Andy Bachman strikes again: “regrettable” that Reform truncated Shma

Andy Bachman, senior rabbi of the Reform Beth Elohim in Brooklyn always has smart things to say at his blog, Water Over Rocks. I saw this post from him this morning about the Reform excision of the second paragraph of the Shma. Here’s part of it:

In Reform Judaism, for the better part of the last century, Reform Jews have recited the Shma while standing as a public expression of faith, doctrine, pronounced creed.  And Reform prayerbooks have, additionally, eliminated from the liturgy the paragraph following the Shma (the original Torah text of which appears in next week’s Torah portion) mostly because in its articulation of why one ought to observe God’s commandments, there is an explicit articulation of the Biblical doctrine of reward and punishment, to wit, if you follow My commandments, I will give rain in its proper season, God warns; but if you don’t, the earth you hope to cultivate for sustenance will not yield its fruit in its proper season.

It’s always struck me as a regrettable loss that the early Reformers excised such ideas, depriving generations of Reform Jews the opportunity to engage prayer and Torah text as metaphor, and especially in our own day with fears and threats of global warming, of engaging the notion of how we treat the earth with a sense of the sacred.

Here’s the rest of it.

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5 responses to “Andy Bachman strikes again: “regrettable” that Reform truncated Shma

  1. I’ve been thinking about just this thing lately. I really think its (complete!) removal was impulsive, considering its metaphorical potential. It took me until just recently to put the passage into context…the Israelites had just got out of Canaan, where everyone was expecting their pantheons to give them what they wanted if they sacrificed enough children etc., so naturally they have to be reminded that what actually makes the world go round is their own behavior.

    I don’t even think of it as environmental, as I guess he does (I skimmed, so what); but if others think of that way, hey go for it. Can’t even have a chance to though when it’s not in the liturgy; I mean really.

  2. I agree. I actually just attended my first Reform service in years, and the first I’ve been to where Mishkan Tefilah was used. I vaguely remembered reading about the chopping up of the Shema here, I think, but it was still weirdly jarring when it occurred in the service. I daven during the week with either Siddur Sim Shalom or Koren; I instinctively went to say the second paragraph before I realized that everyone else was on the third, and the second wasn’t there at all. I suppose it’s all a question of what you’re used to, though.

    I do agree with Laura that the paragraph in question can absolutely be read either literally or metaphorically. As with so many things in Jewish texts in general and the Torah in particular, there’s the obvious meaning and the one that you find when you look into the context more deeply. It seems kind of weird to me that they wouldn’t even leave the second paragraph as an option. Out of curiosity, since I don’t actually remember at the moment, was the Shema printed in full in Gates of Prayer, or was it only those two paragraphs there, as well?

  3. David Wolfe-Blank z’l has a wonderful translation of the second paragraph that conveys the metamorphic meaning while being true to the original text. It’s in the Pnai Or siddur. It blew my mind when I first encountered it.

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