Tag Archives: Lev Shalem

Rosh Hashanah notes, part II: Miriam and imahot

Some stuff I noticed during RH this year:

I was surprised to find Miriam appearing along with Moses here in the lead-up to Mi Chamocha. I must have noticed her lurking in here last year, but she still managed to take me aback again this year.

I also noticed their bracketed use of the mamas along with the un-bracketed papas. (Again, must have noticed it last year, but….) This is interesting, if we look at it the context of the Conservative movement’s history with the matriarchs. In the original release of Sim Shalom (and its forebears, it goes without saying), avot just had the avot. The second edition added a B-page, such that there are two versions of the first page of the Amidah, one with the imahot and one without. But the page that has them does not have it worded quite like Reform liturgy does. Whereas R-liturgy says, “…vElohei avoteinu ve’imoteinu…” and then lists them all, C-liturgy says leaves it alone, except for the list. So they don’t say ve’imoteinu is my point.

Between then and now, R-liturgy reoriented itself to include the imahot all over the place. In Mishkan T’fillah, every time is says “avoteinu” it aso says “ve’imoteinu.” In MLS, C-liturgy catches up. Kind of. On the first page of the Amidah, we get both options. And the ve’imahot option not only lists their names, but it now says “vElohei avoteinu [ve’imoteinu].” That continues throughout the siddur. Every time it says something about the avot, we get a bracketed word for the imahot.

Now that the Rabbinical Assembly has announced that they’re working on a new siddur, it’s interesting to notice the new stuff that’s already crept into this machzor. I have to wonder how much Reform and Conservative liturgy is going to continue to converge. I assume the line will be drawn at least at Musaf, but I wonder how much else will be the same. How long before C-liturgy doesn’t give us the avot-only option at all?


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.

Yom Kipur at Hadar: Part I–Machzorim, pamphlets and handouts. Oh my.

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

Hadar borrows copies of the Silverman Machzor (two generations of Conservative machzorim ago)  from JTS. Almost everything they need is in it. They also hand out a supplement pamphlet that has several piyutim in it that Silverman lacks. Which is not to say that Silverman is lacking that regard, but that the piyutim for YK leader’s repetition of the Amidah vary widely. At Hadar, the selection seems to have more to do with which piytuim we have really raucous tunes for.

There is an element of tightly controlled chaos–which, as we’ve discussed before here at The Shuckle, makes me feel very comfortable. It reaches a fever pitch during Ne’ilah. Ne’ilah traditionally has seven repetitions of the 13 Attributes section–you know, the part that has “Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v’chanun, etc) in it. As Rabbi Elie Kaunfer put it yesterday, “In what we can only assume is a printer’s error, Silverman only has one.” So what do they do at Hadar? They print it on page 7 of the supplement. Every time we come to a point when it has to be recited, the clod of people puttering about by the amud start waving the supplement around wildly. It’s fairly hysterical ridiculous awesome.

For the Avodah service–the elaborate re-enactment of what the High Priest used to do on YK back in the days of The Temple–they pass out another handout. This one is a copy of the Avodah service from ArtScroll. During an excellent d’var torah late in the day, the woman giving the d’var–whose name is now escaping me–said, “There is a funny piece of commentary in the ArtScroll machzor”–interrupted by some teeheehee-ing, she smiled–“Well, funny to me, anyway. I don’t think they meant it that way.” There was a lot of laughing at that. It’s basically a perfect statement of what I think of ArtScroll. Anyway, so they hand out this copy of the Avodah service from ArtScroll, which has a lot of those unintentionally funny comments in it, including–my favorite:

As interpreted by the Sages, the Torah requires the Kohen Gadol to place the incense on the burning coals after entering the Holy of Holies. During the Second Temple era, the heretical Sadducean sect denies the authority of the Oral Torah, and succedded in influencing some Kohanim Gedolim to place the incense on the coals before entering the Holy of Holies


More on machzorim in use at Hadar: Most people just used the Silverman machzorim provided. Dana–previously mentioned here–who really jumped in off the deep end this Yom Kipur by coming to Hadar with me, used Machzor Eit Ratzon–reviewed here along with Mahzor Lev Shalem–because she needed transliterations. I brought Lev Shalem, which I loved using at the Chavurah on Rosh Hashanah. I spotted eight others using MLS, including Rabbi Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, and his significant other; the guy who read haftarah in shacharit; and some other people. They were also giving out little MLS bookmark ad things. Obviously I took one. It’s great.

There were piyutim included in Silverman that didn’t have to be in thesupplement. But many of them were not in Machzor Lev Shalem so I ended up having to keep a Silverman handy to use during the leader’s repetition of the Amidah. I mentioned all of this to someone during the afternoon break and this guy Tim said that what’s interesting is that Harlow, the Conservative machzor that followed Silver and preceded Lev Shalem, has even less material. So Silverman has many piyutim, Harlow has few and Lev Shalem is on a middle ground. Very interesting.

The most common non-Silverman machzor was the blue ArtScroll one, which maybe as many as ten percent of the community had brought with them. There were also a number of people using the white Israeli Koren machzor and a handful using Machzor Rinat Yisrael, the Israeli chief rabbinate’s official machzor.

A tale of two ma(c)hzors

Over at New Voices, my review of two new machzorim, pluralist Machzor Eit Ratzon and Conervative Mahzor Lev Shalem, is now available. Below is a much longer version with more detail about liturgical minutiae and aspects of their designs.

A Reform rabbi I know tells the story of a man who came into the synagogue in the day of his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The man saw shelves and shelves of an unfamiliar blue siddur called Gates of Prayer, the Reform movement’s 1973 prayer book. He picked one up and began to flip through it, wondering what it was. The rabbi saw that he had come in and came over to greet the man. Before the rabbi could say so much as “Shabbat Shalom,” the man asked, “Rabbi, what is this book? Where’s the red one?” The red one he was referring to was Gates of Repentance, the blue siddur’s companion machzor, used only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

New siddurim, however surprising an unfamiliar one may have been to the man in the story, are a dime a dozen. New ones come out every year, ranging everywhere from unique siddurim that record the practice of one individual congregation to new siddurim from one of the large movements that will come to be used in congregations all over.

However, machzorim–those heavy-as-a-brick, byzantine volumes full of liturgy both strongly evocative and totally unfamiliar, used only twice a year–are another story. The birth and publication of a new machzor is a rare event indeed. This year is twice times blessed then, to see the publication of two new ones. Both the Conservative movement’s new Mahzor Lev Shalem and Rutgers University math professor Joseph G. Rosenstein’s new machzor, Machzor Eit Ratzon, a companion to his 2003 Siddur Eit Ratzon, are out in times for the High Holy Days.. While Conservative ideology, or Conservative demeanor at least, may be familiar to many, Eit Ratzon’s traditional egalitarian approach will be new to most. The cover reads: “A traditional prayerbook for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with new meditations, commentaries, translations, and prayers.”

They are as remarkable for their similarities as they are for their differences. Both are clearly the products of their creators, Lev Shalem is a Conservative creation through and through, and Eit Ratzon, a product of an independent chavurah in New Jersey, is eccentric as you would expect a machzor from such an environment to be. Both have hefty commentaries, as different as they are enlightening. Lev Shalem has a surprising visual beauty to it, while Eit Ratzon’s design has a rigid utility. Lev Shalem was created by a committee of the Conservative movement’s top scholars, while Eit Ratzon is the labor of love of a single lay-person. Continue reading