Tag Archives: Denominations

I don’t just write the news–I am the news!

The New Jersey Jewish News has honored me with a profile and a really great mugshot.

Johanna Ginsberg, one of their staff writers (and a member of Beth El–these people are over the place!) stopped by one morning last week to interview and photograph me for it. It was lovely and it’s a nice piece.

Things relevant to themes on this blog (the parenthetical bold bit is mine):

At 22, David A.M. Wilensky appears full of contradictions: He wears tzitzit but not a kipa. He embraces Reform Judaism but attends a Conservative synagogue.


Perhaps it’s all in the eye of the beholder. “I go to a Conservative synagogue because I like the services better, but I live a personal life that’s informed by what I learned growing up in the Reform world,” he told NJJN in an interview on the patio of his South Orange apartment. “Is that any more of a contradiction than people who belong to a Conservative synagogue and don’t keep kosher and never come to services?”


…addressing his religious garb, he said, “Wearing a tallit katan and wearing a kipa are separate practices, with separate origins and rationales, so I don’t see that as contradictory either. Unusual? Yes. But not contradictory.

“Maybe that says something about my generation, but to me it all just makes sense,” he concluded.


A patio table is scattered with the accessories of his single Jewish post-collegiate life: a hookah, an ashtray filled with cigarette butts (the cigarette butts are not mine, by the way, just for the record), a Kiddush cup, half-melted Shabbat candles, and a bottle of Febreeze. Behind him, several freshly laundered tzitzit hang on a rack to dry.

Wilensky is confident about the future of journalism, but remains uncertain about his own future.

“I’m obsessed with liturgy right now. Maybe I’ll get a PhD in liturgy and that will be my thing,” he said.

But he’s certainly got a journalist’s instincts. “Why don’t Jewish papers ever put federations under the microscope?” he asked. Maybe he’ll blog about it.

Maybe I will!

You can read the whole article, which really is terrific, over here.



If I stick my foot in my mouth and there is no one around, do I still make an ass out of myself?

Last week, in the first of what is quickly becoming a lot of posts about Beth El of South Orange, NJ, I incorrectly identified one of the service leaders as “Abigail, who I’m guessing is like 15 years old.”

She pointed out to me during services yesterday that she is not Abigail, but Sharon. And that she is 20, not 15. For a 22-year-old who still doesn’t need to shave every single day to look clean-shaven, that’s quite an idiotic assumption on my part.

I apologized to Sharon when she pointed it out to me and then made fun of myself a little bit. I thought I’d go ahead and do that here too. I’ve also corrected the original post.

The good news is that I didn’t pull the name Abigail totally out of my ass. Sharon’s younger sister is named Abigail and she is–you guessed it–actually 15. She’s also, like her sisters, an accomplished Torah reader.

In other news, I’m on a train to Baltimore right now. From there, it’s on to whatever The Conversation NY is. While I’m there, I hope to figure out why something called The Conversation NY is being held in a place that is decidedly not New York.

I’m back in Jersey on the 14th. The next day, it’s off to Austin for about 10 days.

Shavua tov.

Turning the welcoming up to 11–A review of two services at Beth El in South Orange, NJ

Yesterday, I was at the UJA Federation building in Manhattan for a conference. There, I was introduced to Rabbi Danny Allen, the head of ARZA. As it turns out, he lives right here in South Orange, NJ, my new stomping grounds. As soon as he found out where I lived, he whipped out a business card, wrote his home phone number on the back and told me to call him if I needed anything. It turns out that he’s also a member of Beth El, the Conservative shul around the corner from me. I asked if he’d be there that night and he said no, but that he would be there in the morning.

So, all alone, I made the five minute walk there at 6:15 last night for services. As soon as I got there, I ran into someone who looked very familiar. She turned out to be Rabbi Francine Roston, who I had met a few months ago at a conference at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah. And that’s when the overwhelming welcoming began.

