Where to put Un’taneh Tokef in Reform liturgy if it can’t be in Musaf

GORThere 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):

  1. Our Ancestors (a.k.a. Avot [v’Imahot], nearly identical to its usual version)
  2. God’s Saving Care (a.k.a. G’vurot, nearly identical to its usual version)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. Zikhronot–Rememberance (the second of the three special RH sections, as identified by MLS)
  6. Shofarot (the third of the special sections, which focuses on the Shofar and its role and purpose)
  7. Restoration of Zion (a.k.a. R’tzheih, nearly identical to its usual version)
  8. Gratitude for Life and Its Blessings (a.k.a. Modim, nearly identical to the usual, but also including the Priestly Blessing)
  9. 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:

  1. God of all Generations (Our Ancestors in MLS)
  2. God’s Power (God’s Saving Care in MLS
  3. Un’taneh Tokef (which it labels a “Meditation” and is traditionally a part of the following item on the list)
  4. Sanctification (God’s Holiness in MLS)
  5. The Holiness of This Day (The Holiness of Rosh Hashanah in MLS)
  6. Whom Alone We Serve in Reverence (Restoration of Zion in MLS)
  7. To Whom Our Thanks are Due (Gratitude for Life and Its Blessings in MLS)
  8. 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.

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22 responses to “Where to put Un’taneh Tokef in Reform liturgy if it can’t be in Musaf

  1. Actually, if you count the repitition, there are 3 amidahs. After today, I was reminded just how long the traditional RH liturgy is.

    A simple way to address this might be to do what I do: go to a Conservative shul on RH 2, or have that liturgy on RH2 at the Reform temple.

    HHDs are a huge driver of donations from the once a year Jews. Making it painless for them is a consideration too. So, maybe an option of a short and long in the new machzor would be good.

  2. We did Malkuyot, Zikronot, and Shofarot out of Gates of Repentance. It was RhS morning, towards the end. That’s when we heard the shofar. I don’t have GoR with me, but I’ll be glad to provide page numbers when I get back to Austin.

    We did skip Utanah Tokef, though. I think if it as only being on YK, but Kol haLev does it on RhS (using Gates of Awe). (Please excuse the lousy transliterations. Typing on the touch!)

    • Right you are! It had been so long since I used GOR (and I didn’t know much about HHD liturgy last time I did) that I had to look this all up, but I didn’t think to look at the end of the service. I suppose there’s a kind of sense to what they did there.

      So there’s no Musaf, but there is Mal., Zikh. and Shof. The three sections are removed from an Amidah context, but kept at the end of the service so that they still feel climactic, which has some merit. From the perspective of the mood, that seems to make the most sense if you’re gonna refuse to do Musaf. On the other hand, if you’re willing to do them at the end anyway, you might as well tack on that extra ten or fifteen minutes the rest of Musaf would take and leave the whole thing. From a structural standpoint (removed from the mood stuff I talked about earlier in this comment), it still seems to make more sense (if you won’t do Musaf) to put these three pieces into the regular Amidah. At least that would preserve their context.

      • My hang-up being language more than liturgy, I keep wishing you showed the same respect for accuracy in reporting and writing that you do for the roots and branches of liturgy.

        The Reform movement does not “refuse to do Musaf.” The Reform movement does not accept the need for such a construct.

        This is not to say that some day something musaf-like will not come back into Reform liturgy — although I don’t expect to see it. But then, I didn’t expect second day of Rosh Hashanah, or Tashlich, or Selichot, or tallitot, so who knows what will be. But we do know what is. There is a difference between a rejection and an affirmation that saying most things just once is enough.

        • That’s fair. You’ll notice in the new post that I was very careful to avoid the kind of language problems you point out here (https://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/an-open-letter-to-the-reform-machzor-committee/).

          But I also wish you’d quit claiming that Musaf is *merely* a repetition. Some of it is. Some of it is very different. Reform objects just as much to the material unique to Musaf (on Shabbat, not HHD) as it does to the added length.

          • Yes, I did notice (with approval, I might add) the constructive tone of your letters to The MT’sh Team. By the way, I hope you are going to send it to them, not just hope they will read it in its open letter format.

