live from the donkey’s mouth: WE BLEW UP THE CHURCH OF THE REPONSIVE READING AND NO ONE DIED

Shvat 23, 5767

My basic premise when it comes to tfilah:

If you take a group of somewhat educated American Jews and educate them a few inches further and then you lead them through tfilah with no English regularly for no more than two or three weeks they will never want to go back to the Church of the Responsive Reading.

With that in mind and on the heels of a number of posts in our corner of the Jewish corner of the blogosphere (including this from the newest addition to my “other good things” sidebar) I present you the following story. It has been a tiny bit humorzied through hyperbole. The facts that support the point have not.

This weekend at Temple no one became Bar or Bat Mitzvah. By long-standing congregational tradition, that means that Shabat Shacharit is lay-led. The lay-leaders email group was notified and I, not having had a chance to lay-lead since my return from Israel, let Cantor R that I would like to lay-lead.

I should note two pieces of background. The first being that myself and MD, a fellow lay-leader and an Israeli are planning on beginning our congregation’s first all-Hebrew minyan for Shabat Shacharit at the beginning of March. The second being that shortly after Cantor R arrived at our Temple last year a disagreement began between him and the lay-leaders. Seeking more involvement in Shabat Shacharit, the lay-leaders all stuck their fingers in their ears and screamed “LA LA LA LA LA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”, so afraid were they that our lay-leading might be stolen from us. The Cantor and Rabbi S, who was also batting for Cantor R did the same upon hearing that we were opposed. Then our Senior Rabbi, Rabbi F, went on sabbatical for six months, I went to Israel for four months and the entire issue was tabled while everyone stewed over the issue and contemplated different ways to dig their heels deeper into the board room carpet.

I do not like to lay-lead on my own. I like to have someone with something sort of like musical talent helping because by family tradition, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I told the Cantor that I would like to lay-lead with him. This would mean that I would stand at the left podium and do things normally done by a Rabbi and that he would stand on the right and do things normally done by, well, a Cantor. This inclusive compromise seems to me like the perfect solution to the problem of the increasingly dug-in heels. Cantor though the idea was great. Rather than go through the rest of the lay-leaders and the Ritual Committee, we though we would just lead by example and go ahead and do it.

Our other stroke of genius was to get rid of the English. The Dvar Torah would be in English as would the page numbers, but we decided against responsive readings, doing the V’ahavta twice, and doing an improper Amidah. Further, we would use the Temple’s draft copies of Mishkan Tfilah because it has translation and transliteration for everything so as not confuse everyone.
The night before, at Shabat Ma’ariv, I keenly observed that there were no Rabbis present. Only Cantor R was leading. The other Rabbis were away until Sunday with the 8th, 9th, and 10th grade retreat. I asked Cantor R during the Oneg if that meant that there would be no Rabbis at services the next day. He said that was correct. I got a little worried.

No Rabbis means no one to do Kadish (do not ask me why that is the way it is here). Then it occurred to me that I could just go ahead and do it. Understand that it is highly unusual at our Temple for a non-Rabbi to read the Kadish list and then lead Kadish. It was pretty good.

Three strange things happened during that service:
1. There was no English in the liturgy.
2. Cantor and lay-leader got along just fine.
3. A non-Rabbi led Kadish.

Everyone loved it. No one complained, not even under their breath. Most people came up afterward to complement one or both of us.

We set fire to the Church of the Responsive Reading and no one died.

I really hope that was a coherent narrative.

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