Tag Archives: prayer

In memory of manned American spacecraft: How Apollo 11 changed Kiddush Levana

There was a terrific post at JTA’s Archive Blog yesterday summing up JTA’s coverage of Apollo 11-related news from 1969. It’s all fascinating stuff, but the article that caught my eye was this:

Prayer on Advent of New Moon is Altered to Take into Account Apollo 11 Achievement


The word came from Israel where Gen. Shlomo Goren, the Armed Forces’ Chief Chaplain, issued instructions about a change in the prayer for the blessing of the new moon which is said each month. The old blessing was worded: “As I dance before you and cannot touch you, so my enemies will not be able to touch me.” It now reads: “As I dance against you and do not touch you, so others, if they dance against me to harm me, they will not touch me.” The new version of the prayer is actually an old one found in the Talmud in Masechet Soffrim, chapter 20.


The entire article is just tremendous and I recommend reading the whole thing. The complete post from JTA’s Archive Blog is here.

And, yes, I will be looking through a few siddurim to see if I can find any examples later.


Daily blessings–I have some questions

I’ve got a few questions. Any answers, half-answers, comments on a similar theme, etc are welcome in the comments.

1. When did morning blessings get moved into communal prayer?

I know that the bulk of Birchot Hashachar was once–some of it still is–said in the home as one performed a variety of daily actions. So at what point and with what motivation did it get moved into the service and out of the home?

2. Is there any support for saying “…al netilat yadayim” when washing one’s hands for sanitary, rather than ritual purposes?

Surely some have argued that a reason for ritual hand washing is rudimentary sanitation. I know it’s been said that the relative health of Jews during the Black Plague can be attributed to regular hand washing. I’m wondering if there’s any support for using the same brachah when washing one’s hand from a sink–meaning, without pouring water over your hands from a cup–with soap.

3. Is there anyone out there thinking about new blessings or new applications of extant blessings for elements of the modern daily routine?

I’m thinking about taking daily medications, showering, brushing teeth etc.

Thoughts, anyone? Answers? Tangents?

Re-writing Korbanot, part I: intro and the Harlow approach

This is a two-parter. Part II is here.

Korbanot is a highly variable recitation of biblical and talmudic passages on the minutiae of sacrificial ritual in The Temple. The notion is that sacrifice was the most legitimate way to access God and that reciting the laws about how to do it was equal to actually performing the sacrifices.

The dominant modern view is that sacrifice is over and it’s not coming back. Prayer suffices in its stead. I once had an idea about how to create a replacement for the Korbanot section of the service that would reflect this reality. That’s what Part II is about.

While flipping through Or Hadash, Reuven Hammer’s commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, I noticed that Jules Harlow, Sim Shalom‘s editor, had created a replacement for Korbanot.

Like the Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book, Morris Silverman’s 1946 Conservative siddur, Harlow included the last passage in the Korbanot section, Rabbi Ishmael’s 13 principles of biblical interpretation, in SS. Building on Silverman’s minimal acknowledgment of the Korbanot passages, Harlow went one step further. Rather then merely excising the bulk of the section, he added several passages from rabbinic literature in their stead.

The first is perfect. It’s Avot d’Rabbi Natan 11a, which describes Yochanan Ben Zakai walking with his disciple away from Jerusalem. From where they are, they can see the Temple in ruins. The disciple is distraught, but Ben Zakai says, “There is another way of gaining atonement even though The Temple is destroyed. We must now gain atonement through deeds of lovingkindness.”

From there, Harlow presents a selection of passages from rabbinic literature. The way Harlow arranges them, they seem to be explanations of how to do what Ben Zakai suggests. They are all about lovingkindness. It’s not exactly what I would have done if I’d ever gotten it together to do my version of this, but I think it’s pretty damn clever..

Re-writing Korbanot, part II: my approach

This is a two-parter. Part I is here.

Many moons ago, when I was working on a siddur or my own (I won’t link back to any of those old posts because I sound like a moron in a lot of it, but if you do some looking around, they’re still here somewhere), I had an idea about how to redo the Korbanot section of the service, a lengthy section of readings that detail the textual basis for the sacrificial ritual system in place in The Temple back in the day.

