Tag Archives: Torah

Rosh Hashanah notes, part I

Hineni. More on that below.

English

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.

Advertisements

Andy Bachman strikes again: “regrettable” that Reform truncated Shma

Andy Bachman, senior rabbi of the Reform Beth Elohim in Brooklyn always has smart things to say at his blog, Water Over Rocks. I saw this post from him this morning about the Reform excision of the second paragraph of the Shma. Here’s part of it:

In Reform Judaism, for the better part of the last century, Reform Jews have recited the Shma while standing as a public expression of faith, doctrine, pronounced creed.  And Reform prayerbooks have, additionally, eliminated from the liturgy the paragraph following the Shma (the original Torah text of which appears in next week’s Torah portion) mostly because in its articulation of why one ought to observe God’s commandments, there is an explicit articulation of the Biblical doctrine of reward and punishment, to wit, if you follow My commandments, I will give rain in its proper season, God warns; but if you don’t, the earth you hope to cultivate for sustenance will not yield its fruit in its proper season.

It’s always struck me as a regrettable loss that the early Reformers excised such ideas, depriving generations of Reform Jews the opportunity to engage prayer and Torah text as metaphor, and especially in our own day with fears and threats of global warming, of engaging the notion of how we treat the earth with a sense of the sacred.

Here’s the rest of it.

LimmudPhilly: Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass Musaf thing

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

I was gonna go to Society Hill Synagogue, which the LimmudPhilly program book described as “Unaffiliate, Conservative-style” because I wanted to know what that means. According to one person I asked, there are readings. Gah.

But Desh–a regular Jewschool commenter who I had met for the first time in person the night before–said he was going to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel–which everyone calls BZBI–because it’s much closer to him. Turns out, it was easier for me to get to as well and it seemed better to go somewhere with a friend.

Plus, I figured, it would be nice to go somewhere predictable and not feel like I have to write a review. Wrong on so many levels, was I.

First of all, at a Conservative shul, I expect a kippah patrol. I arrived with my kippah at the ready, but did not put it on. Eventually, the honors patrol came by and offered me gelilah (this story starting to sound familiar to anyone?). I accepted, certain that he was also about to tell me to cover my head. Instead, he handed me the card–intricately detailed instructions, by the way–thanked me and told me we’d have to find a kippah to wear on the bimah. I told him I had one with me and he said OK fine whatever and moved on with his honor-distribution duties.

I consulted Desh–quite the regular at BZBI and thank God for that because I ended up sitting in a rather snarky section of regulars, just my type!–and he said that at BZBI, men are expected to cover their heads in the sanctuary (so much for that), but everyone is expected to cover their heads on the bimah. Given that, I felt fine putting a kipah on for gelilah. The cantor (more on her shortly) told me I was a very skilled Torah dresser, by the way.

(As an aside, there were way too many women whose doily-laden heads looked like they might take flight at any moment for my comfort!)

Anyway, notes (mental, I mostly refrained from notetaking) from BZBI:

  • The cantor and the music: Despite being very appreciative of my Torah-dressing skillz, the cantor drove me berserk. All of the melodies in the service were familiar to me and none were unusual for the Conservative setting. However, this cantor–one of those cantors who closes her eyes while emoting her way through every other note–was all over the place with this melodies. In some, she was putting the emphasis in funny places, in others, tweaking the melody ever so slightly. It made it impossible to sing along. I also think I was sitting in the only section of singing along types in the whole place.
  • Am I done with rabbis and cantors on bimahs? I’m beginning to think I’m never gonna be happy with a rabbi-and-cantor-on-the-bimah arrangement. I hate it more every time.
  • Begin with Ps. 92? BZBI is apparently trying something new. Their services used to begin at 9 and end at 12:30. The new plan is to being at 9:30 and end, still, at 12:30. [EDITED: I got those times way wrong. Here are the correct times.] There are variety of strategies for doing this that are currently undergoing testing. One of them is to skip straight through Pesukei Dezimrah. So they begin with Psalm 92 and then it’s straight on to Kaddish Yatom and then on to Shochein Ad straight away. Given that the Kaddish that’s at the beginning of the service can tend to migrate anyway, this makes some sense. And there is, of course, a devoted corps (mostly just Desh and some old dudes) who come early to go through PD on their own.
  • No Imahot? I was surprised to find a Conservative shul with a (relatively) young Shabbat morning crowd and relatively (like, really relatively in the case of the rabbi) young rabbi and cantor that still isn’t doing Imahot. Desh and others explained to me that the rabbi and cantor are in favor of doing Imahot, but there are some very strident anti-Imahot people who are quite old. I guess they’re just waiting it out…. Anyway, it was odd.
  • The nusach massacre continues in Kedushah: This is getting grotesque. Kedushah took like ten minutes. *face-pew*
  • The hakafah crisis: The sanctuary has an aisle up the middle and one on each side and both are connected in the back and front. Normally at BZBI, both hakafot proceed all the way up the middle and down both sides. But this week, in the interest of saving time, the rabbi announced that the first hakafah would only go up the middle aisle and that it would go all the way around–skipping the middle aisle–the second time. There was a lot of discussion of how much time this might actually save from within the snark-zone I was sitting in.
  • Thank God for the Torah readers! One of the reasons BZBI needs special strategies for shortening the service is that they’re still doing full readings of the Torah! No triennial here, friends. Yet, the Torah reading is about the coolest thing ever. There’s a retired Baghdadi Sephardi rabbi in the congregation who reads Torah. He does it about as slowly as I’ve ever seen it, but it’s damn cool to hear him doing it. He differentiates in pronunciation between Chet and Chaf and I can hear him vocalizing his Ayins from time to time. His wife then does haftarah, which is also great!
  • And then the second hakafah: They almost forget that they’re not going up the middle aisle. They go up one side, halfway across the back and then turn to go down the middle. They a good portion of the way down before they get the message from the rabbi, gesticulating wildly, to turn around and go back to the back and then come back down the other side. The snark-zone is in stitches.
  • And then the little kids started singing! Good God. There’s nothing worse than accidentally showing up to a consecration service! They do religious school on Shabbat at BZBI so the consecration kids (third grade or something?) emerged and joined us in the service toward the end of the Torah service. They sang  (!), of all things, “Yachad Lev v’Lev”–and Israeli pop song–and something I’d never heard of. And then. Shit. Got. Weird.
  • Then they started singing Avot… v’Imahot. At the point in the service, I didn’t know any of the stuff I wrote earlier about how Imahot works (or doesn’t) at BZBI. The kids sang Adoani Sefatai Tiftach and then they actually started singing Avot v’Imahot. In the snark-zone, there was a lot of uncomfortable glancing about and hiding behind pews. We weren’t sure if this was meant to be musaf or what was going on at all.
  • It was musaf. But there was a poem with some remarkable rhyming. One of my new snark-zone friends said of me to Desh, “He’s never gonna come back, is he?”
  • Eventually, it was over. And we did real Musaf. And then we all moved on with life.

Rating: The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System is explained here.

Music and Ruach: One Ballpoint Pen

I didn’t like the music at all and there seemed to be very little ruach of any sort in the room.

The Chaos Quotient: Four Ballpoint Pens

I’m gonna go ahead and count whatever those kids up to toward this service’s tremendous Chaos Quotient. Between that and the hakafah, this shul is to be congratulated. On the one hand, I didn’t like the service too much. On the other hand, the chaos was excellent and made me feel very much at home.

Liturgical Health: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

On the one hand, I don’t like having the beginning of the service so truncated and the reason they don’t do Imahot is silly. On the other hand, it’s nice to find a shul making conscious, but practical choices about liturgy. And the full reading was pretty spiffy. On the third hand, I didn’t see anyone using anything other than Siddur Sim Shalom.

Welcoming Community: N/A

I arrived pretty early, had friend there already and bolted when the service was over so I’m not gonna try to rate them on this one.

Overall Rating: One and a Ballpoint Half Pens

And they’re only getting that half because the chaos was so good.

Strengths and weaknesses of indie minyans and why I don’t get to go to Zoo Minyan tomorrow

Crossposted to Jewschool

Zoo Minyan, an independent minyan that meets in the neighborhood around the zoo in DC, is not meeting for davening this week. Why do I care? And why is this interesting? Let me back up:

I’m on the Bolt Bus, headed down to DC for the J Street Conference. The conference proper doesn’t start until Saturday night, but I’m heading down to spend Shabbat in DC, hoping to get some good shul-hopping done for your reading pleasure.

My plan was to go to multi-denominational, non-membership, convention-defying synagogue Sixth and I tonight and to the still-extant, just had their 40th birthday, proving all the “indie minyans will never last people wrong,” first-wave chavurah Fabrangen tomorrow morning.

