Tag Archives: siddur

My first observations about the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur

If you’ve come here from the Jewniverse email that went out on 9.27.12, welcome!

Though the Jewniverse thing directed you here, I highly recommend just going straight over to my new blog, davidamwilensky.com. Everything from this blog, including this very post, is there too!


When I first posted this siddur trailer (!) over a year ago, I wrote that it was coming later in 2010. Since then, Amazon has emailed me like three times to tell me the release was being postponed. Well, it’s finally here. This morning, I played around with my new toy in shul. Here are some initial observations:

The Rav meets Sir Sacks:

There’s a lot of Modern Orthodox star power in this volume. Rabbi Joseph “The Rav” Soloveitchik did more in his lifetime to shape Modern Orthodoxy than anyone else ever has. This siddur includes his commentary throughout, as well as a number of great introductions and forewords about him and about his views on Jewish prayer.

At the same time, it’s still a member of the Koren Sacks family of siddurim because it still features the translation used in the Sacks siddur.

It’s yet another (mostly) beautiful Koren product:

Yes, it has the usual beautiful Koren typefaces and layout, but it doesn’t have the bookmark ribbons that some of their other recent siddurim have had, which is a little disappointing. And then there’s this:

In my copy of the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, page 441/442 has some issues. The corner of this page arrived pre-bent. If it’s not totally apparent from the image above, here’s what it looked like when I unfolded it:

So that’s special.

It’s hard to read English from right to left:

It’s a recurring problem: A siddur should open from right to left, but anglophone siddurim have forewords and commentary printed in English, which makes for weird reading. Reading an introduction, when you get to the bottom of the page, you have to keep reading by looking at what would be the previous page in an English book. Koren has a clever way of helping you wrap your mind around this:

In lighter print, they indicate that you should continue reading on the next/previous page with the direction of the arrow and they tell you what the next English word will be. Koren is very focused on using visuals, rather than instructions, to help the user navigate the siddur. This is one of many cases in which they do this very well.

But I came across a problem today: They don’t do the same thing for a piece of commentary that lasts over multiple pages. For example, let’s say you there’s a piece of English commentary in the middle of the service that starts on the left leaf of a two-page spread (we’ll call it page 2). If this piece of commentary is long enough that it stretches over two pages, they run it on the next English page, but the previous Hebrew page, if that makes sense (we’ll call it page 1). If it’s longer than that (I found one like this in this siddur today), it then jumps two English pages back or two Hebrew pages forward (we’ll call it page 3). You with me? The point is, it’s downright confusing and Koren ought to use little arrows to help us through it.

It would be cooler if it wasn’t just Soloveitchik’s commentary:

In one of the introductory sections, Hanhagot HaRav, we get a list of his personal prayer practices. For instance, in Birchot Hashachar, he used to replace the word “goy/nation” in “shelo asani goy” with “nochri/stranger” because the Tanach sometimes uses the word “goy” in reference to the Jewish nation. He also used to omit “hanotein laya’ef ko’ach” because it wasn’t listed in the Talmud. Yet this siddur includes it as well as the word “goy,” as you can see:

It would be a lot cooler if it was the siddur according to Soloveitchik, rather than a siddur with his commentary.

Some new nikud?

Koren isn’t alone in this, but they like to indicate the difference between the two types of the shva vowel. They indicate which ones are vocalized and which ones are truly silent by making the dots of the vocalized shva a little bigger, as you can see in the word “hamevorach” from my copy of a different Koren siddur:

You can see that the shva under the mem is bolder than the shva under the final chaf. That’s what I’m talking about.

But in the Mesorat HaRav Siddur, they’ve got a new, more obvious way of marking the vocalized shva:

Now, they leave the shva itself alone so that both types appear the same. But they add a line above the letter that has the vocalized shva. The advantage is that it’s way more obvious. Plus, in the example above, you wouldn’t now that the shva in “barechu” is vocalized because there are no other shvas at that type size to compare it with.

That is all. So far. Shabbat shalom.

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Pocket-size weekday Eit Ratzon!

A magical email just arrived in my inbox from Joe Rosenstein, the creator of Siddur Eit Ratzon and Machzor Eit Ratzon:

Friends,

I am pleased to announce that, in response to many of your suggestions,
I have prepared a pocket size weekday version of Siddur Eit Ratzon.

You will be able to carry this siddur with you wherever you go.  I hope
this will enable you to replicate during the entire week the positive
Shabbat prayer experiences that you have told me were made possible by
Siddur Eit Ratzon.

This siddur will have the same four-column format as Siddur Eit Ratzon.
Indeed, although there are many new and revised pages, most of the pages in this siddur are the same as those in the regular version of the siddur … but they are smaller.  To make the siddur more portable, the pages are reduced to 5.25 x 6.5 inches and the cover is paper. It has 144 double pages and a made-to-last sewn binding.

The prepublication price for a single copy is $22, ($18 plus $4 shipping and handling), to addresses within the United States.  (It’s $8 extra for Canada — and an extra $10 elsewhere.)

The siddur will go to the printer in a few weeks, and I expect to be
able to deliver copies in January 2012.

I encourage you to order copies for yourself *now* (and for your
friends) since the first printing will be limited. (You can give copies
as Chanukkah presents although they may arrive a few weeks late.)