Rambam himself saw prayer as the superior form of ritual, saying that God knew that primitive Israelites needed sacrifice to access God, but that we evolved away from that. So I had the idea that we could replace Korbanot with a selection of biblical and Talmudic passages about how to pray with kavanah or intention. I never actually did this, but the idea was there nonetheless.

Like I said in Part I, the Conservative approach is quite clever, but it’s not what I would have done. However, seeing that Harlow created a version of Korbanot for modernity, I’m inspired to think about what I would include in my version.

The problem I have with Harlow’s approach is that it almost ignores the ritual at hand. Ben Zakai’s statement that we can atone through acts of lonvingkindness is lovely, but from what I know, it seems like Judaism does not actually treat acts of great chesed as the replacement for sacrifice. Rather, we take prayer to be the one-to-one replacement. Each Amidah (except for the evening, which is a whole other story) stands in for a sacrifice in The Temple. Shacharit is the morning sacrifice. Minchah is the afternoon sacrifice. And Musaf is the additional sacrifice offered on special days.

So I would begin with biblical passages. There are definitely some talmudic and midrashic and otherwise rabbinic passages out there that should go into this idea, but I don’t know those texts as well as I’d like to yet, so I’ll stay away from those and leave that to the commenters below.

Biblical passages that come to mind immediately:

Psalm 51:17-19, verse 17 already being the opening line of the Amidah:

O Lord, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise.

You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings;

True sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.

Bamidbar 12:11-13

And Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord, account not to use the sin which we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away.”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “O God, pray heal her!”

Shmuel A 1:4-13. This passage details Hannah’s prayer to God asking for a child. It’s especially good because it takes place in The Temple among sacrifices. Her husband even offers sacrifices in this passage, but on Hannah’s prayer brings her a child. I might also include part of chapter 2, which is Hannah’s extended prayer of thanksgiving after her child is born.

There’s also a passage somewhere in the Talmud where Shacharit, Minchah and Maariv are described as having been established by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively. That passage and its proof texts would obviously be a must-have in this section.

I’d also want to maintain Rabbi Ishmael’s 13 principles as the final passage of the section.

That’s as far as my thinking has taken me so far in this. Anyone else have ideas?

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 II–How I got spotted by a fan from across a big mass of Jews

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

It’s gotten to a point where I almost expect at least one or two people to know me by name at NYC Jew events like Hadar or Limmud. It was a tad disconcerting, if exciting, at first, but I’m over it. But here’s weirder version of that.

As Maariv wrapped up on YK and I was ready to bolt for the juice boxes and granola bars, a guy walked over to me and said, “Can I ask you a weird question?” Other than the one he’d already asked me? “Do you write a blog?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Do you write The Reform Shuckle?” “Yes.” “So you’re David Wilensky.”

Apparently, this guy, Alex, is a big fan. Apparently, you are all reading one of Alex’s favorite blogs. He has been to this blog enough times that he just recognized me from across a crowded mass of Jews from the thumbnail picture of me to the left (in this blog’s current layout ca. YK 5771).

So, hey, Alex. How’s this YK at Hadar post series treating you? Yeah. It’s kind of long.

Yom Kipur at Hadar: Intro

I went to Hadar for Yom Kipur again this year. See last year’s post here. Last year, I wrote:

To those of you who were worried that I was unhealthily smug, worry not. My day of davening at Hadar was the most humbling prayer experience of my life.

And it happened again. I spend all year in places where I am either the most liturgically knowledgeable person in the room or it’s easy to convince myself that I am. At Hadar, any attempt to convince myself of that would be remarkably hard and stupid. So that’s refreshing and, again, humbling.

In three parts, my full eleventy-seven thoughts about YK at Hadar this year: Part I here, Part II here, Part III here.

Ten Days of Repentance Amidah inserts: what is and what could be

Note on translations: I’m using translations from the Koren Sacks Siddur in this post because that is what’s in front of me.

As I was doing Minchah just now, I was thinking about the phrases we insert into the Amidah during the Ten Days of Repentance. Some of the make perfect sense, while other seem out of place. At the same time, there are places where we might expect and extra line or a different chatimah (final line of the blessing, which begins “Baruch atah Adonai etc), but we still do the regular one.

We add a line before the chatimah to Avot, G’vurot, Modim and Shalom. We also change the chatimah in Kedushah, Mishpat and, according to some, Shalom. I suppose the idea is that we alter these to reflect our special penitential purpose for prayer during these Ten Days. Yet, I can’t help but think that the selection of blessings to add or change is a little random. Mishpat and Kedushah make the most sense, while the rest seem odd.