I’ll now move into the bullet point format that’s been working for these reviews lately and then I’ll do the ballpoint pen rating at the end.

Erev Shabbat

  • The hatless rabbi: After figuring out who I was, we went in and Roston muttered something about needing a kippah. I figured she meant me. Luckily I came prepared. I pulled one out of my back pocket and pinned it on. Then, I noticed that she was the one without a kippah! She fiddled around in the bin-o-kippot by the door and got one out for herself.
  • Fruits of remodeling: Tomorrow, Beth El will dedicate their “Ochs Campus,” which is actually the same location they’ve always been at, but with a major face-lift from the Ochs family, whose name the local day school also bears.
  • Nice Western light: The small chapel where we did Kabbat Shabbat was lovely. It looks like a totally new addition to the building, with seating on three side facing a shtender in the middle, which the rabbi led from. The back wall is stained glass and faces West, an inspired choice for a Conservative shul, where Friday night is likely to be a small service. The light was great as the sun began to sink low.
  • Service times: Though the light was great, the sun didn’t set by the time we were done. Their services start at 6:15 through the end of June and then move to 8 something beginning in July.
  • Making the minyan: At 6:15, there were about 6 people, including myself, the rabbi and one mourner. So Roston was out in the lobby on her cell trying to get a minyan. By the time it mattered, we had a minyan and by the time we were done, there were 15 or so people.
  • Musically boring, but not bad: Beth El has a cantor, but the cantor was not present. Roston’s voice is good enough for me, but nothing special. Kabbalat Shabbat was done in a typical nusach/Carlebach sort of way, but she opted for the most boring option at every turn. With only a couple of exceptions, she did the chant-the-first-and-last-lines thing.
  • Lecha Dodi: So musically uninteresting were her choices that we only used one tune for LD. In shuls that sing the full piyyut, they almost always switch tunes in the middle and I’ve started to be surprised when I find them not doing it. It’s a better solution to the monotony of the length of the piyyut than the Reform solution, which is truncation.
  • Good participation: Despite the small crowd, the singing was decently participatory when we actually did sing something, like LD.
  • Welcoming mourners: There is this line, “Hamakom yenachem…/May God comfort you…” that every siddur prints after LD with the explanation that it is to be said to the congregation’s mourners. I’ve never actually seen it done, but Roston actually forgot to do it and apologized, flipping back a page and turning to face the mourner. She had everyone read it together to him. It was pretty jarring to me.
  • Chatzi Kaddish nusach slip-up: Roston did CK to the wrong nusach–an accident to which I’m often susceptible–and then smirked to a guy sitting behind me. I later learned that he’s a past president of the Beth El. She muttered something to him about getting it wrong and he chuckled.
  • Magein Avot (v’Imahot): Beth El calls itself and egalitarian Conservative congregation. So it was noteworthy, though not surprising that Roston does the mamas and papas, which I discovered when we got to Magen Avot. More on gender roles at Beth El later.
  • Correct Kaddish Shalem nusach: Sometimes, once you fall off the nusach horse, it’s real hard to get back on. There was an odd pause before Kaddish Shalem as I noticed Roston glance at the same guy from before. He muttered the first couple words of KS to the correct nusach and she was able to get going.

Shabbat Morning

I arrived at 9:25 and the service started quite promptly at 9:30. I don’t know whether to add or subtract points for that. Roston and I were the first into the room, a larger sanctuary that looks like it’s a dramatic recent remodel of an existing sanctuary. It was quite nice, remarkable, given that I rarely like modernist sanctuaries. Luckily, I chose to sit one row behind a group of three older men who arrived a little after I did. It turns out they’re the peanut gallery. It’s good to spot your own kind in an unfamiliar place. One of them is also the provost of JTS, who had just led the Torah study before services.