            I’ve reviewed my comments on this post — haven’t gone back to others — but nowhere here do I characterize Musaf as purely a repetition. I have said that one liturgical aim of the Reformers was to eliminate most repetition — so the pieces of the inherited Musaf that are not in the schacharit Amidah and that are still construed as relevant can still be in the service — whether as part of the shacharit Amidah or following the Torah reading is immaterial as far as I am concerned, subject to the following caveat.

            I am an expert neither in liturgy nor in stagecraft, and I like Reform better now than I did when it was all about stagecraft. But recognizing a worship service as something that needs to speak to us on an emotional as well as on an intellectual level. it would seem cogent to me to warm up (birkat hashachar), recite the verbal liturgy, move up to the climax asnd symbolism of the Torah, and then on this special occasion the super-climax of the Shofar — following which the service starts winding down with the sermon and the closing material — aleinu, kaddish yatom, hymn.

            The thing that will permit your Open Letter to be read seriously is that you are arguing structure and not content. Although content that was objectionable to the framers of UPB made it into GOP/GOR, and then even more in MT1, I don’t see that ever extending to any kind of prayer for restoration of sacrifices or a central temple, whatever transpires in it.

            But if, as it seems to be, this discussion is not about liturgy but about dramaturgy. I wonder if we might not be making a tempest in a teapot.

    • BTW, I’ve edited the post a bit to reflect this information. Thanks, Mom.

  3. I wonder if the editors of the new machzor will remove the priestly benediction. It’s not in the festival morning service in MT, but was in GOP and UPB.

  4. I would be in favor of doing the following with the Mishkan T’shuvah RH morning amidah: 1) Avot, 2) G’vurot, 3) Un’taneh Tokef and Kedushah, 4) Kedushat HaYom, 5) Malkhuyot, 6) Zikhronot, 7) Shofarot, 8) Modim, 9) Birkat Kohanim and Sim Shalom.

    After the Torah service, rather than a shofar service (since I would put that earlier), would be Aleinu, Kaddish, and a variety of concluding songs to suit various needs: Adon Olam, Yigdal, Ein Keiloheinu, and All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee (which I think could disappear from Mishkan Teshuvah).

    I assume the editors of the new machzor would not include the songs in service II in GOR that conclude each of the three shofar sections, The Lord Reigneth, For the Mountains Shall Depart, and All You Dwellers on Earth, which were set to music wonderfully by A. W. Binder. As beautiful as the Binder shofar service is, I doubt many congregations use it any more.

    • It would be interesting to have real statistics rather than anecdotal impressions about ritual and liturgical choices in Reform congregations, but I suspect Frank is right about diminished use of All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee, and the possibility of its omission from the new Reform machzor. (Further ruminations about this at http://blogs.rj.org/reform/2010/01/all-the-world.html.)

      To me, ATW is the encapsulation in one hymn of all the grandeur of Classical Reform — English lyrics, Germanic musical style, universalist message, dramatic intensity. As Reform Jews, we lose a strand of our history when we let this cultural artifact pass into oblivion.

      On the other hand, we are blessed at our congregation with a young cantor who is knowledgeable about the Classic Reform musical legacy, but who is personally more invested in the legacy of chazzanut, the cantor’s art — so our music is likely to be more influenced by Yossele Rosenblatt and Moishe Oysher than by Binder and his contemporaries. But in any event, the identity of the composers tends to get lost, and we learn to think of familiar Sulzer or Janowski or Lewandowski settings as being mi-sinai (from Sinai).

    • Yeah, I’m gonna guess those songs are out. And what you’re saying here is exactly what I’m proposing would make the most sense.

  5. The problem with your argument is that it uses the historical liturgy of other movements as the standard, and defines Reform liturgy as deviating from the standard. In the real world, the liturgy as put forth in the CCAR machzor is the Reform standard, informed by history and by the choices made by the other streams, but not bound to conform with it.

    You haven’t mentioned one important reason why all the good stuff is in Musaf — if it were in shacharit, two-thirds of the congregants in the Conservative synagogues I have attended wouldn’t hear it at all, because they arrive in time for the Torah service — shacharit is a throwaway. (Used to be true in the Orthodox shuls I attended as well, but the twice-a-year Jews who used to balance the budgets of Orthodox shuls have now found their way to the more liberal streams, and I surmise that more of the people in Orthodox shuls (excluding Chabad) are actually Orthodox than used to be case.) Whatever else you want to say to diss Reform Jews, they have been trained to come at the beginning and stay until the end.