Needless to say, this version of the siddur is also appropriate for
congregations as a daily prayer book and for shiva minyans.

Copies can be ordered at the Siddur website — newsiddur.org — just go
to the “Purchase” page; the middle box is for this new siddur.

Many thanks to all of you who have encouraged me and have thanked me for my efforts to make Jewish prayer more accessible and meaningful.

Joe Rosenstein

I have just ordered mine.

Recent acquisitions: Chaim Stern’s later works; new editions of Mishkan; ‘Singlish’; a skinny red thing; and a Russian siddur with transliterations!

I got some new things! There will be more stuff on some of these later on, but for now, here’s the rundown:

A skinny red thing

This little Kabbalat Shabbat hardcover pamphlet sort of thing, quite creatively -titled “Siddur Kabbalat Shabbat” is used on Friday nights at Beth El. They got it because it has a basically Conservative liturgy, but it also has transliterations to an extent that Sim Shalom does not. They do this musical Kab Shab thing sometimes and I suspect they expect a less Hebrew-literate crowd at those services for whom transliterations are a welcoming feature.

Two new editions of MT

When I interviewed CCAR Publisher and Director of Press Rabbi Hara Person in her office for this story a while back, she also gave me these two goodies. One is the World Union Edition of Mishkan T’filah, which we previously speculated about here. The World Union Edition might be more correctly referred to as the southern hemisphere edition, as it’s mainly for the smaller anglophone Reform communities in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The other is MT: The Journal Edition, a new(-ish) educational version of MT that leaves the left side of each spread either blank or offers questions and space to write reflections.

I will definitely have more on these and more from my interview with Hara for y’all one of these days.

A Russian siddur with transliterations!

My mom went to Russia a little while ago and came back with this charming souvenir. There are actually Cyrillic transliterations in this thing! It turns out it’s easier to learn how to read Russian than I thought. That is, if you already read Hebrew. Because that one letter looks a lot like a Shin…

In the Hebrew there, it says “Tehilat Hashem.” Whether you know Cyrillic characters or not, it’s pretty easy to make that out in the transliteration too.

“Singlish”

These (left to right, top to bottom: Kol Nidrei, a bencher, Friday night, Shabbat morning) are part of the “Singlish” family of prayer books by Joe Lewis. I recently inherited these. They seem a lot like my beloved Eit Ratzon. I’m gonna keep digesting these and I’ll get back to y’all with more on them soon.

Chaim Stern’s later works

Neither of these acquisitions are actually all that recent, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about either one here.

Anyway, on the right is Paths of Faith. Chaim Stern created the draft that became this siddur to replace Gates of Prayer. The CCAR decided it wanted to go in a different direction and created MT instead. So Stern kept at it and Paths of Faith was eventually published elsewhere. Unfortunately, it was published posthumously.

On the left is The New Light Siddur, a siddur that Stern helped edit for a congregation in New Jersey.

OK. That’s all. Shanah tovah.

A Week of Things I Like, Day 3: Old Wilensky Family Siddurim

I was at home in Austin for a week and a half and I came back with an extra suitcase–full of siddurim! What could be better? My mother is clearing some stuff out of her place so she asked me to take some things off her hands.

These books were all–with one exception–deposited with her over the course of several visits to my paternal grandparents’ house after she had announced she was going to convert. My grandpa, Sol Wilensky, was so excited about it that he would give her a book or two every time my parents visited.

These pictures were all taken with my new Canon Rebel T2i, a delightful graduation gift from my dad. I like it–and him–also.

Let’s go exploring….

This first one is the only one that’s not from my grandpa. According to a stamp on the inside cover, this one was once a part of the library of the religious school of the synagogue I grew up at, Congregation Beth Israel. It’s a 1976 publication of the Union of the American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism). It came out a year after Gates of Prayer, so my guess is that it was intended to help familiarize Reform Jews with Big Blue’s view of the liturgy. On the other hand, it’s not actually by GOP‘s editor, Chaim Stern, who wrote his own commentary to GOP (called Gates of Understanding), so who knows. Unlike, Understanding, this one is clearly aimed at kids.

The page on wearing talit is telling glimpse of the Reform movement in that moment in history:

WHAT ABOUT WOMEN?

In the past it was only the men who wore the talit. The reason for this may have been that only the men were obligated to pray three times a day…. This may explain why it became  custom for only men to wear the talit. There is, however, nothing in Jewish law which prohibits a woman from wearing the talit.

What do you think? Should both men and women “dress up” for worship by wearing a talit? Do you find it meaningful to wear best clothes to synagogue? Is there a benefit to “dressing up” for special occasions? …. Discuss some of these questions with friends, the rabbi and cantor, and with adults in your congregation. The differences is opinion might make an interesting debate.

In that period, your average Reform rabbi was just as likely to tell you that no one should wear a talit as he was to tell you women should wear them.

When I got these books over to my dad’s place from my mom’s, he immediately identified this Siddur Meforash: A Prayer Book With Explanatory Notes as the siddur he was required to get for religious school at Shearith Israel, the Conservative congregation his family belonged to. It’s a combination siddur and textbook, a precursor to Shema is for Real, if you will. He can remember being miffed at the time that he had to lug it with him to religious school each week, but they rarely actually used it.