  • Birchot Hashachar: Roston began with the daily blessings on p. 65 of Siddur Sim Shalom, that little section that Gates of Prayer called Nisim B’chol Yom. As with the service the previous night, almost everything was done in a very minimal chant-the-first-and-last-lines sort of way.
  • Skipping ahead: We continued in that fashion until p. 67 “…mekadeish at shimcha barabim” when we skipped ahead to p. 81 for Ps. 30. That means that we skipped the selection of texts that SSS replaces Korbanot with, Kaddish D’Rabbanan and Ps. 92 (the daily psalm). We then did Kaddish Yatom and moved on to…
  • Pesukei Dezimra: This section proceeded in what was quickly becoming a boring fashion, the familiar first and last line shtick.
    • A brief excerpt from a long list of things we did not sing: We managed not to sing even Ps. 136 (the one with the “ki le’olam chasdo” refrain. We also did not chant Ashrei, though we certainly didn’t skip it.
    • A brief, though complete list, of things we did sing: Luckily, Ps. 150 is too musically themed to keep even this crowd from singing it, though the melody was unfamiliar to me. In Shirat Hayam, I was surprised to find us singing “Ozi vezimrat Yah vayehi li lishuah” to that Shefa Gold tune.
    • Shochein Ad leader switch: At Shochein Ad, a very young-looking leader replaced Roston at the shtender. Her style was similar Roston’s. I later learned she is Evelyn, who just graduated from Rutgers. More on her later.
    • The ladies of Beth El: I will point out at this point that the entire service was lead by women, with exception of the Torah Service, which had a male reader and gabbai.
  • El Adon: Evelyn gave us a thankful reprieve from the usual when we got to this portion of Yotzer Or. I’m pretty sure there’s a law these days requiring El Adon to be sung.
  • Amidah: There was a silent Amidah and a reader’s repetition. It is worth noting here that we did a Heiche Kedushah (first three blessings of the Amidah together, the rest silently) in Musaf.
  • Welcoming gone wild: On Friday night, Roston introduced me to everybody twice, once at the beginning of the service and once at the end. This morning about a half dozen past presidents introduced themselves or were introduced to me during the service. One gave me an Aliyah. While sitting on the bimah during the fifth aliyah, waiting for my turn at the sixth, Roston asked if I read Torah. I told her no. She asked if I can lead davening. I said yes. There were about a dozen handshakes and full name introductions on my way back to my seat after the Aliyah.
  • Korens and Evelyn: By this point, I had relocated to sit with Danny (the rabbi from the very beginning of the post), who was sitting right behind Evelyn and her family. I was introduced to Evelyn, who was using the Koren Sacks, which I commended her on. She told me that she had asked for it as a birthday present. My kind of person. There were two other Korens in the congregation as well.
  • Mi Shebeirach gone wild: I know that we all have to join the cult of intercessory healing prayers know, but Beth El’s version is the most odious I’ve yet seen. People, like 20 of them, lined up on the ramp to the bimah while the rest of them hummed or something and they came up one-by-one to grab the Torah and say a special prayer from someone in need of healing. Danny, correctly perceiving my expression as one of incredulity, seemed not to think too much of it either. “It’s not a theological decision,” he said. “It is,” I said, “it’s just not being made for theological reasons.” Then, a little later, they wanted everyone who had gone up to the Torah to stand up for a special prayer. I stayed in my seat.
  • Musaf: As noted, Musaf was done as a Heiche Kedushah. Word on the street is that Roston wants to do away with Musaf. Oh dear. It seems I’ve found a shul with a liturgical debate worth wading into.
    • Abigail’s Sharon’s more diverse musical tastes: Musaf was led by Evelyn’s younger sister, Abigail Sharon (I think I thought, but turned out to be wrong). This was interesting because Abigail’s Sharon’s musical choices and the congregation’s acceptance of them is a sign that the music doesn’t always have to be as boring as it was.
    • A-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-Adonai… I don’t actually like doing this verison of “Adonai sefatai tiftach…” but the fact that Abigail Sharon chose to was a good sign, given what I said in the previous bullet point.
  • Aleinu: Abigail Sharon went with your standard Camp Ramah-style Aleinu, with lots of singing and stomping and so forth.