    No disservice is done to the Jews who go to Reform HHD services and don’t hear the Musaf prayers. If they wanted to hear the Musaf prayers, they would go to a shul that offered them.

    Glenda’s comment is particularly relevant on two issues. First, of course, is that she has pointed out that the tri-partite Shofar service IS in GOR, pages 138-151, and repeated in Service II pages 208-217. It could be construed as part of Musaf, since it comes after the Torah and Haftara are read, but admittedly before the Torah is returned to the ark.

    Her second point is more telling — that in her congregation, it wouldn’t have mattered where the machzor placed Unetaneh Tokef, if you’re going to omit it anyway. One of the guiding principles of post-UPB Reform liturgists is to accommodate the big tent — clergy who are uncomfortable with the message are free to omit it. In the three congregations where I’ve Rosh Hashanahed as an adult (two R, one C), Unetaneh Tokef has been the musical highlight of the service, and had any rabbi had the temerity to tell the cantor No Way, there would have been an uprising from the pews — Rabbi, you thought we came for your sermon? No, we came to hear the cantor sing Unetaneh Tokef. Just so we hear it, it doesn’t have to be in an Amidah context.

    While I always admire the erudition of your liturgical analysis, I always come back to the need for liturgy to function in a way that the clergy/delivery system can live with and that meets the expectations of the congregants. Whatever the process that may be that produces Mishkan T’shuvah, and even though that process will probably not include the test-marketing and piloting that characterized the development of Mishkan T’filah, it will have been committeed to death — or should I say to life.

    • “In the real world, the liturgy as put forth in the CCAR machzor is the Reform standard, informed by history and by the choices made by the other streams, but not bound to conform with it.”

      No argument from me there–almost. I don’t think we’ve got quite enough examples of Reform machzorim on record yet to say what the Reform standard is. Certainly you are correct that for now–and until Mishkan T’shuvah comes out–the GOR approach is the consensus Reform norm.

      But I don’t think it’s beyond MT’sh. to reverse or alter decisions made in GOR. It certainly wasn’t beyond MT’f. to reverse or alter some of the choices contained in GOP. GOP and UPB, all the more so. So what I’m saying (even in light of the new info here: https://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/where-to-put-untaneh-tokef-in-reform-liturgy-if-it-cant-be-in-musaf/#comment-2637) is that there’s a more clever way to include the special RH material than the way GOR approaches it. And–Larry you should be rejoicing at this–I’m not tilting at the Musaf windmill here. Rather, I’m proposing a way to do this that makes a little more structural sense than GOR’s way, while still excluding Musaf.

      “Whatever else you want to say to diss Reform Jews, they have been trained to come at the beginning and stay until the end.”

      Right. Which is why what I’m proposing–putting the special Musaf sections in the Shacharit Amidah–would work in Reform settings.

      “Just so we hear it, it doesn’t have to be in an Amidah context.”

      If all that matters is hearing it, why not leave it in its context?

      “I always come back to the need for liturgy to function in a way that the clergy/delivery system can live with and that meets the expectations of the congregants.”

      I don’t think we’re in disagreement here. Again, I’m attempting to propose something that is no longer, has no more moving parts, than GOR has. I’m not proposing Musaf. I’m proposing that the special Musaf sections be put inside the Shacharit Amidah, rather than letting them dangle about at the end of th service, as GOR has them.

  6. Glad we’re more or less on the same page. Simplifying the structure you outlined in comparing MLS with GOR, we now have liturgy, including UNT, Torah reading, Shofar, return the Torah, sermon, aleinu, kaddish yatom, closing hymn. (When are the feminists going to demand a closing hyrn?)

    You are proposing liturgy, Shofar, Torah service, sermon (you didn’t mention the sermon, but it’s still central to Reform HHD, even if no longer to Reform Shabbat), aleinu, kaddish yatom, closing hymn.

    I have no objection to that, and I can’t see any of the rabbis I know seriously objecting, but there are always rabbis and a few congregants who resent any deviation from what they’re used to, and mostly, even 35 years after it was retired, their standard is the UPB. The ideologue in me says Screw ’em, but the pragmatist says make it work for them. No reason your suggestion shouldn’t work, but it’s change, which many find threatening.