But then, while emailing back and forth with Mah Rabu blogger and fellow Jewschooler BZ, he suggested the I try out Zoo Minyan instead. Apropos my post from the other day about feminizing the theology of Kaddish Shalem, he thought I might like Zoo Minyan. During their service, they apparently alternate between masculine and feminine names for God. So I got a little excited to see that in practice.

Then, as I’m sitting here on this bus, I get this e-mail from BZ with this post from their blog:

Zoo Minyan – No Davvening, but some learning, Sat. Feb 26

Zoo Minyan is not meeting for davenning Sat. Feb 26.

Sorry folks! Insufficient leyning turn-out for Zoo this shabbos, wouldn’t be lichvod Torah. Apologies for the short notice / change of plans.

But feel free to stop by for some learning after davenning elsewhere (or after shaarei sheina / sleeping in, as is your custom).

[…]

So, it’s Fabrangen for more tomorrow, after all.

But it’s not a total waste because I have some thoughts to share that came out of this failure to launch. The first time I heard such an attitude from an indie minyanaire was from an organizer of the ultra-lightweight London minyan Wandering Jews. They don’t organize anything other than a place and time. They refuse to beg people to be hosts. If no one volunteers to host, there’s no davening. If not enough people bring stuff for the potluck, there’s no communal dinner. Etc.

I heard a woman speak about this approach at Limmud Colorado a couple of years ago. She said, if people value Wandering Jews, they will make it happen. And if they’re not making it happen, then it isn’t valuable and they should just let it go and slip away. This stands in about the starkest contrast possible to the synagogue continuity-obsessed folks.

And at Zoo Minyan, it seems there is a somewhat similar attitude. And now I don’t get to go. Oh well, their loss. And Fabrangen’s gain.

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

Biblical Hebrew, Tanakh tabs, etc.

Aside from the Biblical Hebrew independent study, I'm also taking Digital Photography, so let's hope the quality of these photos starts improving.

I’m doing an independent study this semester in Biblical Hebrew with an adjunct from the Theological School, our United Methodist seminary here at Drew. Her name is Suzanne Horn. She’s a Christian, so I think we’ll end up learning plenty from each other.

Anyway, for the independent study, I ordered a Koren Tanakh–the Hebrew-only variety. Above, you can see it on the left. Next to it is my JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. I bought that trusty little volume before I went to Israel for the fall semester of my senior year of high school, which means I’ve been toting it around in my bag for four and half years now. It’s looking, as you can see, a little worse for the wear.

When it was about a year old, I bought the Bible tabs you can see lolling about on the edges of the pages. They’re one of the most useful little investments I’ve ever made. At the Chavurah (hit mute on your computer if you click on this link!), when we’re all flipping about trying to find the Haftarah, I’m always the first one there.

But I’d really like to get Hebrew tabs for my new Koren Tanakh. As far as I can tell, no one makes them. It seems like JPS should, but they don’t. And it seems like Koren could, but they don’t either.

I could make my own by buying some binder tab things from an office supply store and then printing them out on my computer, but they wouldn’t be small or durable enough.

So, does anyone know if someone makes them? And does anyone have any thoughts on fabricating them nicely?

PS–That’s my Moshe Rabbeinu non-piggy bank to the right of the monitor in the picture above. He has a slot in his back where you can put coins. And on the base it says INVESTS, but Jesus may save, but Moses… well, you know.

Limmud NY Notes: The ballpoint pen saga’s poetic conclusion and some other observations from a Hadar service

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

The whole ballpoint pen service rating system thing started at Hadar on Yom Kippur when I was asked to stop taking notes in the margins of my siddur and asked to put a kipah on when I went up to dress the Torah. That full story can be read here. It’s big fun.

Shirat Hayam, from sofer.co.uk

So I arrived on Shabbat morning to the Traditional-Egalitarian service (read: the Hadar service) on time for the beginning of Pesukei Dezimrah. A Hadar Fellow, Hannah something (also mentioned here), offered me the fourth aliyah. Given that it was Limmud NY and not actually Hadar, I fully intended to take notes as I usually do. And I did.

It turned out that this was the coolest aliyah of the year. I got to bless before and after the read of Shirat Hayam. It was big fun. The gabbai was Will Friedman (also mentioned here and here). Halfway into the aliyah, I realized that there was a ballpoint pen behind my right ear, as there usually is. Also, my head was naked.