I included this image, from Siddur Meforash, because it mentioned Rabbi Chaim Brecher, though this volume was compiled by Rabbi Ralph De Koven, listed below Brecher. More on Brecher later.

Here’s the illustration on the cover:

This yellow ribbon is taped to the inside front cover of the siddur, to be used as a bookmark. I’m amused because it’s affixed to the book in the exact same way that I put book marks on some of my most often used siddurim. I’m also amused by the title of this section, “Prayers Before Retiring.” I’m also amused that this is the page that’s bookmarked–the notion that my dad was ever in the habit of saying his prayers before bed seems entirely unbelievable to me.

My dad also identified this little white book as having been his. It’s a bencher.

You may notice that Rabbi Chaim Brecher appears here as well, this time as Rabbi Ch. M. Brecher. He had his hand in the editing of many of Ktav products in those days, it seems.

Now that I have this bencher, along with the next book in the post, I finally have some that are examples of prefixing Birkat Hamazon with Al Naharot Bavel, as we discussed in the comments on this post.

Another bencher

My dad didn’t have any recollections about this on, but at least we know where it came from.

I’ve always found it kind of funny to translate Birkat Hamazon as Grace After Meals, but this is just hysterical.

And here’s Al Naharot Bavel again, prefixed on to Birkat Hamazon for weekdays. I wonder if it was more common in the earlier half of the 20th Century?

This is from the back of a very decrepit bencher-sized booklet of prayers for mourners. The back has this appendix of pages where different deceased family members could be filled in, according to your relations to them. I imagine these were probably given out by funeral homes in those days. This one is from the death of my great grandfather, Sam Wilensky. It says “Who departed this Life at the age of 42 On May 22, 1933.” And check out this transliteration: “Jahrzeit!”

Though I couldn’t capture this aspect very well in the photo, this Bride’s Prayer Book has a cover made of a pearlescent opaque plastic. It also has a rather ecclesiatically purple bookmark ribbon built in. I suppose it was a gift to my grandmother, Ann Wilensky.

And guess who edited it?

Rabbi Chaim M. Brecher strikes again!

Then there’s this delightfully tacky little gem:

It’s a siddur in a plastic box!

Turn it over and…

The bottom of the plastic box is clear, so you can see the polished metal back cover of the siddur.

But nothing compares to the grandeur of the front cover once you open the box:

It seems this one was a souvenir from Israel, given to my grandparents by an aunt and uncle who had just traveled to Israel.

Presented to Ann & Sol as a memento of our trip to Israel.

Nov 1969

Aunt Cele & Uncle Sam

According to my dad, Cele’s most (in)famous quality was how little use she had for clergy. Rabbis and cantors, according to her: “They’re all ganefs!” (From the Yiddish for thief, rascal, scoundrel, etc.)

And that brings us to my favorite from this collection:

This siddur, according to both of my parents, was the one that my grandpa used around the house for kiddush and that sort of thing.

You can tell what it was used for:

My grandpa had marked the page for Friday night Kiddush with a paperclip because that’s what he most often used it for.

One particularly odd feature of this siddur is this transliteration of Mourner’s Kaddish. It was typical already in this period for siddurim to be printed with a transliteration of large portions of Aramaic like Kaddish Yatom in the back, but this transliteration “To be read from right to left.” If you look carefully, you’ll see that the English letters arranged left to right within each word, but the each word is printed directly under the Hebrew word it corresponds to!

It’s remarkable that it was in regular use well into my life, given its age. It’s unclear how long he had it, but it was published in 1924, when he was 8:

It’s possible that it belonged to my great grandmother:

The cursive here says “Mrs. S. Wilensky,” which could refer to my grandmother or to my great grandmother, both of whom were married S. Wilenskys, but my dad thinks the handwriting resembles my grandmother, Ann.

At first, the significance of the date December 17, 1892, written on the inside front cover as shown above, was unclear. But then I found this:

This is a list of birth dates of a bunch of Stillmans, my paternal grandfather’s mother’s side. (Dad, correct me if I’m wrong on that one.) So here we can see that December 17, 1892, our mystery date from above, is the birth date of Sarah Stillman, who I believe is my paternal grandfather’s mother. (Again, Dad, correct me if I’m wrong.)

Why there’s a list of birth dates written well after all these people were dead, I don’t know.

The inside back cover of the book, with the list of Stillman birth dates clipped on the right:

On the right, he clipped a little supplement of Chanukah material:

Notice how he has put a big H next to the Hebrew and a big G next to the English. This must be from a Chanukah spent with them before my mother converted. The G indicated that she, Glenda, was to read the English and the H indicated that he, Harold, was to read the Hebrew.

I leave you with a final image of it:

Help the Open Siddur Project attribute this kavanah

OSPOne of the organizers of the wonderful open-source Open Siddur Project and a regular reader of this blog Aharon Varady, sent out an inquiry to the OSP email list today that caught my eye:

I’m looking to the list for more information on the source for saying a Kavanah (self-focused intentional meditation), to take upon oneself the obligatory mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself. …I only began to hear this in Renewal circles. There, I was told that the origin of the kavvanah was the Ari z”l. It also appears just before Psukei D’zimra in Reb Zalman’s Siddur Tehillat Hashem Yedaber Pi:

I accept upon myself
the command
to love my neighbor as myself.