After the service, I could scarcely walk two feet without being intercepted for lengthy introductions. Which was bad because I wanted a bagel. But it was good because now I think I’ve met everybody in the world, including one lesbian mother of three who told me that she’s the unofficial matchmaker at Beth El and that she’d start thinking about finding someone for me. Welcome to South Orange, apparently.

The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating (The rating system is explained here.)

Music and Ruach: Three Ballpoint Pens

The congregation was engaged and participated, but not particularly loudly. The leading was all competent, through and through, but of three service leaders I experienced across two services, only one (Abigail, who I’m guessing is 20 like 15 years old) did anything particularly interesting with her moment at the shtender. On its own, the congregation’s participation would probably pull a three and a half, while the music on its own would probably be a two and a half. As always, keep in mind that this is only a rating of the two services I attended this week and that neither involved Beth El’s cantor.

The Chaos Quotient: Three Ballpoint Pens

Beth El was pretty light on the chaos, but I felt totally at home nonetheless. There was a solid low-level hum of chaos surrounding distribution of honors, especially the Torah service, but nothing too special. The only thing keeping this from being two and a half is the nusach issues I saw on Friday night.

Liturgical Health: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

There were, as far as I saw, three other people who brought their own siddur, each one a Koren Sacks. (I brought the Sim Shalom commentary, Or Hadash.) In an ordinary shul, that’s something, I guess–even if one of them turned out to be the provost of JTS! There was a good level of lay-leading throughout the service, as I discussed above. What keeps this rating from being a three is the questionable and totally bizarre Mi Shebeirach situation.

Welcoming Community: Five Ballpoint Pens

This might actually be the first time I’ve rated anything as a five since I started using the ballpoint pen scale. And it should be obvious from everything I said above why. These people welcome you like it’s their job.

Overall Rating: Four Ballpoint Pens

Not much left to say, except that, for maybe the first time, the warmth of the community elevated the rating past the solid three I would have given based on the other categories.

Mincha x2: My afternoon adventure

There’s a bunch of photos in this post. If you’re viewing in a reader, I recommend going out to the post to see it properly.

I’m currently staying with some friends in Astoria, Queens. They go to work all day. So I went on an adventure today. And ended up hitting to different minyans for mincha!

You can’t see it here, but if you look up, you can see the spire of the Empire State Building above J. Levine.

My first stop was J. Levine. The store has been family-operated for five generations and has thrived in recent years by diversifying its offerings. The siddur shelves–which I’m know kicking myself for not taking pictures of today–have everything from multiple editions of Mishkan Tefilah to a full line of ArtScroll siddurim.

I happen to know the current Levine-in-Chief, Danny, who acts as conference bookseller during Limmud NY every year.

I was there to get a klaf for my current hosts’ mezuzah, which they hadn’t hung yet–call it a housewarming gift. But while I was there, I couldn’t resist wandering back through the narrow, cluttered store to the siddur shelves. And it took everything I had to resist the urge to buy any.

I noticed one woman–behind the counter–and maybe five or so men scattered throughout the store. I heard one of them walk past me muttering something about starting mincha soon.

Next thing I knew, one guy chant/calls out: “Ashrei! Yoshvei veite… mumble mumble selah mumble mumble mumble.” Ashrei had begun.

Oddly, when I looked up, I saw at least a dozen Orthodox men had materialized. One was shopping, flipping through a children’s book while muttering the words of the prayers to himself! Several of the new arrivals were full-on black hatters.

I got my klaf–the woman behind the counter had not stopped to daven–and got out before they were halfway through the Amidah.

I next made my way up to the Upper West Side to meet up with the Soferet, Jen Taylor-Friedman. Jen has a fun thing lying about that we’ve been to meet up so she can give me for ages. She said she’d be hanging around at Yeshivat Hadar this afternoon so I decided to meet her there. In the end, she couldn’t find the thing to bring it to me.