    • Of course it’s change. The whole book will be an objectionable change no matter what the contents are. I say make a machzor that’s good and don’t worry about the change-mongers. They won’t be happy no matter what’s in the new book.

  7. Pingback: An open letter to the Reform Machzor committee | The Reform Shuckle

  8. On weekdays, the Amidah has 19 pieces. On Shabbat, it has eight.

    How do you arrive at eight (rather than 7)? Are you counting Elohai N’tzor? Why not count berachot (rather than “pieces”)?

    After all, Reform liturgists have no problem taking Yism’chu, which is unique to Shabbat Musaf, and putting it in the regular Shabbat Amidah.

    In nusach Ashkenaz it’s unique to musaf; in nusach Sefard it’s in every Shabbat Amidah.

    # 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)
    […]
    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.

    My understanding of GOR had always been that the heading “Meditation” referred to the two English paragraphs preceding Unetaneh Tokef, not to Unetaneh Tokef itself. What is your basis for claiming that GOR separates Unetaneh Tokef from Kedushah? Simply that Kedushah is marked off with a new heading? I just checked Silverman, Eit Ratzon, Metsudah, and Mahzor Hadash, all of which do the same thing.

    So why not do the same with Malkhuyot, Zikhronot and Shofarot?

    There is some logic to the way GOR arranges things:

    In a typical non-Reform Rosh Hashanah service (with musaf), the shofar is sounded during (at least) two different parts of the service:
    1) at the conclusion of the Torah service, preceded by the blessings for the shofar (lishmoa’ kol shofar and shehecheyanu). This is the one that “counts” for fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar.
    2) during musaf, at the conclusion of the malchuyot, zichronot, and shofarot sections.

    So GOR puts the sounding of the shofar in its classical place, at the end of the Torah service. Then, since malchuyot/zichronot/shofarot have to go somewhere, and since they are strongly associated with shofar, they are inserted here, into the shofar service. (UPB does the same thing, by the way, so this wasn’t new to GOR.) This may not be the placement you would have chosen, but it’s not completely random.

    From the perspective of the mood, that seems to make the most sense if you’re gonna refuse to do Musaf. On the other hand, if you’re willing to do them at the end anyway, you might as well tack on that extra ten or fifteen minutes the rest of Musaf would take and leave the whole thing.

    I’m all in favor of musaf myself. But it doesn’t seem particularly coherent to do musaf on the high holidays only, if you’re not doing it on other holidays or Shabbatot. Yes, I can think of several communities and mahzorim that do this (I just led musaf at such a community on Friday), and I can understand why they do (because of exactly the issues you raise — on the HH, there is lots of special liturgy that is unique to musaf), but it still doesn’t make much sense from a big-picture perspective.

    • Eeee. I must have been counting Elohai N’tzor. Lets just assume that I did that for some clever reason and then move on….

      “In nusach Ashkenaz it’s unique to musaf; in nusach Sefard it’s in every Shabbat Amidah.”

      Well, that I did not know. Thanks for pointing it out. It’s cool to know.

      “My understanding of GOR had always been that the heading ‘Meditation’ referred to the two English paragraphs preceding Unetaneh Tokef, not to Unetaneh Tokef itself. What is your basis for claiming that GOR separates Unetaneh Tokef from Kedushah? Simply that Kedushah is marked off with a new heading?”

      I had not considered that “Meditation” referred to the English paragraphs. But, yeah, I think that using separate headings confuses things. Un’taneh Tokef isn’t a special brachah unto itself, but a part of Kedushah. I’d say that any machzor that doesn’t make that clear in the headings is doing its readers a disservice. MLS, for instance, makes their unity very clear by preceding Un’taneh Tokef with the heading “Third B’rakhah: God’s Holiness” and a subheading for Un’taneh Tokef.

      “This may not be the placement you would have chosen, but it’s not completely random.”

      If you look at the more recent post, you’ll see me discussing the drawbacks and the pluses to putting these prayers where GOR puts them. (https://davidsaysthings.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/an-open-letter-to-the-reform-machzor-committee/)

      “but it still doesn’t make much sense from a big-picture perspective.”

      Agreed. But I don’t think anything about the Reform attitude toward Musaf makes sense–from a big picture perspective or otherwise.

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