The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music

According to JTA, the Reform cantorial school has been renamed The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music:

Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, made the announcement Jan. 27 in New York at a memorial tribute to Friedman, who died Jan. 9 at 59.

Friends of the late singer-songwriter have made possible an endowment to the school, which will be known as The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Ellenson said.

Here’s the full article from JTA.

Also, the article says:

Her most well-known composition, “Mi Shebeirach,” a Hebrew-English version of the Jewish prayer for healing, is now part of the Reform liturgy.

I can’t even begin to describe the aneurysm I’m having about the notion that any individual piece of music could be a Never mind that. It is, in fact, a part of the Reform liturgy. I just found it in Mishkan T’filah on page 109.


22 responses to “The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music

  1. How isn’t it liturgy? It’s clearly a prayer. It’s widely used, not just a niche thing.

    When/where is the cutoff for something to not be considered liturgy?

    I can’t read through your sarcasm…

  2. Further…

    Do you believe David/the Psalmists thought they were intentionally creating liturgy when he/they composed the Psalms, or do you believe they were just writing music? I don’t think he/they knew that the compositions would be come standardized as part of Jewish liturgy. Is Psalm 150 a piece of liturgy? When it was composed it was just an individual piece of music…

    Is L’cha Dodi a piece of liturgy? When it was composed, it was also an individual piece of music.

    Why won’t you extend the same honour to this Mi Shebeirach?

    • First, see my comment above.

      Indeed, Lecha Dodi was a song and now it’s Jewish liturgy because of its universal use in siddurim.

      So too, DF’s Mi Shebeirach was once a song and not it’s American Reform liturgy because of its use in MT.

      • I would say it is also Israeli Progressive liturgy. I was at a congregation where it was sung, fully translated into Hebrew.

        And Conservative and even some Modern Orthodox congregations sing it, not as a song, but as a prayer. I think it’s safe to say that DF’s Mi Shebeirach is now de facto Jewish Liturgy.

        • Hmmm. I’m having trouble with that. I think being printed in siddurim is part of my understanding of what equals liturgy. That’s why I say that I’m obsessed with litrugy–because I’m obsessed with the siddurim themselves.

          So until DF’s MiS is in print in normative Conservative and Orthodox and IMPJ liturgy, I’ll limit myself to calling it American Reform liturgy.

          But that’s very interesting that you’ve heard it in Hebrew in an IMPJ joint. It’s funny that this piyyut begins as a creative translation or reading sort of thing, but then it gets faithfully translated back into Hebrew.

  3. The particular significance of this particular piece of liturgy does not lie either in its words nor in its music, per se. Debbie’s Mi Shebeirach brought into Reform Judaism praying for healing, an element of the service which Reform had expunged. Had she not created something so accessible (and so bi-lingual), amcha might not have said, Hey, we need this, we want this, we insist on this. And BTW, I am told that this particular MSB has also founnd its way into liturgy in non-Reform settings.

    Befoire you have any aneurysms, remember the fundamental principle of all religious practice, vox populi vox dei.

    • During Debbie’s shloshim, my conservative shul, whose usual minhag is to sing Taubman after the prayer, has been singing Friedman.

      I, for one, would prefer that we honored her by using her Mi Kamocha, which is fun and upbeat. But no one there knows the tune.

    • First, see my comments above.

      The aneurysm was going to be about the notion that a) a song is liturgy and b) that a song that some Reform Jews use in some services can be referred to as a blanket Reform practice.

      But, again, see my comments above.

  4. I’m not comfortable with your definition of liturgy as that which is printed in siddurim. For example, many siddurim contain the Star Spangled Banner, and Hatikvah, etc. but not as part of the regular order of the service. Nor would I think of them as liturgy even when sung during a service. I guess the differentiator is intent — in that they are NOT adddressed to Mishebeirach….

  5. The whole notion of Reform liturgy is sort of problematic, in that liturgy is by definition prescribed, consistent, and mandatory. Reform tefillah as described in MT allows for substantial variation from Shabbat to Shabbat and from synagogue to synagogue, in a way that Orthodox liturgy does not (by which I mean variation in matbea, not just nusah / musical nusah). We must remember though that Debbie Friedman didn’t just compose a tune–she wrote new text for a prayer that has become widely used and therefore part of the loose amalgam of Hebrew and English and Hebglish tefillot that comprise American Reform Liturgy.

  6. Still curious about this… can anyone think of examples of things we’d consider liturgical that aren’t printed in a siddur?

    • Depends on how you define ‘siddur’ and ‘liturgical’. The liturgy of the Pesach Seder is recorded in the Haggadah, but rarely found in a siddur. Various home rituals are often collected in birkonim or bentschers (e.g. eshet chayil / ashrei ha-ish on Friday night), but less frequently found in siddurim. The liturgy for Tisha B’av is found in ‘kinnos’ (kinnot) booklets; liturgies for Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom HaShoah don’t even get booklets–they’re often xeroxed handouts. Liturgy used at various lifecycle events (brit milah / wedding / funeral) is sometimes but not always found in the Siddur proper–it all depends on just how ‘shalem’ your siddur shalem is.

      Then there’s the question of what is and isn’t liturgical canon. The newer and less widely accepted a liturgical innovation is, the less likely it is to be found in siddurim. These ephemera–home-printed brit bat ceremonies or yom hashoah candle-lighting services–aren’t usually found in siddurim, but aren’t necessarily ‘liturgy’ either to most of the Jewish people. Personal prayers and meditations are not generally thought of as liturgy–but with enough interest in your ‘personal reflection’, the community may take ownership of it and add it to the liturgy.

      • Re special services, ephemera as you aptly call them, my teacher, Rabbi Fred Schwartz z”l, used to call them Kleenex services — use them once, then throw them away.

        • The question, of course, is what happens if, by some odd chance, the kleenex service, or something it captures a congregation’s imagination and does not get thrown away? And if a Jew passing through is inspired by it and asks for a copy? In short what happens when a poem of Ruth Brin’s that was commissioned for the dedication of Temple Israel’s sanctuary after its renovation perches on a branch in Mishkan Tefillah. Or a prayer designed to call the davenner’s attention to the importance of driving safely nestles under the wayfarer’s prayer in Va’Ani tefillati?

          Time winnows jewels from the ephemera.

      • The distinction I’m attempting to make is the distinction between things that come and go and things that tend to stick around. I’m also making the related distinction between the printed word/proscribed action and the aesthetic trappings we layer on top of those.

    • In my opinion (which may differ greatly from someone else’s) defining liturgy is like deciding if a certain faith is a cult or a religion. A faith has to be accepted as a true religion by a large group of people before it is considered more than a cult. Anyone can say something is liturgy, but it really has to accepted as liturgy by, at least, a congregation; otherwise, it’s really just something you use in a service. I think this works to better define most liturgy since, as Jacob T stated, it isn’t always found in a siddur.

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