Tag Archives: Reuven Hammer

Re-writing Korbanot, part I: intro and the Harlow approach

This is a two-parter. Part II is here.

Korbanot is a highly variable recitation of biblical and talmudic passages on the minutiae of sacrificial ritual in The Temple. The notion is that sacrifice was the most legitimate way to access God and that reciting the laws about how to do it was equal to actually performing the sacrifices.

The dominant modern view is that sacrifice is over and it’s not coming back. Prayer suffices in its stead. I once had an idea about how to create a replacement for the Korbanot section of the service that would reflect this reality. That’s what Part II is about.

While flipping through Or Hadash, Reuven Hammer’s commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, I noticed that Jules Harlow, Sim Shalom‘s editor, had created a replacement for Korbanot.

Like the Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book, Morris Silverman’s 1946 Conservative siddur, Harlow included the last passage in the Korbanot section, Rabbi Ishmael’s 13 principles of biblical interpretation, in SS. Building on Silverman’s minimal acknowledgment of the Korbanot passages, Harlow went one step further. Rather then merely excising the bulk of the section, he added several passages from rabbinic literature in their stead.

The first is perfect. It’s Avot d’Rabbi Natan 11a, which describes Yochanan Ben Zakai walking with his disciple away from Jerusalem. From where they are, they can see the Temple in ruins. The disciple is distraught, but Ben Zakai says, “There is another way of gaining atonement even though The Temple is destroyed. We must now gain atonement through deeds of lovingkindness.”

From there, Harlow presents a selection of passages from rabbinic literature. The way Harlow arranges them, they seem to be explanations of how to do what Ben Zakai suggests. They are all about lovingkindness. It’s not exactly what I would have done if I’d ever gotten it together to do my version of this, but I think it’s pretty damn clever..

A tale of two ma(c)hzors

Over at New Voices, my review of two new machzorim, pluralist Machzor Eit Ratzon and Conervative Mahzor Lev Shalem, is now available. Below is a much longer version with more detail about liturgical minutiae and aspects of their designs.

A Reform rabbi I know tells the story of a man who came into the synagogue in the day of his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The man saw shelves and shelves of an unfamiliar blue siddur called Gates of Prayer, the Reform movement’s 1973 prayer book. He picked one up and began to flip through it, wondering what it was. The rabbi saw that he had come in and came over to greet the man. Before the rabbi could say so much as “Shabbat Shalom,” the man asked, “Rabbi, what is this book? Where’s the red one?” The red one he was referring to was Gates of Repentance, the blue siddur’s companion machzor, used only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

New siddurim, however surprising an unfamiliar one may have been to the man in the story, are a dime a dozen. New ones come out every year, ranging everywhere from unique siddurim that record the practice of one individual congregation to new siddurim from one of the large movements that will come to be used in congregations all over.

However, machzorim–those heavy-as-a-brick, byzantine volumes full of liturgy both strongly evocative and totally unfamiliar, used only twice a year–are another story. The birth and publication of a new machzor is a rare event indeed. This year is twice times blessed then, to see the publication of two new ones. Both the Conservative movement’s new Mahzor Lev Shalem and Rutgers University math professor Joseph G. Rosenstein’s new machzor, Machzor Eit Ratzon, a companion to his 2003 Siddur Eit Ratzon, are out in times for the High Holy Days.. While Conservative ideology, or Conservative demeanor at least, may be familiar to many, Eit Ratzon’s traditional egalitarian approach will be new to most. The cover reads: “A traditional prayerbook for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with new meditations, commentaries, translations, and prayers.”

They are as remarkable for their similarities as they are for their differences. Both are clearly the products of their creators, Lev Shalem is a Conservative creation through and through, and Eit Ratzon, a product of an independent chavurah in New Jersey, is eccentric as you would expect a machzor from such an environment to be. Both have hefty commentaries, as different as they are enlightening. Lev Shalem has a surprising visual beauty to it, while Eit Ratzon’s design has a rigid utility. Lev Shalem was created by a committee of the Conservative movement’s top scholars, while Eit Ratzon is the labor of love of a single lay-person. Continue reading