I arrived a little before she did, just as Mincha was starting! Ethan Tucker, one of the roshei yeshiva, was on his way and said hi to me. I told him I was looking for Jen and he said she hadn’t been in, but that one of the Hadar fellow was about to give a devar and that after that, the yeshiva becomes and open study space and that I was welcome to hang around.

So I decided to hang around for the devar, which, it turned out, was being given by a friend of mine, ASB. Here he is giving the devar:

ASB is the one in the middle, perched on the chair. One of the little heads to ASB’s left is my number one fan, Alex.

Anyway, Jen arrived just as ASB had finished up. Despite not being to find the thing she was gonna bring me, I had a good time checking out her latest project:

In a play on the tradition of a megilah where each column of text begins with hamelech, the king, Jen is creating a megilat Ester where each column begins with the word  hamalkah, the queen!

And now, a few words on the beautiful space that Yeshivat Hadar learns in. They study at the West End Synagogue, a Reconstructionist shul, (though Hadar itself is far from Recon!).

In the photo of ASB giving his devar above, you can see their sanctuary. Apparently, WES used to be a public library, so there are still bookshelves all around, which makes for a nice atmosphere for the yeshiva. There are many more chairs stack at the back, which I assume the yeshiva unstacks at the end of the week when WES is preparing for Shabbat services. The funny thing is seeing the yeshiva fellows sitting around in these chairs, which all have pockets on the back with copies of Kol Haneshama, the Recon. siddur!

There is some great not-stained-but-textured glass at the back of the sanctuary:

The doorway at the far right is at the top of the stair that lead into the sanctuary/yeshiva. I think it’s a really nice space. I’m considering adding WES to my list of places to pop into one week for services.

ArtScroll’s borderline idolatry

I had a discussion a few days ago with someone from the iWorship listserve about how I think ArtScroll is pretty far to the right of most Modern Orthodox Jews. I told him that I think Koren is a much more moderate siddur and that it’s catching on because it is more in line with how more MO Jews think.

I just got the new Expanded ArtScroll Siddur Wasserman Edition. They go on and on about how the typesetting is more modern that old one. I find it just as obnoxious and crammed as the original. I got it because it has some new material in it to supplement the good ol’ stuff and it’s got a new introduction and overview section–and I go nuts for those things.

Anyway, I was just starting to digest it today when I discovered a case in point about the rightward lean of ArtScroll: pages and pages of prayer for holy places in Israel. I know that no one is with me on the Western Wall as idolatry issue, but this includes special prayers to be said at the Wall, Rachel’s tomb, the Cave of the Machpelah and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s tomb.

I don’t think prayer at the graves of the holy dead is mainstream. Unless I’m just fooling myself here. Which is possible. But seriously. Idolatry. I’m just saying.

Jewish Spirituality Course–first reflection paper–identity and lifestyle

As previously mentioned, I’m taking a Jewish Spirituality course this semester. This post, crossposted to New Voices here,  is actually just the first of four two-page reflection papers that I’ll do for this course over the course of the semester. There a few ideas in here that I don’t think I’ve ever articulated here at The Shuckle before, so I thought I’d give y’all a chance to read this paper.

David A.M. Wilensky


Jewish Spirituality

First Reflection Paper—Identity and Lifestyle

I don’t know if this has anything to do with the class, but I began davening Maariv, Minchah and Shacharit every day the day before Rosh Hashanah. I’ve only missed one Minchah so far, while missing no Shacharit or Maariv. I’m not sure why I’m doing it, but there it is.

Among Jews of a particular conservative (with a small “c”) kind of observance, there’s an idea that somone who does all of the mitzvot—as though there is somewhere a complete list—will discover meaning in all of them. This meaning is inherent and divine. The meaning may not be apparent until one starts doing that mitzvah. Sometimes, these people say, it may not be apparent for many years.

