Tag Archives: High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah notes, part I

Hineni. More on that below.

English

I was surprised by how much English we did. I’m used to the idea that Reform congregations amp up the English for the High Holidays, but I was surprised by how much we did at Beth El. (Usually Beth El is a standard Conservative shul when it comes to English. By which I mean that the only liturgical piece that occurs in English is the prayer for our country. (Which I hate, but that’s beside the point.) It was nowhere near as much English as you get at Reform shuls on RH, but it was surprising.

Is this normal at C-shuls? Is there an urge to add extra English for the two-day-a-year crowd across the liberal denominations?

The best thing about day two was…

…chanting Ve’ahavta to the HHD trope! One of the best things about this time of year is the Torah trope. The rough jumpiness of the regular trope gives way to the mellower, more melodic sound of the HHD trope. And on day two of RH, we chanted Ve’ahavta to it. It was glorious.

Unetaneh Tokef… sung by children

Doing Hineni up right

Cantor Perry Fine does delight in his chazanut. It seems he’s at his best with the high drama of this time of year. Hineni is prayer to be said by a prayer leader before beginning the service. In Lev Shalem, it’s presented between the Amidah and the repetition of the Amidah. (I don’t know much a bout Hineni so this may or may not be a normal place for it.)

Anyway, the way he did this was dramatically the highest of the high. It was a slow, mournful melody, sung as he entered the room from the back. Beth El has a multi-purpose room behind the sanctuary with a removable wall in between for this time of year. So to turn back and see him slowly walking up from the back singing Hineni was really something else.

New year, new edition of the Hillel machzor

The new fully transliterated edition of 'Wings' (red) and the original 1985 edition (blue)

In case you don’t obsessively read the publication that I honcho, I thought I’d give y’all an excerpt from an interview I did for New Voices Magazine recently with Rabbi Richard Levy, editor of both editions of the Hillel machzor, “On Wings of Awe.”

Here’s about half of it:

Groundbreaking in its Initial 1985 Release, ‘Wings of Awe’ Gets New Edition

The High Holidays are upon us, and so is a newly updated and expanded edition of the Hillel machzor (High Holidays prayer book), “On Wings of Awe.” The original 1985 edition was ground-breaking in its inclusion of transliterations for many prayers, which was then a rarity even among liberal Jewish prayer books; the new edition’s cover boldly proclaims itself “A Fully Transliterated Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

While Bernard Scharfstein, vice president of “On Wings of Awe” publisher Ktav, told me, “We sold maybe 1,000 a year; it’s not a bestseller,” it has been a constant presence in many Hillels and in a handful of congregations for many years.

I spoke on the phone recently with the editor of both editions, Rabbi Richard Levy, about what makes “Wings” a Hillel machzor, what has changed in the new edition and how worship has changed over the last quarter-century.

New Voices: Why a new version now?

Rabbi Richard N. Levy: It was a suggestion of Bernard Scharfsetin at Ktav who felt that a fully transliterated version might be attracting to a new generation of students at Hillel and also independent congregations that had used to the older version.

NV: What makes this a Hillel machzor?

Levy: I think that fact that it incorporates a lot of features of many non-Orthodox services, that it includes, for example, [all] three paragraphs of the Shema that are still lacking in Reform worship, but are present in others. In the middle of the book there is a full silent Amidah with inserts for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for people who don’t want to use alt prayers as is suggested in some parts of the book can use the full traditional one.

There are some references to being a teacher and a student, including some reflection questions for Yom Kippur that are directed at teachers and students. There is one piece that reflects the perceived reality of single people who are yet unsure of how or when they will be loved by someone.

There was a time when some of these things could only be done in Hillel foundations that are now commonplace.

NV: What changes can people look for in the new edition versus the original one?

Here’s the rest of it.

What if I did one-day yom tov, but went to shul on day two anyway?

Reports of my complete departure from the Reform ideological fold have been greatly exaggerated. I’m not backing away from doing one-day yom tov this year, though I’m tempted to test drive two-day yom tov sooner or later. But I have been thinking about how to attend a second-day RH service and participating as fully as I can–all without compromising my one-day values.

(Some background on an approach to two-day yom tov that I’m particularly fond of can’t hurt, so here’s BZ’s material on it: Israelis are lazy, “ONE DAY ONLY!” parts 1a, 1b and 2, “Ontology of yom tov” and “Hilchot Pluralism, Part VIII: Simchat Torah.”)

Anyway, I’m writing this as I figure out how to do this. Here’s my thinking so far: On day two I could go to shul and the only two things I’d really have to do differently is say a weekday Amidah while everyone else does their RH Amidah and recuse myself from Musaf.

And since any piyutim and whatnot are just that, I could play along with those just fine.

Right? Does that make sense?

New JTA piece by me: wave of new machzorim, updates on new Reform machzor

We had two new machzorim last year. This year, we’ve got another new one, a revised edition of another and drafts circulating of another major upcoming release. JTA has the full story, written by your favorite blogger:

New Jewish prayer books typically come in waves, the rarest of which bring new High Holidays prayer books, or machzors.

The current wave has seen five new machzorim in a one-year span. Following on the heels of last year’s release of the official Conservative machzor and a popular chavurah machzor are the first Hebrew-English machzor from the Israeli publisher Koren, a revision to Hillel’s “On Wings of Awe” and pilot tests of services from the forthcoming Reform machzor.

The Conservative movement’s “Mahzor Lev Shalem” was a surprise hit — insofar as a prayer book can be such a thing — selling more than 120,000 copies. More congregations are expected to adopt it for the High Holidays this year.

