Mi Shebeirach. WTF?

I hate the Mi Shebeirach. I don’t like the fact that in most Reform outfits we don’t just say it. We use a really bad to tune to say it half in English and half in Hebrew. If our leaders are wondering why no men come to services anymore, I’ve got their answer: It’s because of tunes like those that we use for Mi Shebeirach. That’s not really my point though.

My point is that it ought not be said on Shabat. There I said it.

We have, six days a week, a nineteen-part Amidah. On Shabat, it gets radically reduced to seven blessings, none of which ask God for anything that would require God to work to fulfill. One of the blessings we remove is the prayer for healing. And yet, we’ve somehow decided it’s okay for another prayer for healing, which asks the same work of God, to appear elsewhere in the service on Shabat. I don’t get it.

(BDS—the following is not meant as a criticism at all. It is merely an observation). Something entirely strange happened in shul on Friday night. Not only did we do a Mi Shebeirach, which I expect, we did it during the Amidah! Maybe we’ve always done it there and I just never put it together before, but there is was.

So we removed healing from the Shabat Amidah. Then we put a different healing prayer elsewhere in the Shabat service. Then we put it back in the Amidah. Full circle. WTF, Mi Shebeirach?


34 responses to “Mi Shebeirach. WTF?

  1. Where were you that it was said IN the Amidah? Weird…

  2. I’m here at home, in Austin. They did the standard-ish Reform Amidah. Stand for Avot, Gvurot, and Kdushah, sit for the rest. Tween Shalom and silent prayer, we had a Mi Shebeirach.

  3. The shabbat Amidah still asks G-d to do many things. Shalom Rav asks G-d to bless us and to grant peace.

    The silent prayer at the end of the Amidah is FULL of requests that require G-d to work. The point of the silent prayer is to give the community a chance to pray for those things they feel a need to. If your synagogue is inserting such a prayer into the Amidah just before the silent prayer, then perhaps your rabbi feels that would be the most appropriate time to do so if there is no Torah service.

  4. Is it possible to separate bad song writing from liturgical theology, or do they go hand in hand?

  5. i <3 Debbie Friedman. Her use of English in traditionally Hebrew prayer has revolutionized the way we pray! Not to mention that her incredible arrogance adds to the aura of greatness. If it weren’t for Debbie Friedman, we’d still be saying the V’ahavta in Hebrew, and we all know that is bad for the Jewish People

    maybe we should put the entire Amidah to a tune by Phish… or The Rolling Stones.

    Those who sow in tears… will reap in joy. Please, no flash photography… OR I’LL STRANGLE YOU!

  6. jpaikin- Yes. Those were two seperate complaints.

    Ben Z- Fair enough. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from this very Rabbi sooner or later in this comment thread–he’s a regular reader.

    bfuld- haha

  7. Like it or not, Debbie Friedman has probably been the most influential liturgical figure of her time. I credit her with opening the door for a new generation of talented musicians, for enhancing the position of women in litugy and as liturgists, for putting the juxtaposition of prayer and healing back on the Jewish agenda, for changing the role of Reform worshippers from audience to participants, and for introducing bilingualism as an accessibility tool for thousands who, for whatever reason, missed out on the Hebrew education you take for granted. You who demand for yourselves the right of eclecticism in your Jewish practice should be admiring rather than condemning the eclecticism Debbie has fostered.

  8. I’m not condemning Debbie Friedman for the record. Yes, she has had an influence on the way reform Jews pray. However, the success she had a few years ago has led to a complete lack of humility and a few encounters that caused many younger Reform Jews to now view her as all that is wrong with the current Reform structure.

    And quite frankly, from a purely musical stand point… She’s mediocre at best.

    I would hardly call her the most influential liturgical figure of her time (although she clearly thinks she is). What has led to the attacks on her music the past couple years is directly correlated to her ATTITUDE not her work.