Growing up in the Reform movement, that always seemed like a ludicrous proposition. The Reform movement has historically had an intellectual bent that is uncomfortable with that kind of thought process. Rituals, we would say, were created by people, not God, so they do not have inherent meaning. At the same time, we would relabel the bein adam l’chaveiro/bein adam l’makom dichotomy as a ritual/ethical dichotomy.

In high school, when I began going to services every Shabbat morning and every erev Shabbat, stopped doing work in exchange for money on Shabbat and stopped doing homework on Shabbat, I found that the line between ritul and ethical commandments is thin. I thought at one point that if everyone would just calm down every seventh day, the whole world would be improved. When I started to wear tzitzit every day, the line seemed even thinner. If tzitzit are a meta-mitzvah that reinforces observance of other mitzvot, how could it even be classified as either ritual or ethical? Clearly, I reasoned—and I still do—it must be both.

I’m still Reform, though I’m not a member of the Reform movement (where “Reform movement” means official Reform bodies such as the URJ). As such, I still belive that Judaism is a system of meaning created by human beings that acts to create more ethical, considerate people. I’ve found that the reasoning I cited earlier, that something created by God would have inherent meaning that something created by humans wouldn’t have, doesn’t hold up. We did not create rituals for kicks. We built meaning into them and I have started to see discovery of the meaning our ancestors built into them—or discovery of new meaning we can layer on them—as a goal.  Though I have yet to discover any divine reasons for new mitzvot I’ve obligated myself in, I have yet to try on a new mitzvah that I haven’t found meaningful or helpful.

“Complete observance”—whatever that would even mean—is not a goal of mine. I don’t see myself eating only kosher food anytime soon. Likewise, I can’t imagine not scribbling notes in the margins of my Tanach or siddur on Shabbat. There is a whole idea percolating in my head right now about jotting down notes while praying as a spiritual practice. (If, as Louis Finkelstein said, “When I pray, I speak to God; when I study, God speaks to me,” does that mean that if I study the siddur while I pray, I am the rare person that God actually talks back to while praying? And I say that with my tongue about halfway into my cheek.)

What I have found, however, is two new ideas. The first is that trying on more ritual usually turns out well. I’m even prepared to try tefilin again, which didn’t turn out well the first time. (Your suggestion about the reason for the four compartments in the shel rosh and the one in the shel yad is the first compelling reason I’ve ever heard for tefilin.) The second is that obligation is not a bad word, but that in today’s world I can only obligate myself. So I’m trying on rituals. When something happens, or it looks like something might happen, I am obligating myself in the new ritual. That means that if I eat bacon, I feel no remorse because I haven’t obligated myself in kashrut. But when I miss Minchah, I kick myself because that’s something I’ve obligated myself in.

My dream is coming true

I have long wanted to live in a world in which all new works of Jewish liturgy have their own trailers on YouTube. So here’s the second one I’ve discovered.

Watch out for the part where one of the editors of Mahzor Lev Shalem tries to co-opt a Reform tagline and claims, despite the lack of a complete transliteration in MLS, “This is a big-tent machzor.”

It’s also mad long and not nearly as cool as the Koren Soloveitchik siddur trailer.

An open letter to the Reform Machzor committee

The background to this is over here. This post is meant as a more succinct–and more correct–version of that post.

To Rabbi Edward Goldberg, Rabbi Leon Morris, Rabbi Janet Marder, Rabbi Sheldon Marder and the other scholars of their various subcommittees:

A little bird–an anonymous person on one of your subcommittees–told me that in the course of working out the order of the prayers in the forthcoming Reform machzor, it was suggested that Un’taneh Tokef be appended to the end of Shacharit, totally removed from its context in the Kedushah.