The chavurah “Machzor Eit Ratzon” from Joseph Rosenstein, a math professor at Rutgers University and a founding member of the Highland Park Minyan in Highland Park, N.J., is a companion to his “Siddur Eit Ratzon.” Though “Machzor Eit Ratzon” is not in use on the same scale as “Lev Shalem,” it merits inclusion here as a popular new independently published machzor.

Check out the rest of the article at JTA. There’s some news on the new Reform maczhor drafts in the article, but my interview with Rabbi Hara Person from CCAR Press was a lot more extensive than what I had space for in the article, so I’ll have more from the interview for y’all soon.

I also did a little sidebar that goes with the piece, a roundup of the year in liturgy.

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.

Yom Kipur at Hadar: Part III–Annotating one’s siddur as a spiritual practice and why I had to wear a kipah

There’s a lot to say about Yom Kipur at Hadar this year. Intro here. Part I here. Part II here.

This story actually begins on Rosh Hashanah at Chavurat Lamdeinu. Rabbi Ruth Gais mentioned a quote from former JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein:

When I pray, I speak to God; when I study, God speaks to me.

This really resonated with me. But I immediately thought about taking it one step further. Following the tradition of my mother, I make notes all over my siddurim and machzorim. Probably to an even greater extent than my mother does. I’ve often thought that I kind of study the siddur while I pray. Does that make me the rare lunatic to whom God actually speaks while he prays? (I mean this half-seriously.) Either way, ever since Ruth planted this quote in my head, I’ve been thinking about the notion of writing during prayer as a spiritual practice.

Now, I know that writing is one of the forbidden forms of work for those who observe Shabbat in that way. I’ve also been to Hadar three or four times before and never been asked to put on a kipah or told to stop scribbling all over my siddur. So I figured these were OK things. On YK this year, I got a rude awakening about the extent to which Hadar is willing to tolerate halachic deviance.

During shacharit, a gabbai came over to me and handed me a little business card with a page number and a task on it and asked if I’d like to open the ark on page such and such. (Hadar gives out honors in this way. It’s very novel, I think. The cards suggest using them as a bookmark for the page on which your honor will take place.) I politely said that I couldn’t because I was using a different machzor and I was afraid I’d miss the right time. He said, “OK. Well, can offer you first gelilah?” I know when that is, so I said, “Sure. Thanks.”

A few minutes later, he came back, holding a little black kipah. “Can I offer you a kipah?” I told him that I’d rather not. He seemed hesitant and confused. “OK. Well, when you go up to dress the Torah, we’d appreciate it if you’d wear one.” Fine by me. “Sure. I understand. Thanks,” I said, taking the kipah. I had also been annotating my machzor all morning so I had a pen tucked behind my right ear. “And if you could just put the pen away when you come up.” Fine by me. “Sure. I understand,”  said.

A moment later, I realized that I had my own kipah with me and pulled that one out so I didn’t have to use the borrowed one. I went ahead and put it on, borrowing some bobby pins from Dana, so I wouldn’t forget.

Then he came back again. “Actually, we’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t write at all, out of respect for the community. If you have to, please go to the back and do it privately.” I grudgingly said, “OK. I understand.” I was pretty pissed, but didn’t really have any room to argue with the guy, especially since I was appreciative of the fact that he hadn’t insisted I wear the kipah the whole time.

So as the Torah reading was winding down, I went to stand in the back such that I’d have a clear shot to the amud when he called for gelilah. Standing back there, I decided, in the spirit of YK, that I’d find the gabbai later, during a break, and apologize to him, honestly, for being such a pain in the ass about everything.

By the time I got up there to start dressing the Torah, it was pretty clear that the gabbai has decided that between the pen and the kipah and everything that had already passed between us, I must be some kind of uncouth loon. So he felt the need to give me detailed instruction on how to dress the Torah. What he didn’t know is the I spent the better part of my life dressing the Torah more often than not at lay-led services at CBI.

The guy doing hagbah sat down, of course, with the front of the Torah toward him, making it hard to put the belt on. To make matters worse, it was one of those wacky Torah belts with the three circular clasp things that have to go through these holes. Its was damn near impossible to put it on backwards. So now I’m fumbling around and taking forever with the belt, so I look like even more of a moron than I already appeared to be. Once the belt is buckled, it’s a little higher than it should be. So I’m about to tug it down when the gabbai leans over and says, “If you could just pull it down to halfway.” I know.

Then he hands me the Torah cover. Like every other Torah cover ever, it’s got a slit in the back so that you can pull it open like curtains and ease it over the scroll easily. Well, this is clearly not the way the gabbai usually does it. You can, of course, leave the slit closed and lift the cover all the way over the Torah and drop it on from above. I guess he prefers that way because he starts looking at me like I’m doing something wrong again.

Then he gives me the breastplate, which I put on without incident. I had noticed when the Torah was brought out that it didn’t have crowns, so I know not to wait for them. But whoever was reading was obviously using a yad, so now I’m waiting to the yad. I turn back to the gabbai, expecting the yad. He already knows that there’s no yad to be put on so to him it looks like I’m waiting for further instructions. So he says, “You can go sit down now,” in this tone that says “Why are you still here? You’re done. Duh.”

So I go sit back down. Earlier, I had been considering keeping my kipah on, but I decide to take it off before I’m even back at my seat.

I did not write anymore, but I also decided not to apologize to the gabbai.