    I’m all in favor of fun, laughter, guitar, and song in services. However, many of the prayers she’s put to song and “translated” lost their original meaning in a sappy three chord attempt at making people teary-eyed. At a certain point, you have to wonder whether her primary goal is to advance the way we pray or to advance her own “legacy.”

    But hey, at least we all know our Aleph-Bet.

  9. Bfuld’s musical nose in the air aside, I do like some Debbie Friedman. I happen not to like her Mi Shebeirach. Or anyone else’s Mi Shebeirach, for that matter. I do fuly appreciate the impact Debbie Friedman has had.

    What bfuld and I are referring to here, to be specific, is an occasion a couple of summers ago when Debbie was invited to be the Scholar-in-Residence for a session at Kutz. While there she was openly rude to Kutz’s staff, faculty, and participants. She once stopped Birkat Hamazon in the middle to yell at eveyone and tell them that they were doing it wrong.

  10. good morning, I like my musical nose high in the air, makes me feel special. Actually the exact event I witnessed was an incident involving 560 poor NFTYites trapped on a boat for three days with her, a concert in which she refused to let them clap to her songs, and an insistence that she perform about 3 times a day for the entirety of her stay with the kids. She became the butt of all the participants jokes for the entirety of the trip.

    I will never forget her saying after a gut-wrenching rendition of “those who sow in tears will reap in joy” uttering, “This is not a song you clap after!” when unsuspecting NFTYites mistakenly clapped at the end.

    Heard about that Kutz incident too, though.

  11. hey…
    so we talked about this very issue at the Miller Program at HUC last Sunday, and this is basically what i said:

    the reason (or a reason, if you will) why we don’t ask god for things on shabat, is because it’s god’s day of rest as well, and god’s not supposed to work either. but even for us there’s an exception to many of the commandments (including keeping shabat), when it comes to saving a life. misheberach is a prayer to heal the sick, that is, people who (true, this depends on what kind of sickness), are close to dying. so we can ask god to bless sick people on shabat if it means saving their lives…

    i wrote a different version of misheberach when my grandma was sick. you may like it. there’s no english.

  12. Oh so many points to address.

    1) You can’t blame men not being active members of congregations on the music, Mi Shebeirach or otherwise. There is a whole sociological background to it and music may play a part but probably not a large part.

    2) I am not a fan of the Friedman Mi Shebeirach but that is neither here nor there. I also don’t care for rap but that musical genre still does speak to millions of people. Bfuld dislikes Friedman’s music because bfuld dislikes Friedman. This is also neither here nor there. There are many musicians whose personal behavior I disapprove of or who hold views that I abhor or who just rub me the wrong way. None of this makes the music bad. Personally, I find Friedman’s setting for Psalm 150 transcendent and I am filled with joy when I am able to sing it with a large congregation. The point is, musical taste is personal. De gustibus non est disputandum (if I remember my long ago HS latin correctly).

    3) Since I have arrived in Austin 4 1/2 years ago, it has been the custom of CBI to place a Mi Shebeirach between Shalom and Silent Prayer. Perhaps it would be better for it to be after Silent Prayer, but that’s not minhag here. As for putting a Mi Shebeirach in on Friday evening, I don’t have a problem with it, as I agree with Ben Z. Further we traditionally read a Mi Shebeirach during seder kriyat haTorah for both aliyot and for those in need of healing, even on Shabbat. I don’t mind moving it from Saturday morning to Friday evening because most congregants come on Friday evening and it brings tremendous comfort to those who are in need.

    4) David, get with the program. There are transliteration conventions so that we all know what Hebrew letters are represented in the transliteration. If we were all to decide individually how we wanted to transliterate from Hebrew to English, then we would proliferate errors in understanding. “Shabbat” is not spelled “Shabat”. If you don’t like that, get the people who make these decisions to change. But this is not a moral issue where you stand up for what you believe even in the minority. It’s simply a convention so that we all understand each other.

    5) A question: a- since I read the Mi Shebeirach out of Mishkan Tefillah and didn’t sing it and b- since we rarely sing it and on those occasions when we do we usually don’t use Friedman’s setting, how did she get dragged into this in the first place?