In Hebrew sources, it appears as such:

הריני מקבל עלי מצוות עשה של ואהבת לרעך כמוך

Aharon goes on to explain that he has heard a variant of it that goes like this:

הריני מקבל עלי את מצוות הבורא ואהבת לרעך כמוך | Hareini mekabel alai et mitzvat haborei, veahavta lereiacha kamocha

After a few emails back and forth, Aharon said:

Does anyone know the source for calling this mitzvah the “mitzvah haboreh.” (Aren’t all the mitzvot, “mitzvot haboreh”?)

If we could find the original source, we could attribute this custom and determine which was the original and which the variation.

I’m familiar with the “haborei” version of the kavanah from Kirtan Rabbi’s “Love Thy Neighbor ואהבת לרעך כמוך” track on his “Kirtan Rabbi Live!” CD.

Another person (attribution on request) on the list said:

This kavanah is also in sim shalom prior to early morning torah study.

(P. 63 of the Shabbat slim shalom.)

In Kol Haneshamah, (p. 151) we use alternative language: leshem yichud kudshabrich hu…)

However, I’m doubting that this “kudshabrich hu” phrasing is Reconstructionist in origin because it appears in the “L’shem Yichud” track on the album “Shuva” by Raz Hartman, who I believe is Orthodox.

Efraim Feinstein, another OSP leader, added:

 It appears (with the variant מצות עשה) in a Chabad siddur (as something that is “proper to say” before מה טובו) as early as 1896. Probably earlier, I just haven’t searched through all of them. :-)

If you do want to find the history of the phrase, tracing back Chassidic siddurim is probably the way to go.

So. Anyone know anything about the origins of any of these?

LimmudPhilly: In which a Sephardic Rabbi answers a bunch of questions

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

On Sunday at LimmudPhilly, Rabbi Albert Gabbai did a session on Sephardic Jewry. Unlike a lot of Limmud sessions that have some highly specific point they’re getting at, Gabbai, the rabbi at Sephardic Philly shul Congregation Mikveh Israel (founded 1740!), was just sort of talking a rather tangential fashion about Sephardi Jews. Then he took questions from a rather dumbstruck group of rather Ashkenazi Jews.

Here are my notes, with an emphasis on what he had to say about ritual and liturgy:

  • Who is Albert Gabbai? He’s been the rabbi at CMI for like 20 years. He is of Baghdadi descent (see this for more on Philly’s other Baghdadi rabbi), but he grew up in Cairo. And his mother in law is from Livorno.
  • Azose's siddurim

    Sephardi Siddurim: I inquired about which Seph. siddurim he recommended. He recommended David De Sola Pool’s classic Seph. siddur and current Seatle Seph. cantor Isaac Azose’s siddur. Here’s an article that I haven’t read that compares the two.

