Um. So. Go here.
I need one of these desperately.
I can’t even deal with this.
Um. So. Go here.
I need one of these desperately.
I can’t even deal with this.
As I noted earlier today, I have re-(but not totally)reversed my opinion on Miryam’s place in G’ulah. For the first part of this discussion, go here.
The idea proposed by Reconstructionist liturgy was compelling one, achieving what I would call a noble end, but the means, despite what I may have said a couple of weeks ago has always felt just a tad lacking to me. To give credit where credit is due, the discussion in the comments on Part I of this saga between me and elf’s DH directly resulted in the following new idea.
The problem that elf’s DH pointed out at great length is that, although it is not a direct quote, the line in question (which introduces Mi Chamochah) is a direct reference and messing with it seemed to muddy the story given to us by the Torah. However, following, Shirat Hayam, there is a description of Miryam, drum in hand (where did this tambourine idea come from? tof definitely means drum in Hebrew), leading the women in a refrain of the first line of the song already sung by Mosheh and the men.
So I give you the following idea: Instead of attributing to Miryam lines that we don’t know that she sang, we attribute to her a line, new to Mi Chamochah, but true to the text, which we know she did sing from the p’shat of the text.
Between “Nora t’hilot oseh feleh” and the following closing part of Mi Chamochah, I insert the following: “Miryam the prophet, drum in hand, and all the women sang a song, singing: ‘Shiru lAdonai ki ga’oh ga’ah.”
מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה, תֹּף בְּיָדָהּ,
וְכָל־הַנָּשִׁים לְךָ עָנוּ שִׁירָה
וְאָמְרוּ שִׁירוּ לַאדוני כִּֽי גָאֹה גָּאָה
The semester here at Drew begins today. I have one class today at 1:15, Human Evolution. If I have to answer one more damn question from someone who assumes that because I am religious, I will be unable to tolerate this class, I will shit on them.
In my absence from this blog, I’ve been travelling a bit. I went to Limmud NY, an absolutely amazing four-day weekend of pluralistic Jewish learning. Where I once felt solidly Reform and believed totally that terms like “pluralism” and “non/post/trans-denominational” were nonsense, I now see that they are likely the future of Judaism in America. I attended several amazing sessions at Limmud on liturgy, some of which totally blew my top off.
As evidenced by the blog’s new name, my resolve for Reform belief and ideology was perhaps strengthened over the course of the weekend, but my resolve for the Reform movement’s official bodies (HUC, URJ, NFTY, etc.) were weakened.
If I hate the new Reform sidur, but a sidur put together by Chavurah types (Siddur Eit Ratzon) peaks my interest weekly, what does that mean? If I haven’t been to a Reform synagogue in years that did anything for me spiritually during services, but I go weekly to an indie Chavurah that does everything for me, what does that mean? If the URJ Biennial I went to in Houston in 2005 sucked, but Limmud was fantastic, what does that mean? If I am to continue calling myself Reform, but disliking all of the connotations that word brings with, separating myself from communities that share my label of Reform, what does that mean? Do I cut and run, or do I stay and try to affect change? And what right would I even have to make those changes if nobody else seems to want them?
And goals have changed. Until Limmud, I was unaware of that fact that one could get graduate and post-graduate degrees in liturgy. I think that’s where I’m headed.
In sidur news, I have two new sidurim. One, Or Hadash, is Reuven Hammer’s excellent commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom. The other, Siddur Young Judea, is a rather decrepit edition of the sidur used at Camp Tel Yehudah, was given to me by Matt Reber, whose apartment I stayed at in Brooklyn for a couple of days last week. Next on my list is a sidur created by a Sephardic congregation in Seattle with Hebrew, English, and Ladino called Siddur Zehut Yosef. I have also re-(but not totally)reversed my view on Miryam’s place (or lack thereof) in Mi Chamochah. Limmud gave me so much food for thought that I’m currently deep into Draft Six of Sidur Eilu D’vareinu: The Limmud Aftermath Edition.
Limmud was good. I’m back at school now. I changed the name of the blog. More on all of the above later
We in the progressive Jewish community tend to think of the section I’m writing about today as two separate prayers. We think about Mi Chamochah and we think about “that long thing before it that we don’t do.” Let me dispense with that and get to today’s meat quickly; there’s nothing objectionable in “that long thing” and no reason not to do it.
My examination of this prayer will center around one contentious line and on a reversal of a previously-held opinion of mine. The last line of “that long thing” is “Mosheh uvnei Yisra’el l’cha anu shira b’simchah rabah, v’amru kulam:,” which means “Moses and the Children of Israel sang a great, joyous song, saying together:.” The line introduces Mi Chamochah, which is a selection from the song of the sea.
Many in the world of progressive liturgy have suggested (beginning with the Reconstructionist sidur, Kol Haneshamah) that the line might instead be rendered, “Moshe uMiryam uvnei Yisrael, etc.” Previously, it was opinion that this line was a bad thing. In this post I will endeavor to reverse my opinion and in fact prove myself wrong.
A good friend and a litrugical mentor of mine (if he wants to be identified, he’ll let us know in the comments) suggested that this alteration of the line was problematic because the line is a biblical quote and it is improper to mess with a biblical quote. With that in mind, I crusaded against this mention of Miryam, claiming that it was improper to mess with lines from Torah for reasons of political correctness.
I later learned of a particular line in Yotzer Or, which is an altered biblical quote and has been so altered, seemingly from Sinai (don’t think too hard about that hyperbole). The quote (from Isaiah, I think) refers to God as creating good and evil. Liturgists living in Babylon, under dualist Zoroastrians, found the statement troubling and changed it to its current form, which refers to a God who creates “hakol,” everything.