  13. David —

    I have mixed felings aobut Debbie Friedman personally. I do think she has had an enormous positive affect on reform liturgy (else why are we talking about her. I have not had any personal encounters (no closer than at a Kallah), so cannot speak to that.

    As to her Mi Shebeirach, I know people with chronic illnesses who recite it every night along with the Sh’ma.

    Here in Oakland, we do three different versions at Shabbat services. I think that gives us all an opportunity to pray “the one we feel best with,” rather than only a single version. And that in itself makes me feel better.

  14. Noa- I love you. Great point about exceptions to Shabat rules. Can I see your prayer from when your grandma was sick?

    BDS- 1) Sure. I was exaggerating because this particular element of our lack of men problem bother me personally the most.

    2) Alright.

    3) Sure. I’m merely trying to open up a discussion about the merits of placing it where we do. I know it’s become minhag all over the Reform world and I know that Torah reading Mi Shebeirachs go way back. I’m just a little bothered by the whole thing and I’m trying to puzzle it out.

    4) Great. Maybe while we’re at it we can standardize use of apostrophes in transliteration, get the next printing of Mishkan to do without the copious hyphens and get the Reconstructionists to quite spelling things with kh instead of ch. Sounds like a plan.

    5) I’m not sure, actually. I made an offhand comment in the initial post about how I don’t like the various (not just Debbie Friedman) tunes for Mi Shebeirach. Then bfuld and Larry dropped by and the whole Friedman thing exploded. Whatev.

    Fred- Cool. I’m glad it gives some people comfort.

  15. …i love you too david :)

    by the way: i didn’t actually write a new version of the prayer, what i meant was i wrote a melody with my dinky guitar, that uses only hebrew “lyrics,” if you will. i’ll play it for you next time i see you, so long as there’s a guitar lying around.

  16. I stumbled over here by accident, but you have a nice site.

    Regarding “Mi Shebeirakh:” the music aside (and I have lots to say on that point, but I’ll hold my tongue), the Mi Shebeirakh was ALWAYS done on Shabbat traditionally. The rabbis have said that based on the merit of the Torah being out and read, one recites a Mi Shebeirakh for the aliyah, for the sick, for the community, etc., and we can “sneak in” a prayer for those who need a prayer of healing (or other reasons, I might add), but only in the presence of the Torah. So as you mention, it clearly doesn’t belong in the T’fillah. One compromise that we have done at our shul is to put the Mi Shebeirakh on a Friday evening after the T’fillah, so it is not seen as a bakashah (request not to be made on the sabbath), but to help those needing to say a Mi Shebeirakh if they are unable to come to Saturday morning services.

    I have a few more “Manly” melodies for the Mi Shebeirakh, if you’re interested.

  17. Erik – Maybe you could share the manly tunes with, I dunno, every Cantor on the planet. None of them seem to know these tunes.

  18. enjoyed this thread.
    I’m a songwriter in a Reform temple near Hartford, Connecticut. I also got tired of being ‘made to feel sad’ with the Mi Shebeirach prayer and wrote a new one, which our community uses.

    concert clip

    Our Shabbat Mi Shebeirach prayer has landed halfway into the Torah service. Go figure.

  19. Halachic answer, for anyone who finds this stuff interesting. (Written by Rabbi Michael Taubes)
    Also not a fan of Deb’s music as a rule – but working on my Lashon Hara every chance I get :-)

    Parshas Tazria:


    No definitive Halacha LeMa’aseh conclusions should be applied to practical situations based on any of these Shiurim.

    The Torah tells us that a person who has contracted Tzora’as is required to publicly announce the fact that he has become Tomei, ritually impure (VaYikra 13:45) The Gemara in Moed Kattan (5a) explains that this is done for two purposes: first, so that other people will know to keep away from this person so as not to become Tomei themselves, and second, so that the public, upon becoming aware of this person’s plight, will pray to Hashem for mercy on his behalf. The Gemara in Sotah (32b) extends this last idea by stating that whenever a person has a serious problem, he should inform the public so that they will request mercy for him. It appears from the context of a similar passage in the Gemara in Shabbos (67a) that whenever anyone or anything is in anguish, it is beneficial to have other people pray for mercy in his behalf.