  • Syrian ArtScroll whaaaat? He also mentioned that some Syrian Jews went to ArtScroll for a siddur. I said that sounds disastrous. He agreed. He thinks it wasn’t published under the ArtScroll name though. I’m guessing they went to ArtScroll for layout help or something like that. Still. Terrible.
  • Year 68, not 70: According to Seph. tradition, the second Temple was destroyed in the year 68, not the year 70.
  • Ladino is not a language: He was quite adamant that Judeo-Spanish is a language and that Ladino is merely a translation of either Spanish into Hebrew or Hebrew into Spanish–it was unclear which way. He also mentioned Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-French, Judeo-Italian–and of course, Yiddish. He emphasized that all were written in Hebrew characters and then cracked a joke about how American Jews all transliterate Hebrew into English all the time.
  • Seph. Jews arrive at conclusions! He was quite adamant–this became a recurring theme of the session–that Seph. Jews arrive at conclusions and Ashkenazi Jews just talk and talk and discuss and discuss and never settle anything. (So?) In support of this, he mentioned that the major law codes–Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah–are Seph. creations.
  • Seph. Jewish scholars are cooler: Rashi takes midrash even it if makes no sense, he says. Ramban (seph., of course) is more logical. And Ibn Ezra might be called the first modern biblical critic.
  • Seph. Jews study secular stuff: While there are Ashk. yeshivot that don’t study science etc, Seph. Jews all follow the Ramban, who says that you must study science and philosophy.
  • They hang their mezuzah straight: The original tradition was vertical or horizontal. Ashk–who, he pointed out, never like to settle the argument–compromised and hang it at an angle. But Seph. say, “No compromise! Either, or!”
  • He is very punny: While explaining why Seph. Jews eat beans and rice during Passover, he mentions spelt. Someone asks what that is. He says, “Spelt. S-P-E-L-T. There, I just spelt it!”
  • Different legal fiction for lighting candles: I have to say, I think the Sephardim have it right on this one. There is a problem: One cannot light fire on Shabbat. One cannot say a blessing after the act being blessed has been performed. And candles must be lit at the start of Shabbat and the act of lighting them must be blessed. Ashk. Jews work around this by lighting them, then covering their eyes and saying the blessing. Then, they open their eyes and–surprise!–the candles have been lit. Sephardim just light them shortly before Shabbat and announce that it is now Shabbat and begin acting as though it it. As Gabbai pointed out, you can’t delay Shabbat, but you can welcome it into your home early.
  • How many times around the groom? Germans brides go 3 times around the groom. Polish brides go 7 times. Seph. brides don’t go at all. Which is great because it gives some precedent for eschewing that bizarre practice altogether
  • If there are too many reasons, there is no reason: That thing about going around the groom was the first example of Gabbai’s favorite thing: pointing out a minhag with no real reason. “If there are many reasons, he said, there is no reason.” I like this guy.
  • No white for wedding: They don’t wear white for their weddings, they don’t fast before their weddings and they don’t avoid seeing their intended for any arbitrary period before their weddings. He mentioned that there is Talmudic tradition that the bride and groom are cleansed of their sins before the wedding. “You can still have sins forgiven if you don’t wear a white coat!” he said.
  • Tefilin inward: Seph. wrap their tefiling inward instead of outward. Apparently, Lubavitchers do this also. He said they have many Seph. traditions because Kabbalah is of Seph. origin.
  • No yizkor: It started in 1648 after the Chmielnitzky massacre in Europe, so Seph. never picked up the tradition. He wondered to us whether German shuls have it, since the massacre was in Poland. “You have to go to a real Yekke synagogue to find out!” he said.
  • Bride buys groom a talit: The bride buys the groom a new talit for the wedding, though Seph. boys begin wearing their first talit when they’re six. During Sheva Brachot, the bride and groom stand wrapped in the talit together. I think that’s nice.
  • Yahrtzeit: They say Kaddish from the Shabbat preceding the anniversary of the loved one’s death through the day of the anniversary. So if the anniversary is on Tuesday, they say it Shabbat, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and then they stop.
  • No cantors! A Seph. chazan, according to Rabbi Gabbai, has only one job: to pass on the tradition as he has received it. So melodies, he says, don’t change. “Not a cantor!” he emphasizes. Seph. nusach is in a major scale, not a minor one like Ashk. so it’s happier and more uplifting.
  • A very ancient nusach: Some melodies are from Spain, but for some things, such as Az Yashir and Ps. 92, the nusach is pentatonic, which means it’s very ancient. It’s similar to the Greek Orthodox Church music, which purports to be so ancient that it’s from the Temple.
  • No chaos! To avoid chaos, Seph. always roll to Torah to the proper place ahead of time.
  • And no Kabbalat Shabbat either! In the Amsterdam Seph. community, the reaction to the disappointment of Shabbetai Tzvi was to remove Kabbalat Shabbat, by association. But they kept Lecha Dodi!
  • Persians do what? Persian Jews whip each other with scallions during the seder.
  • If you chew it long enough… He said that they use lettuce for the bitter herb. “It you chew it long enough, it gets very bitter.” Whatever. Lettuce is for sissies. Real Jews use magenta horse radish!
  • Lemon juice? He also claimed you can use lemon juice instead of salt water.

Shabbat morning @ Romemu… a month late

A picture I did not take–rather, I stole it from Romemu’s website–of some kid and Rabbi David Ingber.

Crossposted to Jewschool

A month ago, I wrote about my experience with a Renwal-style service led by some of the leaders of Romemu–NYC’s premiere Renewal shul and one of the most prominent Renewal outposts there is. It was a Friday night service being led, not actually at Romemu, but at Limmud NY.

I gave the service three and a half ballpoint pens (|||-), and said that I’d be going to Romemu the following week for Shabbat morning. To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.

This can be harder to do because people have to drag themselves out of bed–and when it comes to liturgy, it’s harder to make me happy because there’s more to do on Shabbat morning than on erev Shabbat.

So I went. As I said, it was about a month ago, so my memory is a tad rusty. But I took a lot of notes while I was there and I started drafting this the day after, so I think I’ve got most of my thoughts in order. This is the first review I’ve written since I refined the Five-Ballpoint Pen Rating System. What I’m going to try to do is go through the copious notes I took first, as bullet points. Then I’ll do a more concise write-up at the end using the new rating categories. In the service notes, the section on the Torah service may be the most interesting and insightful about Romemu as a community.

Shir Yaakov, Romemu’s [musical director/insert correct title here] provided me with a copy of the song list he was using that week, so I’ll be able to provide correct [read: coherent] descriptions of the music this time.

Getting Started

  • Began with “Hareini Mekabel Alai” by Gabriel Meyer Halevi, which I think I’ve identified as being by Kirtan Rabbi once before. That was wrong, although Kirtan Rabbi does a cover of it.

The Setup

  • There is a guy playing a cajon, Shir Yaakov is playing a djembe–though he also played guitar throughout–and a guy playing some very lovely classical guitar-type stuff.
  • Rabbi David Ingber, of course, is leading. He’s using a mic, which it doesn’t seem to me that he needs. He’s a loud-voiced fellow. I asked him about it later and he said he does need to keep his voice from getting destroyed every week. However, does he really need a flesh-tone pop star mic? And does he need to be so loud? And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything? The whole things engenders and odd atmosphere, in my opinion.
  • There are, as we begin, about 20 people. They don’t fill the space at all. It feels quite empty. Ingber later told me that the previous night’s service had been one of the most packed they’d ever had. (This, mind you, was not the one I was at, which had been the previous week.)
  • The set-up is quite similar to B’nai Jeshurun, in that there is a rabbi leading from a podium, plenty of open space between the rows pews and the rabbi, and a semicircle of musicians behind and to the left of the rabbi.
  • Architecturally, the space is more similar in style to Anshei Chesed. I figure that they were probably built around the same time. Major difference: Romemu is in a church. It’s a wonderful space. If Romemu bought it from the church, they could turn it into a fantastic sanctuary for their purposes, but for now, I’m quite unsettled by the imagery around me. I’m actually a big believer in the notion that Jews ought now pray in churches. After services, I chatted with Ingber about this. He said that many in their community actually like that it’s a church. It’s a sign to many of the radical atmosphere of welcoming they want to engender at Romemu. I think you’ll all get my drift if I respond to that with an unenthusiastic “Whatever.”

