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.