    The rationale for this would seem to be the idea expressed by the Gemara in Berachos (8a) that when a group of people, constituting a Tzibbur, davens to Hashem, the moment becomes an Eis Ratzon, a propitious time for Hashem to hear the prayers. Indeed, the Midrash in Devarim Rabbah (Parsha 2 Siman 7) states that the Tefillos of a Tzibbur will never “come up empty,” an idea echoed by the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 8:1) who says that the Tefillos of a Tzibbur are always heard. Based on all of the above, apparently, the Minhag has developed that the Tzibbur recites special Tefillos, particularly Tehillim, on behalf of someone who is ill. It should be pointed out that the idea of reciting Tehillim for protection from trouble and harm is actually recorded by the Rambam (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 11:12). The Gesher HaChaim (Chelek 1 Perek 1 Siman 3) outlines certain specific prayers which have become customary to recite for a Choleh, a person who is ill.

    The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (8a) discusses various personal requests that may be added to one’s Shemoneh Esrei, and states that one who has a sick person to pray for should request mercy for him in the Beracha of “Refaeinu”. The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 6:3) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 119:1) rule accordingly. In keeping with this notion that one should somehow connect to a Tzibbur when praying for the sick, the Gemara in Shabbos (12b) states that when one davens for one sick person, he should ask that this person receive Hashem’s mercy together with all of the other sick Jewish people. Rashi (Ibid. s.v. B’soch) explains that by relating this sick person to others, one’s prayers will be accepted in the merit of the many people now included. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 335:6 ) accepts this view (See Ibid. Shach Sif Katan 4). The Ramo (Ibid. Sif 10) notes that the Minhag is to recite a special Beracha in Shul on behalf of a sick person; this is the basis for the Mi Shebeirach which we say for the Cholim when the Torah is out, and to which the Tzibbur responds by saying Amen. It is interesting to note that at one time, the Minhag was to recite this Mi Shebeirach after Yishtabach before Borechu, as cited by the Ramo elsewhere (Orach Chaim 54:3). In his commentary to the Tur entitled Darkei Moshe (Yoreh Deah Ibid. Os 2), the Ramo adds that it is proper to give Tzedakah for the benefit of the sick person because along with Teshuvah and Tefillah, Tzedakah can annul any bad decree. Our practice today is to announce the Tzedakah pledge as part of the text of the Mi Shebeirach.

    The Yerushalmi in Shabbos (Perek 15 Halachah 3, 78b) states that it is forbidden to make requests for one’s personal needs on Shabbos. The Korban HaEidah there (Ibid. s.v. Asur) explains that this is because part of the idea of Oneg Shabbos is that one should feel that all his needs are taken care of; one who davens for these needs displays the opposite feelings and causes himself to worry. Can one, then, daven for a sick person on Shabbos? The Tosefta in Shabbos (Perek 17 Halachah 14) quotes that Beis Shammai forbid it while Beis Hillel allow it. The Ramo (Orach Chaim 288:10) rules that one may recite a Beracha on Shabbos for a Choleh who is dangerously ill that day. This is not, however, agreed upon by everybody, as the Taz (Ibid. Sif Katan 5) and others point out by quoting those who disallow any Beracha for a Choleh on Shabbos. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Ibid. Sif 9 and in Kuntres Acharon Os 2) distinguishes between a Tzibbur who should not daven on Shabbos for a Choleh who is not dangerously ill at that moment, and an individual who may do so. Rav Yaakov Emden (Sheilos U’Teshuvos Sheilas Yaabetz Chelek 1 Siman 64), concurs with the ruling that one may pray on Shabbos for a sick person who is dangerously ill that day, but strongly objects to the practice of reciting a Mi Shebeirach on Shabbos for one who is not that sick, stating that he would like to abolish this improper Minhag He admits, however, that we don’t have the power to prevent people from doing this since it is an old custom. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Sheilos U’Teshuvos Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 1:105) writes that if the Choleh himself requests that prayers be recited in his behalf, one may comply even on Shabbos, even if he is not dangerously ill that day.

