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:
- 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:
- “With joy,” “With devotion:” Isaiah 38:2; I Chron. 28:9; I Chron. 29:9
- “With a heart united with the hearts of others:” I Chron. 12:38; HHD Amidah “Uv’chen ten pachdecha”
- “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
- “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
- 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
- “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
- 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.