An Atmosphere of Radical Welcoming

  • The radical atmosphere of welcoming, by the way, leaves something to be desired. When I arrived–a tad early, as is my wont–there were some congregants puttering around near the entrance. I wasn’t greeted by any of them, nor did any of them offer me a siddur. And about this “siddur…”

The “Siddur”

  • Siddur P'nai Or

    The siddur is P’nai Or by Rabbi Marcia Prager. I chatted with Ingber about this creation after the service. Apparently it’s one of two Renewal siddurim. I told him I didn’t think too highly of it and he said that, in that case, I should stay away from the other one all the more so! He said it’s not quite right for Romemu and that they are working on their own.

  • PO is pamphlet-y construction, overfull of clipart and poorly, inconsistently laid out.
  • Liturgically, it goes far beyond cringe-worthy.

Birchot Hashachar

  • Chanted Modeh Ani
  • For the daily blessings, we alternated between Hebrew and English
  • Once we had completed the blessings from the siddur, Ingber had people shout out the blessings they were thankful for in their own lives. Cringe-worthy doesn’t begin to cover my reaction to this. People are shouting out stuff like, “Warm gloves!” and so forth. And they’re doing all of this to the nusach!
  • There’s a quite a bit of “Take deep breaths, etc.” sort of things from Ingber. Too much of that for my taste. More than once per service, and I start deducting ballpoint pens, I think.
  • The guitar is doing this cool Spanish-sounding thing. It’s great.

Pesukei Dezimrah

  • Yeah, but how did we get here so fast?
  • Psalm 92 (“Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat etc.”) to a slow, chant-y melody. We end after “Zamru lAdonai bechinor.”
  • They play with God’s name a lot. It’s not clear if this is Ingber at work or the siddur at work on Ingber. Among others, we say Hashem, Yah, Ruach Ha’olam and Shechinah. It’s not per se, bad in my view, it’s just odd and jarring.
  • Ashrei is done to a melody I don’t know. The song list Shir Yaakov gave me says, “Ashrei–Or Zohar.” It’s unclear to me what that means. After a bit of googling, I still don’t know.
  • The spirit of the group, which is steadily growing in numbers at this point, is good, but Ingber’s mic is overpowering at times.
  • We end Ashrei after chanting the first two lines through a few times. The melody would work for a complete Ashrei–but for that, we’d have to flip all that way to page 64! Why has it been hidden somewhere other than where it belongs?
  • Psalm 150 we do to a tune I know, but it sounds quite new because the tempo is different and the instruments bring a new sound and a flavor to it. It’s good.
  • Ingber asks for “chaotic” chanting “in our own way” for Nishmat. Sounds great! Is he pandering to me? (Kidding, obviously.) It doesn’t come out chaotic at all anyway.
  • For “Uvmakhalot… Shochen Ad… Barchi Nafshi… Yishtabach… etc.” it’s quite hard to join in and follow Ingber’s wandering chant.
  • The song sheet, however, says, “Shochen Ad–nusach / U’vemakalot rivovot–Carlebach / Yishtabach–nusach.”
  • Directly from my notes: “Rm. has filled more, but still too big”
  • Chatzi Kaddish is normal
  • A Hadar fellow arrives. This seems quite odd to me. On the other hand, Romemu and Hadar are sponsoring some learning together lately, so perhaps it’s not so odd.

The part where things start to get meta…

  • Ingber mentions that a new friend he made at Limmud NY is here and looks at me. He mentions that in my review of his service at Limmud the week before, I noted: “…Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat [Shalom] to people around [us] that we don’t know. ‘Careful though,’ he says. ‘I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.’ Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.” So we all say Shabbat Shalom to the people around us, and successfully avoid a shmooze fest.

Shacharit

  • In my notes, it says, “Barechu same as at Limmud.” So I’ve consulted that review, where it says:
  • “Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.”
  • The song sheet, however, says “Barchu — Ein Od.” I guess that’s the particular melody they did?
  • Yotzer Or: Ingber wanders in English and Hebrew, chanting and explaining through Or Chadash, which is:
  • From the song sheet: “Or Chadash — Robert Esformes chant”
  • Shir Yaakov has his talit over his head for a quite meditative Ahavah Rabah
  • From song sheet: “Ahavah Rabba — Shimshai”

Random stuff from the middle of my notes

  • This resembles the loopier end of Reform almost?
  • More meditative than ecstatic, where Friday was more ecstatic. This is confirmed in a conversation with Ingber after about intentionally creating very different moods through Shabbat
  • A Hadar fellow arrives, davening out of Koren Sacks
  • I’m surprised by the number of stage directions. Maybe I shouldn’t be. I guess I’m used to spirited davening in a shul going hand in hand with a more knowledgeable community, which often means that stage directions are not needed.