    The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim Ibid. Sif Katan 14) also is puzzled by our practice to recite a Mi Shebeirach on Shabbos for a Choleh who is not in danger, and attempts to justify it. He adds, though, that in the text of this Mi Shebeirach, one should say the phrase “Shabbos He M’Lizok U’Refuah Keruvah Lavo” indicating that although Shabbos forbids us to really cry out and pray for this Choleh, a recovery should still come speedily. This is indeed our practice (See Mishnah Berurah Ibid. Sif Katan 28). It is worth noting that according to the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (Parshah 53 Siman 19), the sincere prayers of a Choleh on his own behalf are better than any others.

  20. Thanks, Bella! That was a really fascinating comment. I’m glad you posted that.

  21. Pingback: Mi Shebeirach. WTF? II «

  22. This is an interesting topic, and since so few Reform Jews really understand the reasoning behind halakhic rulings like what to pray for on which days of the week, Bella’s comment is very enlightening.

    I think Larry Kaufman’s point about Debbie Friedman’s impact on our practice today is pretty on target. And I hope the people who posted lashon hara here will consider how they would like to have people speak of them in other situations and reconsider their practice.

    Specifically regarding Debbie’s melody/song for Misheberakh, I would like to point out another melody that some people go on about but others treat as “MiSinai” – VeNe’emar. (Warning, you’ll never be able to sing it again with a straight face). This melody, to which we all love so much to harmonize, along with “SheHu Not’eh Shamayim”, was originally written for a summer camp, somewhere back in the early-mid 20th century, by a prominent cantor. It was based on, yes, a children’s song, to wit – “the farmer in the dell” (and the SheHu Not’eh – “the itsy bitsy spider”) – the idea being that if these melodies seemed familiar, they would foster congregational singing among the kids, who would bring them home and be more comfortable in shul.

    My take is this: So what if these melodies are of questionable provenance, so what if Debbie’s MiSheBerakh is a three chord tearjerker. PEOPLE LOVE IT. IT MOVES THEM TO TEARS.


  23. Thank you for your comment, Simcha. I did know about the Aleinu melodies, which I’ve always been entertained by.

    My point about Debbie’s Mi Shebeirach isn’t that it doesn’t work for some people. But perhaps it works for less people than those who use it every damn week think.

    And though prayer may move people to tears, I’m not so sure that moving people to tears is the primary purpose of prayer.

  24. Nice thread – learned a lot – agreed with much. To my eye, the standard Hebrew text (Birnbaum) of Misheberach for the sick is pointedly NOT bakashah (petitionary). All the verbs are in the imperfect (“atid”), none are in the imperative (“tzivui”). A strict translation would be: “The One Who blessed our ancestors… will heal the sick Ploni. The Holy Blessed One will be filled with mercy regarding him/her, to heal, strengthen, and revive him/her, and will send speedily full healing….” I think the tradition carefully composed an affirmation, intentionally avoiding any berachah components (especially the Name), thus suitable for Shabbat.
    Debbie Friedman’s version, like most golden oldies, has suffered from being overplayed, but I respect how she found a tone that downplays bakashah and amplifies encouragement for those who need it.
    Personally, I prefer El na r’fa na la, to the tune of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy,” but so far it hasn’t caught on.

