worked on the new RA Mahzor), and I can chat with you if you’d like regarding what I do know about the immahot conversations.

  2. I’m hoping in my heart of hearts that the CCAR brings back musaf in Mishkan T’shuvah. As far as I’m concerned Musaf in a reform context only makes sense on the HHD do to the structure of the liturgy it’s not a theological statement. Though I do think that if it were to be re added to the reform liturgy in a weekly context it would become somewhat of a theological statement.

    • As far as I’m concerned Musaf in a reform context only makes sense on the HHD do to the structure of the liturgy it’s not a theological statement.

      While including musaf on the HH certainly makes it easier to structure the mahzor (and probably for this reason, a number of mahzorim and communities include musaf on the HH but not at other times), how is the inclusion of this service on the HH (and only on the HH) justifiable in terms of overall coherence?

    • I have draft copies. That’s not how they’re doing it. I have argued in other posts on this blog that–if they’re not going to include musaf–the most sensible way to include the signature YK musaf prayers is to include them a similar milieu; that is, to put them in the regular Amidah.

  3. oops I meant to preface my prior comment by saying that interms of future liturgical convergence between Reform and Conservative liturgy.

  4. I have to wonder how much Reform and Conservative liturgy is going to continue to converge.

    Another way to think about what’s going on is that both Reform and Conservative have become more open to including multiple options on the same page (rather than that each one is moving toward the other).

    • Yeah, that’s better wording. Thanks, BZ. I knew that converge wasn’t the word that I wanted, but I’d been sitting on this post for all like a week and a half already and just wanted to get it posted.

  5. “How long before C-liturgy doesn’t give us the avot-only option at all?”

    I’d been wondering the same thing. One C shul in the area seems to only do avot as the generally accepted practice, despite being fully egalitarian (they had a female chazzan for the HH, e.g.). I imagine they wouldn’t be too thrilled to have the avot only disappear and that might further alienate some people. FWIW, they haven’t adopted MLS yet, in case you were wondering…

  6. My synagogue in the States was one hundred percent egalitarian, but only did the avot. On the other hand, I noticed definite attempts to use slightly more gender-neutral language in English parts of the prayer service (i.e. “God” in place of “He,” “Sovereign” in place of “King,” et cetera). I’m actually writing a post about my Yom Kippur experiences in Melbourne, and I’m typing about this now. To engage in a bit of copy-pasting:

    Personally, while I’m pretty fiercely egalitarian in my practices (that is, I’m adamantly in favor of women engaging more fully with Jewish ritual, leading services, chanting Torah and so on), I always find it weirdly jarring when the Imahot are added during services, and I never add them myself when I daven on my own. I have no idea why, since on an intellectual level, it makes perfect sense to me and is probably something I should actively support/do myself. I guess it’s down to having primarily (almost exclusively, actually) attended synagogues, of various denominations, that don’t add the Matriarchs, so I’m not used to hearing it. I also feel like it kind of breaks up the rhythm of the prayer, which is admittedly a pretty superficial argument for leaving them out. Hmm.

    The adoption of more gender-sensitive translations doesn’t bother me, necessarily, but I have noticed that it can lead to some really wonky-sounding sentences and grammatical structures. For instance, from the translation of Psalm 27 on page 248: “One thing I ask of Adonai- this I seek: to dwell in the House of God all the days of my life, to behold God’s beauty and visit God’s sanctuary.” It makes it sound like Adonai and God are two different people, and they use that structure a lot in the machzor.

    • If what you feel comfortable doing is the regular old avot-only version, there are egalitarian arguments you can indulge in to support your practice.

    • For instance, from the translation of Psalm 27 on page 248: “One thing I ask of Adonai- this I seek: to dwell in the House of God all the days of my life, to behold God’s beauty and visit God’s sanctuary.” It makes it sound like Adonai and God are two different people, and they use that structure a lot in the machzor.

      This is strange, since the original Hebrew has YHVH three times, and a possessive suffix (rendered here as “God’s”) only once. So even without the last clause (“and visit God’s sanctuary”), this translation would still use both “Adonai” and “God”, so it’s not just about gender.

    • I agree with this. I also leave out references to the matriarchs when davening. In fact, I’m lost on pressing the entire egalitarian issue into the liturgy….at least on the Conservative front.

  7. I find the whole thing highly baffling, and the screenshot above is a case in point. Why “Moshe uMiriam uvnei Yisrael”? Why not “Moshe uMiriam uvnei uvnotei yisrael”? Esp. for siddurim that insist upon “avoteinu v’imoteinu,” refusing to let the masculine include the feminine, why describe the congregation as masculine? Indeed, it is much truer to the text to say “Moshe uvnei uvnotei” than “Moshe uMiriam uvnei” – although Miriam did have a role it is clearly subsidiary; but the nation was presumably 50/50 all along.

    For that matter, what’s this about “bnei Yisrael”? Why not “bnei Yisrael Rahel v’Leah”? Why fetishize the avot bracha but not include all of us descendants, male and female? Why not “Shema Yisrael vRahel vLeah, Hashem Elohenu Hashem Echad” if it is going to be “elohei Yaakov Rahel vLeah”?

    Obviously I am no fan of adding the mothers. I think the liturgy should be conserved and reinterpreted but not changed. But the above are not just meant as reductio suggestions. Why is it that the folks who are committed to egalitarian liturgical change seem to have made the least sensible emendations but not the more central ones?

    • Why “Moshe uMiriam uvnei Yisrael”? Why not “Moshe uMiriam uvnei uvnotei yisrael”?

      “Az yashir Moshe uvnei Yisrael” appears in the Torah, as does “Vata’an lahem Miryam” in the same chapter.

      (And besides, it would be “uvnot”, not “uvnotei”.)

    • There’s a difference between b’nei/b’not and avot/imahot. When we refer to sons and daughters in this way, no distinction is made. One is simply the masculine and form and one is the feminine form, but they’re basically the same word.

      However, when we refer to mothers and fathers we use two totally different words. So to treat the two differently makes perfect sense to me.

      This is, BTW, the same reason I don’t buy the argument that saying the word avot implies all parents.

  8. Instead of adding “uMiriam” to “Az Yashir Moshe uvnei Yisrael” and thus changing the Torah text, I think one should rather add verse 20 at the end of Shirat HaYam: “And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”

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