Tag Archives: rosh hashanah

Rosh Hashanah notes, part I

Hineni. More on that below.


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?

The Koren Rosh Hashanah Heb/Eng Machzor: You’ll see it here first!

I’m working on a thing for JTA about this year’s new machzors. It’s due at the end of the end of July, but the Koren people told me their new Hebrew/English RH Machzor wouldn’t be ready until August 1, so I couldn’t get a review copy in time. But then I got this email from them:

Just found out the final version of the Mahzor will be ready at the printers tomorrow. So we’ll send you one literally hot off the presses (you’ll be the first person in the US to have a copy!) Look forward to your review…

That’s right, folks–you’ll see it here first.

Mishkan T’shuvah: I have a draft!

So it took like 20 years and a dozen committees to create Mishkan T’fillah, the current Reform siddur. Mishkan T’shuvah, the forthcoming new Reform machzor will take significantly less time for three reasons:

  1. It’s got a small core committee.
  2. They’re committed to a 2014 release date.
  3. All the major *ahem* style work was done on MT’f, which MT’sh is intended to be a companion for

Also, I am like a giddy schoolgirl. I have received a PDF of the current draft of the Rosh Hashanah morning service. I have not looked at it yet.

Why have I note read it already? Because I want to create some semblance of objectivity. So, before I read that draft service, here is some kind of rubric thing for it.

I will judge it on these four factors:

  1. Design and layout: I can’t expect them to break with the design standard that began in MT’f. However, if they insist on going with that one-prayer-per-page-with-commentary design, I hope this time they fill up all the blank space it leaves with engaging commentary. I’ll be judging them on what they manage to do within the constraints of the MT’f layout/design style.
  2. Quality of commentary: Part of the success of Mahzor Lev Shalem, as I’ve said before, is in the diversity of its commentary and the many levels of knowledge it appeals to. MT’f’s commentary, however, often plays only to the least knowledgeable members of the audience.
  3. Liturgical integrity: I’ll have to ignore day-to-day and week-to-week liturgical issues of the sort that have already been addressed in MT’f. I fully expect them to receive the same treatment in MT’sh. But I will be looking at the unique liturgical issues raised by the season.
  4. Translation.

The obvious fifth category might be the alternative readings. But I know I’m gonna hate them, so I’m just not gonna bother.

I don’t know how long it will be before I actually write about it, but if there’s anything anyone else thinks I should look out for, let me know in the comments.

Minhag Chavurat Lamdeinu

The Chavurat Lamdeinu Aron

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time. A perfect storm at Chavurat Lamdeinu of me leading two weeks ago, our usual shatz leading last week, a conversation with him and our rabbi about our minhag this week; a minyan last week, no minyan last week and then Hallel for Rosh Chodesh this week finally convinced me it’s time to do it. The info in the post is culled from almost four years of notes in my copy of Siddur Eit Ratzon and from my memory.

I’m going to attempt, in this post, to catalog the minhagim and nuschot of Chavurat Lamdeinu, the chavurah I spend Shabbat mornings with when I’m here at Drew. I won’t explain too much about the group. Mostly, I think our minhagim will speak for themselves. I think it’s enough to say that the group defies classification in almost every way. It meets in a Masonic lodge. We have a chazan and a rabbi, but, more than anything else, they’re the most knowledgeable among equals. Demographically, it skews post-parenthood, mostly grandparenthood, but we had a Bar Mitzvah last year.

Background reading for details, if you want them: C”L’s website (mute your speakers before following this link!)my post about Erev Rosh Hashanah at C”L from 2009a bit about Yom Kippur at C”L the year before that, a bit about our unique and beautiful Aronthe post I wrote after my first ever visit to C”L.

I’m gonna attempt to identify the origin of as much of what we do musically as I can, but I know I’ll get some of it wrong or leave some to speculation. If any other chaverim read this post and have correction, I encourage them to leave comments at the bottom correcting or elucidating.

So here we go: Continue reading

Limmud NY Notes: Mahzor Lev Shalem with one of its editors

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

Rob Scheinberg rolled in for the Sunday of Limmud NY only. I hope he comes back next year for the full conference. He did a session called “Praying with a Full Heart: Mahzor Lev Shalem | Encountering the ‘Next-Gen’ Prayerbook.”

Mahzor Lev Shalem, left and Machzor Eit Ratzon, right

I arrived to the session early and was about to introduce myself to him when he looked at my conference name badge and said, “I just read your review of mahzor. And I just bought Machzor Eit Ratzon on your recommendation.” (BTW, you can buy MER too, if you click here.) And then I totally regret not having brought MLS with me for him to sign.

Here are my notes, with minimal enhancement:

Rob Scheinberg:

  • He was on the Rabbinical Assembly’s editorial committee of MLS, “junior member of sorts” he says
  • He is at the only shul in Hoboken, the United Synagogue of Hoboken
  • He also teaches liturgy at JTS, where he is working on a PhD in liturgy

My kind of dude: One guy in the session, Mat, called himself a “High Holy Days junkie”

The best: MLS, as I’ve said here before, is my favorite machzor. One older gentleman in the session said that he thought that MLS “raised the bar” for machzorim. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s the machzor to beat now.

The title: We talked a lot about the title of the machzor. “It wasn’t until May 2009 that we considered titles,” Rob said. “Over time, we realized just how well this title works.”

Harlow: Rob talked a lot about the Jules Harlow machzor, the Conservative movement’s previous machzor. “My shul has used this for 15 years. We do a lot of gender neutrifying on the fly!” Rob said that he believes that siddurim (and machzorim) have a shelf life of about 30 or 40 years. This is a pretty good assessment. Gates of Prayer in 1973, replaced by Mishkan T’filah in 2007. Silverman siddur in 1946 (ish? I don’t recall exactly right now) replaced by Sim Shalom in 1985 (ish?). In this case, Harlow was from the 70s, so MLS is right on schedule.