  25. Acher, thanks for your comment. Very good point about the tense.

  26. Hadassa Y Yossefet

    This is not about Debbie Friedman. This is about prayer. The meaning of Mi Shebeirach is more than enough to understnd that is a blessing for those who are weak, ill, or befallen. How could you bash on something so beautiful and that has such a wonderful meaning? Debbie Friedman is NOT the only person who sings this PRAYER! Susan Colin, Karina Zilberman, Ross M. Levy, and my very own Cantor and Rabbi! DO NOT BASH A SONG/PRAYER JUST BECASUE YOU DONT LIKE IT. UNDERSTAND IT’S MEANING BEFORE YOU MAKE SUCH HORRIBLE REMARKS ABOUT A GREAT PRAYER FOR THOSE WHO ARE SICK AND NEED A BLESSING BECAUSE THAT IS JUST WHAT IT IS!!! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!!!

  27. Hi all. Greetings from Ireland and a totally ignorant man where Jewish and Hebrew matters are concerned. Please forgive my ignorance. I have recently come across Debbie’s version of Mi Shebeirach and it has a beauty which touches my soul, not to tears but simply to quiet my busy mind and realise the power and eternal love of my God. Prayer for me is a smile from my daughter or a beautiful sunrise (quite uncommon in rainy Ireland) or a song/music which somehow captures a deep yearning within. I am really grateful to receive such blessing and I don’t want to know what kind of a person Debbie is. I just love how this prayer touches me. It is wonderful though to read the various comments and to realise how different we all are. Long live difference.

    Thanks and good wishes to you.


  28. wow
    some people are really negative. i guess some don’t realize beauty when they see it and know even less what to do with it.

  29. I do enjoy the mi shebereich. I used to hate when people would say one for me during my stays in the hospital but I remember saying one for my grandmother and feeling closer. I do in ms Friedman rather annoying but Id do most anything with nfty. My orthodox cousins think I’m not Jewish for things I do but I do things differently and if that’s singing a song differntly than so be it. I read the Hebrew and not the transliteration and also read along to the portions but most people at my temple don’t. It’s just a choice and the English is so other people can understand.

  30. hey, if you have a problem with that then please keep it to yourself, its not right to publish this online, I love that song and you should keep your opions to yourself as it could be offensive to others…I do enjoy the guitar and think its not fair for you to put such a nasty reply…Thanks I think ill go pick up my guitar and play this song, hope you can hear it…

  31. Pingback: 2010 in review | The Reform Shuckle

  32. I once found “May we find the courage to make out lives a blessing” incredibly valuable.

    My current shul uses Taubman’s without exception. It has the advantage of being all in Hebrew, but it lacks that sentiment, and I rather miss it.

  33. JTA News Alert

    January 9, 2010
    Due to a technical error, some readers were not able to access the JTA report on the passing of Debbie Friedman. Here is the full version:
    Debbie Friedman, Jewish songwriter and performer, dies
    (JTA) — Debbie Friedman, a popular singer and songwriter who is widely credited with reinvigorating synagogue music, has died.
    Friedman died Sunday after being hospitalized in Southern California for several days with pneumonia. She was in her late 50s.
    “Debbie influenced and enriched contemporary Jewish music in a profound way,” read a statement published Sunday on the website of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Her music crossed generational and denominational lines and carved a powerful legacy of authentic Jewish spirituality into our daily lives.”
    Friedman brought a more folksy, sing-along style to American congregations. In 2007 she was appointed to the faculty of the Reform movement’s cantorial school in a sign that her style had gained mainstream acceptance.
    She is best known for her composition “Mi Shebeirach,” a prayer for healing that is sung in many North American congregations.
    Friedman released more than 20 albums and performed in sold-out concerts around the world at synagogues, churches, schools and prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall. She received dozens of awards and was lauded by critics worldwide.
    “Debbie Friedman was an extraordinary treasure of our movement and an individual of great influence,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Twenty-five years ago, North American Jews had forgotten how to sing. Debbie reminded us how to sing, she taught us how to sing. She gave us the vehicles that enabled us to sing. Then she impacted our youth and our camps and, ultimately, from there she impacted our synagogues.
    “What happens in the synagogues of Reform Judaism today — the voices of song — are in large measure due to the insight, brilliance and influence of Debbie Friedman.”

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