Further cognitive dissonance in Mishkan T’filah

I apologize for the radio silence of this blog of late. I don’t really know what’s going on with it. I’m still writing from time to time at Jewschool.com, which is a much better blog than this anyway. So go read Jewschool.

Anyway, I’m at home for a week or so before heading back up north. I went to services at my childhood synagogue last night and discovered an ironic little Talmudic footnote in Mishkan T’filah, which this blog has always devoted plenty of time to hating on.

On page 146, which features the Barchu and nothing else, the editors provide us with this footnote:

The Sh’ma is one of the prayers that on may recite in any language. -M. Sotah 7:1

The oddity of it is that the Shma is about the only thing we didn’t say in English. And I imagine that’s pretty normal in Reform synagogues these days. Half the Amidah, Maariv Aravim, etc. all in English. But the Sh’ma, which it’s apparently permissible to say in the vernacular, God forbid we should say that in anything other than Hebrew.

Who knows. Shabat shalom. Selah.


10 responses to “Further cognitive dissonance in Mishkan T’filah

  1. Interestingly enough, I just learned the relevant gemara in the seventh perek of sotah, and various historic halachic sources. As it turns out, the Reform practice of praying in the vernacular is in line with most halachic opinions until… get this… the Reform movement. At which point, in a backlash move against the “lovers of the new,” the practice is no longer allowed. I could maybe find my source sheet for specifics. You’re totally right about the Shema, though. Art Waskow did a great English interpretation of the V’ahavta that I used to use in Reform services. Probably on his web site somewhere.

  2. Very interesting, Lasttrumpet. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Larry Kaufman

    The suggestion that the vernacular is on the ascendancy in Reform synagogues, at least in those that have adopted Mishkan T’fila, does not square with my experience in any of the Reform worship venues I frequent. Can it be that with your penchant for traditional liturgy you find any English too much?

    As for your self-putdown (not sure where the hyphens should go in that phrase — what does the Acorn stylebook suggest?) in extolling Jewschool over the Shuckle, may I suggest that any multi-voiced blog will have an inherent advantage over virtually any single-voiced blog?

    Finally, I find LastTrumpet’s teaching that one of Reform’s contributions to the Jewish world was to freeze the vernacular out of more halachic worship interesting but not surprising. This may be part of the law of unintended consequences, but one of Reform’s “contributions” to the Jewish world was to push halacha into stasis.

  4. My apologies, Larry, if I implied that I think the vernacular is increasing in Reform prayer. That was not my intent. I, of all people, know that Hebrew is indeed on the rise. However, in my experience, accepted Reform wisdom is that Barchu and Shma must be in Hebrew and in other prayers, Hebrew is optional.

  5. I wonder if the universalism of saying the Shema in Hebrew is exactly why M.T. mentions that we don’t have to – in case anyone thinks that the reason we say it that way is because we don’t have a choice.

    Or, to put it differently, our common practice testifies to the fact that, for example, Ahava Rabbah can be said in English. Only the footnote does so for the Shema.


  6. Larry Kaufman

    I kind of like Jason’s theory, but given the schema of MT, we are sort of given the editors’ blessings to choose an (English) alternative reading any place one is given.

    I can’t recall ever having been at a service where Mi Camocha, Avot, Gevurot, and K’dusha were not in Hebrew. Plus of course Kaddish and even Chatzi Kaddish. (Omitted maybe, but never translated.)

    I was going to add Aleynu *through Anachnu Kor’im) to the always Hebrew list, but then I remembered that, when my former congregation had a cantor with Conservative investiture, our usual Aleynu was Let us adore The ever-living God.

    As someone who is both a Mishkan T’fila fan (I’d better be, since my rabbi chaired the Editorial Committee) and an inveterate footnote reader, I find that I rarely even look at the footnotes, maybe because I’m always afraid they may say For those who wish.

  7. “I can’t recall ever having been at a service where Mi Camocha, Avot, Gevurot, and K’dusha were not in Hebrew.”

    If you’re ever in the twin cities, we can change this for you.

    As for the Kaddishes, take me outside the camp and stone me for saying it if you wish, but the ARE in the vernacular of their day.

  8. Excellent point about Kadish, Rich. Haha.

    Larry, I don’t know where you’ve been davening, but I’ve even experienced English Mi Chamocha at Kutz in recent years, though I certainly haven’t heard English in the first three brachot of the Amidah. I have, however, heard it in subesquent brachot, such as R’tzeh and Modim.

  9. Larry Kaufman

    Rich’s comment reminds me of a dialogue that took place when I was part of a group of tourists who worshipped during Passover at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. One of my compatriots remarked to the rabbi that he didn’t realize HUC was so Orthodox — the whole service was in Hebrew! To which the rabbi (Shaul Feinberg, for those who know him) replied, On the contrary, this is the most Reform service you’ll ever encounter — the whole thing is in the vernacular.

  10. Rich,

    I live in the TC and I’ve never heard all of those prayers in English. Maybe one once, but I tend to avoid the classical Reform services when I do go to a Reform synagogue.

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