Here I was forced to do some thinking about this anti-Miryam crusade of mine. Any casual reader of this blog and my writings here about liturgy will know that I have an obsession with keeping my liturgy consistent. If I accept the change in Yotzer Or, I have to accept the change here in G’ulah. Or, at the very least, I cannot reject the change on this particular basis.
Later, in fact-checking for this post, I discovered that even if Yotzer Or didn’t set the precedent that it does, the claim that the line is a quote to begin with is erroneous. The line that precedes the Song of the Sea in Shmot 15 is “Az yashir Mosheh uvnei Yisra’el et hashirah hazot la’Adonai vayomer leimor:,” meaning “So Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to Adonai, singing this:.” The meaning and effect may be different, but the lines are completely different. The position that Miryam cannot be added to G’ulah on the basis that it disrupts a line from Torah is thus untenable.
There is a further possible objection, aside from the obvious traditional arguments and anti-feminist hoo-ha. The objection being that the text does not support the idea that Miryam was there with Moses singing. This is also untenable. Why? Midrash. Midrash may not be Torah from Sinai, but it’s often damn close, and it’s still a legit source for Jewish study. In the case of the story of the split sea, many would assume that the oft-repeated story of Nachshon Ben Aminidav (who, the story goes, walked straight into the sea until his head was partially underwater, so strong was his faith that God) actually is Torah from Sinai due to its constant repetition. Likewise, Debbie Friedman’s huge contribution to the world of Progressive Jewish music world cannot be ignored here. Friedman’s “Miriam’s Song” is so well known in the Reform/Progressive world that the song’s placement of Miryam at the center of the singing has nearly become Tanachic fact.
How else do we know that Miryam sang? Because all of “B’nei Yisra’el,” the Children of Israel joined in the singing. Why do I say Children and not the more literal Sons? Because it is nonsense to believe the recently-liberated and currently-overjoyed women would refrain from singing for fear that their kolei ishah might distract the men from the proceedings. Therefore, if everyone sang, Miryam sang.
If you ask “Why not toss Aharon into the mix, too?” I’ll have an aneurism.
I imagine, however, that the intent of the originators of the line was simply to incorporate more female characters into our liturgy, and that too is fine by me.
And so we have now in my sidur:
I’ve been away sitting on my ass too intently to post these last days, but I’m back.
To review, though I now go to school in New Jersey, I’m currently back in my hometown of Austin, Texas. While here, I’m attending services every Shabat at CBI, the congregation I grew up at.
While I was away, the ritual committee of CBI (of which I was once a member and my Dad is the current chair) apparently decided that in all of the prayers generated by our forbears, three topics had simply not been considered. There was apparently no way in our litrugical heritage to express three particular longings. OK, so to be fair, that’s not exactly true. The editors of the rather old draft of Mishkan T’filah that is still in use at CBI decided all that. The new development, I suppose, is that the CBI ritual committee decided that this congregation needed to recite these three prayers.
And what three prayers are these that have me in a tizzy? They are the “Prayer for our Congregation,” the “Prayer for our Country,” and the “Prayer for the State of Israel.” Let my complaints begin.
First of all, why did they write these only in English? They couldn’t even be bothered to title them in Hebrew. Second, I’m having trouble distinguish between the term “our country” and the term “State of Israel.” I feel at least as much ownership of Israel as I do of the United States. Why not the “Prayer for (circle one) Canada/the United States of America?” There are basically aesthetic complaints. I promise that I actually have some criticisms of substance beginning in the next paragraph.
The idea that these three topics need to be specially addressed outside of the established structure of the service seems absurd to me. I recognize the possibility that there are things that the service does not already address. What I find hard to believe is that these three no-brainers are within that category of “notions not yet expressed in the liturgy.” The “Prayer for the State of Israel” seems most unlikely to be in the category. Indeed, many have argued that the entire point of the service is to pray for the land of Israel! As for the other two, I would say that the topic of US/Canada is addressed during the Amidah in the prayer for just judges.
The “Prayer for our Congregation” is a tad more likely a candidate for the category of “notions not yet expressed in the liturgy,” but even here I take issue. If we are praying for the health of our co-congregants, we have a section of the Amidah that addresses healing. If we are praying for good leadership, I would refer again to the just judges thing as well as perhaps to the prayer for knowledge and wisdom located at the beginning of the middle section of the Amidah.
My overall point is this: I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that, whether through diving inspiration or mere accident, we have been handed a rich and deep liturgical tradition that is capable of being made to express almost anything we wish without the creation of new material. Things may need occasional and minor alteration, but the idea that there three ideas as big as these that have somehow been left untouched-upon makes no sense whatsoever. And if the editors of this draft of Mishkan didn’t think that, why did they, the inheritors of the repetition-abhorring Reform liturgical tradition, fell the need to create more of the same.
And above all, if you find that something is truly missing from the service, that’s what the silent prayer is for. To hell with Elohai N’tzor. If you find that something is missing, for God’s sake add it in place of that!
[THE FOLLOWING WAS ADDED ON SUNDAY MORNING]
The ironic end of this saga is that on Saturday morning, while leading services, I was forced to lead all three of these.
David A.M. Wilensky is the Assistant Editor of J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California and a so-called "Millennial." The former Editor in Chief of New Voices Magazine (2011-2013), David has extensive experience in Jewish communal nonprofits and Jewish journalism. More about David over here....
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