It has come full circle, friends. And it feels good.

Also, Ethan Tucker (also mentioned here) read the fifth aliyah. Since I got to stay up there during the fifth aliyah, I noticed something interesting–Ethan does not use a yad when he reads. Rather, he uses one of his tzitzit. I thought it was pretty badass, or at least as badass a thing as one can do while reading from a sefer Torah.

Limmud NY will make you smarter and more attractive

OK. So maybe the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but Limmud NY is pretty damn great.

It’s an annual gathering of hundreds of Jews of every age (tots to college students to twentysomethings to  families to retirees) and background (Orthodox to Renewal to non/post/trans-denominational to Conservative to Reform to secular to whatever the hell else you call yourself).

We’re there to learn, sing, hang out, drink, teach and bask in the glory of the broadest definition of Torah you can conjure up.

This year it’s MLK weekend: Jan. 14-17. And it’s at the Hudson Valley Resort in the Catskills.

At Limmud NY, everything is volunteer-run and everyone is a learner and a teacher.

You can register here. Fees go up after December 16. And there’s always scholarship money available, so don’t be discouraged by prices.

And you can check out some of this year’s confirmed presenters here.

Here’s everything I’ve ever written about Limmud NY.

Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week. (And yes, Larry, I’ve also been thinking about your admonishments about creating vs. criticizing).

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

If my pen is offensive, I’m gonna need some kind of warning.

Crossposted to Jewschool

If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made. Please?

Last year, I spent all of Yom Kipur and the morning of Simchat Torah at Kehilat Hadar. I did a repeat performance this year, adding several hours at Bnai Jeshurun on the night of Simchat Torah.

On Yom Kipur this year, a gabai told me to stop writing in the margin of my machzor at Hadar. When all is said and done, it was frustrating, but not out of line. Hadar uses no amplification or anything on yom tov. It’s a community that defines its communal spaces as shomer shabbat. So I stopped writing.

But BJ is a whole other story. I have a whole list of regular complaints about BJ (it’s a meat market, etc), but Simchat Torah had me more miffed than usual. I’m often told that on the evening of Simchat Torah, BJ is the place to be. So I went.

Far beyond my usual complaints, it was a night club, complete with Israeli bouncers at all entrances and exits. The only thing to distinguish the gyrating mass of Jews from night club was the sprinkling of people dancing with sifrei Torah.

For me, events like this are a spectator sport. I felt most comfortable when the dancing was over and the Torah reading began. During the dancing hakafot, I stood off to the side, sporadically annotating my siddur and chatting with the many friends I was running into. It all reminded me a lot of summer camp. I was always that kid standing off to the side during Israeli dancing, grotesquely fascinated, but utterly unwilling to join in.

Amid all of this, there’s a piano playing, rabbis are singing loudly into microphones. Everything sounds beautiful.

Except for one thing. Four of five times during each half-hour dance hakafah, one rabbi or another would shout over the music into the microphone, “No pictures, please!” People were indeed taking pictures–with flash!–of the rotating clod of Jews. To me, far more distracting than the odd flash here and there were the announcements admonishing us all to stop taking pictures.

But I can understand it. The flashes distract. One person I chatted with said the flashes were more distracting to her than the announcements. Fine. The microphones enhanced the dancing worship, while the flashes detract. I get it.

But more than anything else, I was amused by the notion of shouting into a microphone to tell people not to take pictures. There’s something halachically hilarious about it.

And then some rather officious woman in fanny pack decided that my note-taking was a problem and told me to stop.

So now we come back to my original point: If your communal standards are non-standard, do us all a favor and have some signs made.

If there will be amplification, mixed dancing, totally nonreligious Jewish high school students, at least two well-known Orthodox rabbis (that I spotted), admonishments over the mics not to take pictures, My Number One Fan, a handful of Jewschoolers (hey guys!), etc., there’s no way to know what’s appropriate.

In a Conservative shul, in a Reform shul, in and Orthodox shul it is, with the occasional exception, pretty easy for someone as ritually literate as I am to know what it’s acceptable to do and not do.

So, fanny pack lady, despite the look of disgust on your face, it was perfectly non-obvious that what I was doing was wrong in any way.

If I can’t write in your shul, please have a sign made to go along with your no cell phones sign. How else is anyone to know what is appropriate? (Or, dare I say, allowed?)