Back to notes on Shacharit

  • The Shema is done in full, with a very meditative, long-lasting opening
  • From song sheet: “Mi Chamocha, Tzur Yisrael traditional”

Amidah

  • First three aloud, the rest silent, as I anticipated
  • Musically, it’s interesting. At Mechalkel in Gevurot, the instruments comes in as the nusach picks up. This, I note, requires the musicians to remain standing during the Amidah.
  • Kedusha uses a couple of Carlebach tunes I was unfamiliar with. From song sheet: “Nekadesh — Yasis Alaich Carlebach / Mimkomcha — ‘VeShamru’ Carlebach”
  • After Kedushah is over,  Shir Yaakov gets up and starts the Amidah on his own from the beginning.
  • We end the Amidah with Yihyu Ratzon in English to the tune of “Sanctuary.” More on what the means can be found here. Then, we move into the chorus of “Sanctuary” and then into a nigun version of it. Then we’re off into “Ve’asu li mikdash etc,” which often ends up in these odd Jewish liturgical mash-ups of the Christian gospel song “Sanctuary.”
  • Ingber does something that I’ve never heard before in Kaddish Shalem. It deserves its own post. So here’s that.

Interruption on demographics

  • I wrote at this point in my notes that the congregation appears to be demographically slightly older than my usual NY davening hangouts, but it’s still a quite diverse group age-wise.

Torah service

  • This felt like the longest Torah service of my life.
  • Ingber says that anyone who wants to should come open the ark. “Grab a talit!” he says. “If that sounds new agey to you, it’s from the Ari!” He looks directly at me.
  • I note a surprising lack of chaos in the service so far. This, of course, is a little troubling.
  • But then the ark door like falls off while they’re trying to extract a Sefer Torah from it. “How many Jews does it take to to take out a Torah?” Ingber jokes.
  • The service runs very much on the charisma and personality of Ingber and I wonder if Romemu could function without him. He is not just its current leader, but its founder.
  • It’s appropriate this group called Romemu is at its most ecstatic in the morning service during the hakafah as they sing… Romemu.
  • Someone is carrying the Torah around like a pile of wood. It’s bothering me.
  • Musically, it’s remarkably clear that this, the Torah, is the climax of the service.
  • Ingber mentions grassroots, DIY Judaism in the last 10 years. So nice, he says, to see people stepping up to take charge and lead their own Judaism. This seems a tad odious to me, given that Romemu was founded by a rabbi–Ingber!–and that the service is not at all lay-led. There will be some lay involvement as we get into the Torah service, but it’s worth noting that there has been none whatsoever so far.
  • There are 20 people for the first Aliyah.
  • He seems to mini-drash before each individual Aliyah. Each of these leads into an explanation of his kavanah for the Aliyah at hand, such that each Aliyah is for “anyone who [insert the particular thing here].”
  • The drashing is quite participatory. He often asks for suggestions and ideas from the community, so there is a strong sense of communal involvement at this point in the service, but it’s still not lay-led, by far.
  • The Torah is lay-read.
  • Some of the Torah is read by Jake, whose Hebrew name is Ya’akov. It is his 30th birthday and he feels he is at a turning point in life, so this is the occasion of his Jewish name-change. He is now known as Yisra’el. The name change takes place after he reads the third and final Aliyah.

Garb notes

  • There are many men and many women wearing talitot.
  • The talitot tend to be more tradition in shape and color so there are few of the sort of contemporary talitot.
  • Almost all men have their heads covered. I might be the only one with a bare head.
  • In stark contrast, only a handful of women have their heads covered.

Rating?

This is gonna be a hard one to do an overall rating for. Again, the full rating system is explained here.

Music and Ruach: Four Ballpoint Pens

The congregation is engaged and participates loudly and ecstatically. The music, led by Shir Yaakov, is fantastic, through and through. I’m giving four instead of five because of the bits chanted by Inger that were hard to follow along with and because of the sung Barechu.

The Chaos Quotient: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

Ingber is such a strong leader for the service and there are few moments of transition for chaos to occur within. Because of that, despite the loud and ecstatic nature of the service, there is little chaos. However, the near-demolition of the ark is a pretty good little bit of chaos. So two and a half sounds like a good rating to me.

Liturgical Health: One and a Half Ballpoint Pens

Liturgical health is indicated primarily by two things: 1) Attention to and regard for the structure of the service, and 2) the apparent liturgical knowledge and interest of congregants, as indicated by their siddurim of choice. The overall structure of the service was intact, but they play very fast and loose with the content of the morning blessings and Pesukei Dezimrah. The only people who brought their own siddurim were two visiting Hadar fellows. And that siddur. Oh, that siddur.

Welcoming Community: Four Ballpoint Pens

I noted earlier that I was not particularly greeted on arrival, but the kiddush afterward was fantastic and everyone was very friendly. Overall, the quality of the community is great. Romemu, in essence, is good people.