The name is so good because: Rob cites four ways of using the term Lev Shalem:

  1. “With joy,” “With devotion:” Isaiah 38:2; I Chron. 28:9; I Chron. 29:9
  2. “With a heart united with the hearts of others:” I Chron. 12:38; HHD Amidah “Uv’chen ten pachdecha”
  3. “With a hear that is united, not divided:” Menachem Mendel of Kotzk; comment from Jacob Emden in Siddur Amudei Shamayimbased on Mishna Berachot 9:5
  4. “With kavvanah (prayerful intention):” Mishnah Taanit 2:2; Midrash Tanhuma Pinhas 15
  • Yetzer Hara and the film “Serenity:” In discussing what it means to have a heart that is united, Rob discussed uniting the Yetzer Hara and Yetzer Hatov, best translated here as the “inclination toward the self” and “the inclination toward others.” He tells a story from Talmud where the rabbis capture the Yetzer Hara and put it in a cage. But they have to let it go because no one is doing anything and the chickens aren’t even laying eggs. It immediately struck me that this is also the plot of the film “Serenity.” My brain then began planning a combo text study/”Firefly” and “Serenity” viewing session.

Reflecting diversity in the machzor: Copied from Rob’s handouts:

  • Geographical/cultural diversity:
    • Spanish piyyutim:
      • For Erev Rosh Hashanah, p. 2
      • For Erev Yom Kippur, p. 231
        • By Solomon ibn Gabirol!
    • Italian piyyutim:
      • For Erev Yom Kippur, p. 230
      • For Avodah, p. 329
      • For Neilah, p. 418
    • Yiddish poetry:
      • For Eleh Ezkerah, p. 341-341 (Jacob Glatstein)
    • Ladino prayer:
      • For Erev Rosh Hashanah at home, p. 30
  • Gender:
    • “Hannah, sad and depressed,” p. 239 and various other locations
    • Hu Yaaneinu, “May the One who answered…” p. 240
    • Hineni “I stand,” p. 140
      • About this one, Rob notes that this is the only place in the liturgy where the gender of the prayer leader him/herself is at issue.
      • Yet, points out a Yeshivat Hadar Fellow named Hannah something (also mentioned here), the male version of Hineni is still on the right–or “default”–side of the page. I point out that this hearkens back to the editions of Sim Shalom that include Avot and with Imahot on separate pages, one after the other
  • Diversity of life circumstances:
    • Prayer for those unable to fast, p. 200
      • Dad, I’m looking at you
    • Yizkor meditation when remembering a hurtful parent (Certain other people, I’m looking at you)
    • Prayers for caregivers, economic challenges, emotional challenges, p. 115-116
    • Heschel reading on religious universalism, p. 87

The wholeness of our tradition (also from his handout):

  • Alternative Avinu Malkeinu, p. 93
    • MLS contains two versions: the usual and an alternative version. The alternative version uses and an aleph-betic acrostic of different ways to refer to God from the Tanach in place of Avinu Malkeinu in each line, which Rob mentions when I say that I’m surprised that the word Imeinu isn’t in it. At the end of the alt. version, it returns to Avinu Malkeinu language for a few lines as a return to the dominant theological metaphor of the season. Rob himself points out that Shechinateinu, also a fem. metaphor is missing from the alt. version and that Ed Feld, head of the MLS cmte wrote this version.
    • The older guy from earlier chimes in to say that this alt. Av.Malk. wouldn’t have flown shortly post-Holocaust, when Harlow was composing his machzor. Rob says, “Harlow is the the primary document for post-Holocaust Conservative theology.”
  • Comment on doubt opposition V’Khol Maaminim, p. 320
    • I think it’s way cool to have a piece on doubt, a major theme in Jewish theology, opposite a piece titled “We all believe!”
  • Denise Levertov poem, “The Thread,” opposite Melekh Elyon, p. 155
  • Admiel Kosman poem on Unetaneh Tokef, p. 144
  • Merle Feld poem for Kol Nidre, p. 204
  • Torah reading commentary, p. 100


  • I wrote this next bit down just for you, Larry Kaufman. Upon looking at a copy of MLS for the first time, Mat says, “I was struck by how much the layout resembles Mishkan T’filah.” Indeed. Rob says that this was not intentional, but noted that the two groups were aware of each other as they worked.
  • He also showed us his new copy of Machzor Eit Ratzon, which has a similar layout also. MER has four columns: commentary, translation, transliteration and Hebrew. MLS has a more flexible layout, but it’s similar. It’s also more flexible, but similar to MT.
  • He noted, very interestingly, that their choice to put the commentary around the sides and the bottom was twofold: On the one hand, it causes the pages to resemble a classical Jewish text like the Talmud more closely than any other liturgy I’ve seen, and on the other hand, it places the commentary in a place of increased importance. This is as opposed to MT or ArtScroll, which places liturgical commentary at the bottom of the page only.

Translation and translation: Pay close attention here folks. Rob said that the Conservative approach to problematic liturgy in the past, up to and including Sim Shalom, was to translate around problematic passages. He said that the editors of MLS categorically rejected that approach. He said it is played out, it doesn’t work and it’s not respectful of the users. On a similar note, he said the Conservative attempt to force Jews to learn Hebrew by depriving them of transliteration had not worked and that they had given up. “That strategy has failed,” he said. However, because of space and layout concerns, they hadn’t included a full transliteration in MLS, though they did include much more translit than Harlow and SS.

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..

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.

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”?