As you know, the most central problem that Reform liturgists encounter when working out the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah is the problem of Musaf. Reform liturgy has long excluded Musaf from its siddurim and machzorim out of discomfort with discussions and remembrances of sacrifice. Yet, on Rosh Hashanah, the most remarkable additions to the service were traditionally found in Musaf–Un’taneh Tokef as part the Kedushah, Malchuyot as part of Kedushat Hayom and Zichronot and Shofarot as their own special brachot within Musaf.

The novel solution to the pull of the special Rosh Hashanah prayers and the push of Musaf put forth by Gates of Repentance and the Union Prayer Book II before it was to include Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot in the grey area of the Torah service (GOR 139-151, 209-217; UPBII 1940 78-84) . Between the Torah reading and the return of the Sefer Torah to the ark, liturgists and prayer leaders often insert all kinds of things. Not only that, but this placement keeps these sections toward the end of the service, preserving the mood of climax created by their traditional place toward the end of the service in Musaf. However, as I will propose, there is a better way to include these sections while also respecting the Reform tradition of excluding Musaf.

Though UPBII excluded Un’taneh Tokef on Rosh Hashanah, GOR inserted it as a “Meditation” preceding the Kedushah in the Rosh Hashanah Shacharit Amidah (106, 175).

So the question now is about how the new Reform machzor will handle these sections. My goal here is to offer a solution that respects liturgical structure and the context of individual prayers, while also respecting the Reform drive to leave Musaf out. In doing so, I will propose an order of prayers that includes no material that is not already in GOR, keeping the service the same length.

I propose is to combine the Shacharit Amidah with the special material from the Musaf Amidah into a single Shacharit Amidah. There is a precedent in Reform liturgy for taking material from a Musaf Amidah and putting it in another Amidah. My example is Yism’chu, which comes from Kedushat Hayom in Musaf, but has been offered as a part of the regular Kedushat Hayom by Reform liturgy (Mishkan T’filah 250, 329; Gates of Prayer 328, 343, 359, 375, 385; Ha’avodah Shebalev 120).

Under my plan, the Shacharit Amidah for Rosh Hashanah would proceed in the order of the traditional Musaf Amidah for Rosh Hashanah: Avot V’imahot, G’vurot, Kedushah–with Un’taneh Tokef included as a part of Kedushah, Kedushat Hayom–with Malchuyot included as a part of Kedushat Hayom, Zichronot, Shofarot, R’tzeih, Modim, Shalom and T’filat Halev.

Again, it is important to note that there is nothing in this proposal that is not in GOR in some form already. This is merely a different order that respects the Reform tradition of doing the Amidah once, while also taking care with the structural context of the special Rosh Hashanah prayers that Reform worshipers expect to find in their Rosh Hashanah experience. There is true liturgical power in keeping these four memorable Rosh Hashanah prayers in close proximity to each other, rather than splitting them up with one in one place and the other three in another place.

Of course, there is merit to retaining the mood set by having Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot near the end of the service. However, there is no point in pretending that Un’taneh Tokef is anything other than what it is–a part of Kedushah. If you all decide that the place for Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot is in the Torah service, there are fine arguments–though I don’t happen to agree with them–for doing so.

To remove Un’taneh Tokef from its context is a waste of the subtle point it makes as a part of Kedushah. Every day, the Kedushah is about the nature of God’s holiness and the ways that human beings interact with and communicate with it. On Rosh Hashanah, God takes on a particular role in our lives, that of a sovereign judge. This role is expanded upon in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy in Un’taneh Tokef and its most appropriate place is in the prayer that discusses God’s holiness and role every day–the Kedushah.

So please, rabbis and scholars, leave Un’taneh Tokef in its Amidah context. And please also consider what I am proposing for the order of the Rosh Hashanah Shacharit Amidah and the place of Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot.

Shavua tov, shanah tovah and tzom kal.


David A.M. Wilensky

If you read carefully, I admit to being a real ass in this post

I’ve been back at Drew for my senior year for about a week and a half, but it already feels much longer. And some Jewy things have happened. Here they are.