Overall Rating: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

I thought a lot about how many pens to rate this service overall. Though the people and music were truly phenomenal, the liturgical issues I had are too big for me to overlook. That said, keep in mind that this is a rating of this service, not of Romemu itself, which is comprised of much more than its Shabbat morning services. I am keen to go again, though I think Friday night might be as far as I get with Romemu again.

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

The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System explained and expanded

I’m refining the Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System and I’m also creating this as a post I can link back to whenever I give a rating out so that folks can have something to look at and know what I’m on about.

The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System is my system for rating the services that I attend and write reviews of.

Why ballpoint pens? Because there’s usually one behind my ear during services so I can take notes–unless I get told to cut it out.

There are four categories in which I give ratings:

Music and Ruach: One Ballpoint Pen in this category means awful, incompetently led music and a limp, disinterested congregation. Five Ballpoint Pens indicates first-rate music, nusach, chazanut, whatever, etc. and an involved kahal singing along loudly.

The Chaos Quotient: One Ballpoint Pen in this category can mean one of two things: Either the service is a carefully orchestrated performance with no sense of personality, or it’s so chaotic that no one can follow what’s going on. Five Ballpoint Pens in this category indicates that the service and the community have some personality and that there is a comfortable, charming layer of chaos and eccentricity buzzing along just beneath the surface of the service.

Liturgical Health: One Ballpoint Pen in this category indicates a total disregard for the structure of the service such as cutting prayers here and there for no reason. It also means that the kahal is visibly ignorant of the order and proceedings of the service and that none of them brought their own siddurim. Five Ballpoint Pens in this category indicates a community with a conscientious approach to the liturgy, from the leaders on down. It may also indicate that the community is full of people who care enough about their liturgy to bring their own siddurim.

Welcoming Community: One Ballpoint Pen in this category indicates that I was not greeted when I arrived or at any point before, during or after the service. Five Ballpoint Pens in this category indicates a very visibly welcoming community. This one may be hard to judge in some cases when I already know many people at the service, but I try to take a look at how newcomers are treated.

There is also an Overall Quality rating that is mathematically totally unrelated to the other five–it’s not an average or anything. It’s just my general feeling about and judgement of the service. One Ballpoint Pen in this category means that I hated the service and Five Ballpoint Pens means I loved it.

These ratings are not meant as pats on the back, nor as mean-spirited critique, but as a guide to like-minded readers of this blog. In an ancillary capacity, it may also serve as a helpful outside critique of the service for the community in the review.

Shabbat Shalom.

OneShul. Yeah.

Without commentary–or editing–here are the notes I typed while “attending” the online Kabbalat Shabbat at OneShul.org.

30 second ad for the new james cameron film, sanctum.

there’s a logo up. the service has not started. unfamilar guitar-camp sort of music is playing. there are 9 other viewers. i can log in to chat. i refrain.

now we’re at 10. a minyan has arrived.

below the screen and the chat field, there is a siddur called “OneShul Community Siddur” it’s the same thing as indie yeshiva pocket thing. which i will be attempting to use. not that koren is far out of reach, but i’m making an effort here.

we’re down to 9 viewers. back to 10. back to 9. back to 10. up to 11! what is going on? and 13.

Google ads keeping popping up.

holy crap, the tune is country roads.

down to 12.

oooh. it’s starting. and it’s stopping. and it’s starting? and it’s stopped again.

it’s very choppy. there’s lots of discussion of how choppy it is. and it’s better. and now the whole thing is gone.

Well, in the midst of all the choppiness, we were all welcomed and they mentioned that they were about to do something involving a Shabbat dinosaur.

Thankfully, I think we missed that due to the choppiness and the outage because we’re back and this guy Michael is doing candle lighting. interesting, that we can all sort of light candles together, in a way. I already lit mine, which are now burning next to the computer.

The Shabbat dinosaur is back. It’s a little girl in a blue dino outfit.

And the nusach their using to light the candles is for Chanukah. *facepalm* Then Michael reads the bracha again in English.

After some puttering about and brief discussion, we’re singing Shalom Aleichem. I feel a little silly sitting in my dorm room singing along with this.

Patrick Aleph says, “Adonai Malach yirgzu amim.” Now Michael is reading it in English.

Now Michael is doing a devar and Patrick has joined the chatroom. “lets talk smack during the dvar” he says. AviEarnest says “Michael needs a dinosaur prayer shawl.” Goodness gracious.

Michael is talking about how Mishpatim takes slavery, a despicable institution, and tames it.

“michael is more spiritual than me in this way. he can take text and really work it well” patrick writes.

There are 18 viewers by now.

Michael is done now. Patrick says they’re gonna take some questions from the chat.

coco765: “How can you look for G-d?? I’ve been doing that all my life and I haven’t found G-d. Any ideas????”

Michael, apparently in Rabbinical school, answers.

I’m struggling to be open-minded right now. Realllly stuggling. Oh my goodness.

20 people now. comments are flying.

coco says, “PunkTorah=my new bff!!”

Michael is talking about Art Green. In theory, this goes from 7 to 8. (michael mentions reb zalman now.) It’s already 7:25 though.

can we get on with this service? one or two more questions, Michael says.

aaaand we’re on the barchu.

we’re halfway through maariv aravim. I’m gonna leave it there and tune out from the service. This is not Shabbat-conducive. The amount of judge-y in my head right now is no good.

Shabbat Shalom.