Mishpat makes sense because we envision God during this season as a just ruler, seated on a throne of judgement. So in Mishpat, we call God “haMelech haMishpat / the King of justice,” during this time.

Kedushah is about God’s holy attributes. On the actually holy days of season, we expand this section enormously to elaborate on God’s special role of judge during this season. During the Ten Days, we elaborate on a smaller scale, calling God, “haMelech haKadosh / the holy King,” to reflect our emphasis on the monarchical metaphor at this season.

The rest seem odd. Of course we pray for peace during this season, but it is not a special emphasis. The same goes for Avot. I suppose in G’vurot it makes some sense to emphasize God’s power of forgiveness, but it seems less obvious than the Mishpat addition, for example.

So I’m left wondering why we don’t add anything special in this season to brachot like T’shuvah, in which we say, “Draw us near, our King, to your service. / Lead us back to You in perfect repentance”? And what about Slichah, where we say, “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned”? Or Shomea T’filah, where we ask God to “listen to prayers and pleas”?


Let the specialists show you something

Oh, hey Larry.

Larry Kaufman, the most prolific of commenters here at The Shuckle, is fond of pointing out that a lot of what I write about here is of concern only to people he likes to call “specialists.” Most people, he often writes here, just don’t care about the liturgical minutiae that make me excited agitated. I, on the other hand, think that if no one else cares, control should just be given over to the specialists.

So here’s a metaphor that I think explains what I mean. In this metaphor, we are concerned with Person A and Person X. Person A goes to services regularly, but is not very knowledgeable about them. Person X is comparable to Person A. Person X uses a computer every day for a variety of things, but doesn’t know much about their computer.

Person X might continue to use their computer every day and not know that much of what they encounter while using it could be easier. They may not know that they could be browsing with no popups or dealing with a simpler email system that sorts spam better. But if Person X hands over their computer to Person Y–someone who is very knowledgeable about computers–so that Person Y can optimize it, Person X will find their experience improved, even if they don’t know exactly how it was improved.

Person A may continue going to services every week not knowing why there is a blessing for Torah study right before an odd little prayer called Eilu D’varim or why half of something translatable as The Standing Prayer is recited sitting down in their synagogue. In the case of Eilu D’varim, Person A doesn’t realize the elegance of the order of the prayers, though this not much of an obstacle to them. In the case of The Standing Prayer, they encounter something that doesn’t make sense, perhaps without even knowing that it doesn’t make sense.

Now imagine that Person A encountered a new service created by Persons B–a group of people very knowledgeable about the content, structure and order of the service. In the new service, Person A might encounter a siddur with commentary or even live commentary during the service from Persons B about why Eilu D’varim is preceded by a blessing for Torah study. They did not know before that an elegant piece of liturgical logic was passing them by, but now the experience is enhanced by knowing that Eilu D’varim is meant as a symbolic period of daily study and that’s why there’s a blessing for study before it. Person A did not know before that The Standing Prayer was meant as a single unit with many parts, but now that they have experienced a service in which they rise just before it and are seated just after, they see for the first time that all of its pieces are related and that it is a unified section of the service.

My point here is that if you let a specialist fine-tune something you do regularly, you may find your experience of that something improved.

Of course, I can feel Larry just itching to tell me why my metaphor is imperfect. There are emotions involved. People are attached to the way they do it. Or they just don’t really care.

That’s why we have the lucky added advantage–not included in the metaphor–of having congregational rabbis and cantors. These people are where the specialists–who, I should point out, don’t have to be rabbis or cantors–and the Jews in the pews intersect. Their concerns definitely have weight here. But I think my point stands.


Where is The Prayer Book Press?

I have a number of pieces in my collection published by Prayer Book Press. Their material that I’m aware of seems to be Conservative, but not USCJ, which seems like an odd distinction, but there it is. I say this because it looks like that’s the tone of the content and because at least one of their works that I have was edited by Morris Silverman.

I just googled PBP. They’re located in Bridgeport, CT, it seems. Other than that, there’s nothing about them on the web except for their siddurim and machzorim. They have apparently on web presence. Does anyone know anything about them? Do they still exist?

Shabbat Shalom.