The Anti-Nadler

I dropped Alan Nadler’s class, Major Jewish Thinkers. I’ve had him for four or five different classes at this point, which is quite enough. The real reason I dropped it was that my current schedule doesn’t include time to eat dinner on Mondays. So that plan was right out.

I told my advisor, Chris Taylor, that I was gonna drop it. I was about to ask him if he had any ideas about what I could take instead. Before I could ask, he was already off and running about a visiting professor in the Theo School (Drew’s oldest school, our United Methodist seminary, where I’ve enjoyed taking a couple of classes before). The guy’s name is Yehezkel Landau, not a name you expect to find in a protestant institution. His whole thing is interfaith work and he teaches full time at Hartford Seminary, one of those non-denominational protestant far-out lefty outfits. At Drew, he’s teaching a course this fall called Jewish Spirituality, mostly to a bunch of Methodist seminary students.

Chris said I should go and meet him, at least. He was afraid that the course might be too basic for me, but he seemed pretty sure I’d enjoy meeting Landau. Yehezkel Landau, Chris told me, is the anti-Nadler. Where Nadler is negative, and full of himself, not to mention bile, Landau, Chris said, is life-affirming and positive. But they’re friends anyway, he added. This I had to see. Continue reading

Selecting a siddur for your Hillel

Crossposted to New Voices

I received an email today asking about siddurim for Hillels. I’ve anonymous-ized the email here:

I’ve followed your blog for a while–love it, by the way!–and read your post about Mishkan T’filah for Travelers.  Right now, I’m working for the Hillel at the [University of XYZ], and this is one of the siddurim we’re thinking about ordering for students.

I was wondering, after reading your post, what you think about using Mishkan T’filah in a Hillel setting.  I like it because it’s smaller and paperback, plus cheaper.  Plus I think MT allows for great flexibility for each service leader to do what s/he wants.

But I would welcome feedback!  Also, if you have any other suggestions for a Hillel siddur, that would be amazing!

There are plenty of reasons that Mishkan T’filah is the wrong choice and that the choice, in particular, of the travelers edition is a bad idea. And there are even more reasons to use another siddur in particular, which I’ll get to in a bit

If you order use MT in a Hillel setting, you’ll turn a lot of people off. Anyone who looks down their nose at Reform liturgy–and there are many–will not be enthused to see it in use. It’s true that it allows for great flexibility and it’s easy for an inexperienced service leader to use it, but MT’s lack of commentary explaining services are the way they are encourages service leaders with relatively little knowledge of liturgy to make bad decisions.

The travelers edition is a bad idea in particular because it is so flimsy. Unlike most siddurim of similar size–such as small versions of Koren Sacks, Artscroll and Sim Shalom–MT for Travelers is not made with a sturdy back for repeated use. It is made with a cheap cover of thick, glossy paper that will not last long. It may seem cheaper now, but you’ll waste money replacing them in a few years.

Luckily, there is Siddur Eit Ratzon, the creation of Rutgers math professor Joe Rosenstein. Eit Ratzon has a liberal mindset that will satisfy Reform students and a table of contents that will please students who prefer Conservative services. It is harder to use for leaders than MT, but it has such wonderful articles on prayer in the introduction and such an informative commentary, that a little bit of reading in Eit Ratzon will catch an inexperienced leader up in no time. It is fully translated and transliterated and it have the best commentary available on any liberal siddur anywhere.

The 2003 edition, with a yellow cover, is a Shabbat morning-only siddur. The 2006 edition adds services for other occasions, including Friday night. Hillels generally have much more going on on Friday night that Saturday morning, so the yellow version may be of limited use. But if you want it, Joe told me he will sell copies of the yellow Shabbat morning edition for cheap to Hillels and military groups. He also sends test copies out for people to try out.

Eit Ratzon‘s website is here and you can contact Joe at joer[at]dimacs[dot]rutgers[dot]edu.