There is plenty to trouble our minds in the liturgy at this time of year. As well there should be, I think. There’s nothing wrong with liturgy that makes you think. At this time of year in particular, I think the liturgy does us a great service when it makes us uncomfortable.
Even in the Reform liturgy, which often does away with prayers that make congregants and liturgists uncomfortable, disquieting pieces have made their way into the machzor.
Un’taneh Tokef is by far one of the hardest for modern Jews to swallow. In its most memorable lines it wonder who will die in the year to come and who will live and declares, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on the Fast of Yom Kippur it is sealed!” (according to Mahzor Lev Shalem’s translation).
But its content isn’t the issue in this post. Its location is my topic. Traditionally, there are two Amidahs on the morning of Rosh Hashanah. There is the first Amidah and later there is the Musaf Amidah, which is the center of most of what makes Rosh Hashanah liturgy unique. On weekdays, the Amidah has 19 pieces. On Shabbat, it has eight. But during Musaf on Rosh Hashanah, the Amidah has nine (names according to Mahzor Lev Shalem):
- Our Ancestors (a.k.a. Avot [v’Imahot], nearly identical to its usual version)
- God’s Saving Care (a.k.a. G’vurot, nearly identical to its usual version)
- God’s Holiness (a.k.a. Kedushah, greatly expanded to include Un’taneh Tokef, which focuses on God’s special role as judge at this time of year)
- The Holiness of Rosh Hashanah (analogous to the fourth part of the Amidah on Shabbat, which is concerned with the holiness of Shabbat) and Malkhuyot–God’s Sovereignty (the first of three sections that Lev Shalem identifies as unique to Rosh Hashanah, though much of number three could certainly be counted as a fourth unique RH section)
- Zikhronot–Rememberance (the second of the three special RH sections, as identified by MLS)
- Shofarot (the third of the special sections, which focuses on the Shofar and its role and purpose)
- Restoration of Zion (a.k.a. R’tzheih, nearly identical to its usual version)
- Gratitude for Life and Its Blessings (a.k.a. Modim, nearly identical to the usual, but also including the Priestly Blessing)
- Prayer for Peace (a.k.a. Sim Shalom, mostly the same as the usual)
The purpose of Musaf, on both Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, is to serve as a remembrance of the additional sacrifice that was offered on these days when the Temple still stood. Reform liturgists, uncomfortable with giving undue attention to the notion of sacrifice and the Temple–not to mention the length added by doing the Amidah twice–have unanimously decided to leave Musaf out. Which I don’t like. But that’s not my point here, believe it or not.
[EDITED 9/11/10: I was way wrong, by omission here. Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot are actually in GOR, but I didn’t see them when I looked while writing the post because I looked in the wrong place. Other than this note, I’ve left the post alone. See more on how I was wrong and what I think in light of the new information here.]
My point is to wonder what to do with the large swaths of material unique to Musaf on Rosh Hashanah. What a disservice is done to Jews who go to services in RH and don’t get to do the prayers that are found only in Musaf! If the idea of Musaf is out, perhaps space can be found for the material unique to Musaf. After all, Reform liturgists have no problem taking Yism’chu, which is unique to Shabbat Musaf, and putting it in the regular Shabbat Amidah.
This is the solution offered up by Gates of Repentance–almost. GOR’s Amidah is arranged like this, in eight parts:
- God of all Generations (Our Ancestors in MLS)
- God’s Power (God’s Saving Care in MLS
- Un’taneh Tokef (which it labels a “Meditation” and is traditionally a part of the following item on the list)
- Sanctification (God’s Holiness in MLS)
- The Holiness of This Day (The Holiness of Rosh Hashanah in MLS)
- Whom Alone We Serve in Reverence (Restoration of Zion in MLS)
- To Whom Our Thanks are Due (Gratitude for Life and Its Blessings in MLS)
- Peace (Prayer for Peace in MLS)
The differences are fairly obvious. Un’taneh Tokef is removed from its context as part of Rosh Hashanah’s special emphasis on the form of God’s holiness and labeled a mere “meditation,” a term used throughout GOR and Gates of Prayer for readings that have been inserted into the service as options. Aside from the implied downgrading of Un’taneh Tokef’s status, the rest of the list is clearly missing a lot. Some of the Kedushah’s (called “Sanctification” in GOR) RH-specific material is retained, but Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot are gone completely.
If there’s no way to keep Musaf and it’s only possible to have the one Amidah, why not move all of Musaf’s special RH material into the regular Amidah? There’s already a willingness to do this with Un’taneh Tokef, though much of its context gets muddled by the particular way it is done in GOR. So why not do the same with Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot?
It was my hope, as the editors of Mishkan T’shuvah, the Reform movement’s forthcoming new machzor, move forward, that they would take this approach. And then I heard some really disheartening news. A source of mine on one of the editorial subcommittees told me that the editors responsible for figuring out what the contents and order of prayers will be have hit upon a totally ludicrous innovation. They want to make Un’taneh Tokef a reading at the end of the morning service. (Or at the end of the morning blessings–it was uclear, but it was clear that they wanted to take it out of the Amidah context entirely).
So, editors of the new CCAR machzor, if you’re reading, that’s nuts. Please don’t do it. It makes no sense.
In other news, Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah.