Archive | May, 2008

41 and Shabat and who are you?

Only 8 days left until Shavuot; today is the 41st day of the Omer.

About a week ago, I wrote about my trip to Agudas Achim, the Conervative synagogue in Austin. Malka, my neighbor who I mentioned in the post, regularly goes to the weekday minyan at Agudas Achim. In the wake of my visit there, someone asked her, “Did you bring that Reform guy on Shabat? I read about it on his blog.” If you’re still there, whoever you are, leave a comment. I didn’t know I had readers at CAA.

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

40 and Part II of my review of a WUPJ service

We’re now less than ten days away from Shavuot.

Yesterday I reviewed the Kabalat Shabat section of a World Union for Progressive Judaism service. Today, I’ll continue my look at that service with Shma Uvirchoteiha, the Shma and its Blessings.

This section of the service is surprisingly complete in this sidur packet. We have, as one would expect from any Progressive liturgy, the Barchu, Ma’ariv Aravim and Ahavat Olam. What happens next, however, is the unexpected part: The whole Shma. We get the line beginning “Shma Yisrael etc.” We get “Baruch Shem kavod etc.” We get “V’ahavta et Adonai… beitecha uvishareicha.” Then, shock of all shocks, we get the second paragraph of the Shma! i have never seen this in any Reform liturgy. Of course, we must keep in mind that this is not just a Reform liturgy. Because this is a World Union-compiled piece, this is a PROGRESSIVE liturgy. The WUPJ encompasses the Jewish Reconsturctionist Federation and I don’t know enough about Recon liturgy to say whether or not they include this paragraph.

And then I looked again and actually read the second paragraph they give us in this service. It is not the paragraph one would normally find in this place! It is some wishy-washy stuff from D’varim 30! The pargraph we would normally find here if from D’varim 11! Lets see what this business from D’varim 30 has to say:

Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling to you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up the heavens and get it for us and impoart is to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.

Um. Yeah. So that’s very nice and all, but IT’S NOT IN THE V’AHAVTA! This section is about reward and punishment, action and consequence, not a chance to throw Lo Bashamayim Hi into the mix, which althought it’s a very nice quote, doesn’t go here! I never use all caps when I’m writing. You can see how upset this has me. Anyway, then they have the third paragraph, normal and as it should be.

Then Emet V’emunah happens, all normal, until the lead up to Mi Chamochah. I’ve written about Mi Chamochah previously here and here. I’m still pretty ambivalent about this whole Miryam issue. The editors of this service are not so ambivalent. Not only do they give us “Mosheh UMiryam uVnei Yisrael etc.,” they give us something even more expected in the lead-up to that. “V’ra’u Vanav uVanotav g’vurato etc.” I suppose it makes sense. If we’re going to say Avot V’Imahot elsewhere, to say Sons and Daughters of Israel here. I’m not sure how I feel about it though. The whole redemptive shabang concludes with the Israeli Progressive version of the chatimah, “Go’el Yisrael” instead of “Ga’al Yisrael.” I’m not convinced that it really makes a difference either way.

Hashkiveinu and V’shamru are intact and unmolested.

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 4 }

39 and my review of a WUPJ service begins

Today is day 39 of the Omer. Only ten days left!

As noted here, I recently obtained a copy of an erev Shabat service used at a relatively recent World Union for Progressive Judaism convention. Today, I’ll begin reviewing it in little chunks. For some background on my overall feelings about Kabalat Shabat, go here. If you don’t care about that, plunge ahead with my overview of this service’s Kab Shab.

It is, in the end, odd that the entire packet is entitled “Kabalat Shabat” because that particular collection of t’hilim and piyutim are not present in their entirety, though some elements of Kab Shab are present. The sidur begins with Y’did Nefesh and continues with Yism’chu B’malcut’cha. The inclusion of Yism’chu in any Progressive sidur has always amused me. This paragraph comes from the Musaf Amidah, the additional Amidah recited at the end of the service on Shabat mornings. No officially Reform community I know of includes that section, but many take Yism’chu and use it on Erev Shabat because, well, they know a catchy tune for it.

After Yism’chu is T’hilim 150, Halleluyah (El b’kodsho etc. with all the insturments etc.), an odd choice for Friday night, given that everyone will presumably sing it again the next morning. As the most explicitly music-oriented passage in the whole Tanach (to my knowledge), however, it does make sense as an addition to this simulacrum of a Kab Shab, Kab Shab itself being an inherently musical venture.

Then we get Shabat Hamalkah accompanied by a translation from the Dutch Liberal Prayer Book, which includes the very funny word “boomtoppen.”

Then we have a really wacky little thing, which the editors of this service (Rabbis Stanley M. Davids and Yehoram Mazor) have decided to title Hadlakat Nerot Hashabat, which includes the brachah for lighting the candles along with some other poetic stuff Icould do without.

Then we have, shock of all shocks, something that’s actually in Kabalat Shabat in real life: T’hilim 95. Then we get Shalom Aleichem with translations from the Russian Reform Prayer Book and the Italian Reform Prayer Book (Benvenute, creature dell’Onnipotente, messaggeri dell’Altissimo etc.)

L’chah Dodi is next, but it is preceded by a little introductory passage from the Talmud from Shabat 118-119:

Rabbi Chanina once said: “Come and let us go out to greet Shabbat, the bride and the queen.” Rabbi Yannai wrapped himself in his garment and said, “Come, O bride; Come, O bride.”

L’chah Dodi is presented in its entirety, like Israeli Progressive sidur Ha’avodah Shebalev and new American Reform sidur Mishkan Tefilah. And yet I am suspicious. Did they actually sing all of it? In my experience, both in America and Israel, no one acutally sings the whole thing, despite the entire song being printed. if you read my previous post about Kabalat Shabat, in particular the part about L’chah Dodi, you know that I take issue with the two verses that deal explicitly with the personal Messiah (“Al yad ben Yishai Beit Halachmi etc.” and “Al yad ish ben Partzi etc.”) The translation given in this service is from Mishkan Tefilah and represents total ambivalence on the part of the editors. The translation for the first verse is accurate: “At hand is Bethlehem’s David, Jesse’s son etc.” The translation for second is more vague: “Await the promised one etc.” The promised what? This falls into the trap that Conservative liturgy falls into in a big way, presenting complete, traditional passages of Hebrew, with slightly off translations so that anyone who doesn’t know the Hebrew might think they are reading much less objectionable material.

Then we get Mizmor Shir from T’hilim 92 along with a Czech translation and then this so-called “Kabalat Shabat” is over and Shma Uvirshoteiha begins.

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 6 }

38 and some old (new to me) sidurim

Day 38 yadda yadda Omer blah blah blah.

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. Oddly, I recieved a present from her. She picked up a couple of sidurim for me at a Judaica shop in Vienna (correct in the comments if I’m wrong, Mom) several weeks ago while on vacation.

The first, this slim black volume, is part 9 of a set of sidurim.

Its cover is black cloth, with a great impression design thing on it featuring the two tablets, a kohen’s breastplate and a variety of festival-realted symbols including a shofar.

As you can see below, this sidur or, in German, this gebetbuch, is for Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah and it comes with a parallel “targum Ashkenazi,” or German translation. It was published in 1917 in Frankfurt am Main by Drud und Berlag van M. Lehrberger & Co. The translation is by Pinchas Halevi Bamberger, or Rabbi Dr. Selig Bamberger, who according to this site, was also responsible for a German translation of Tanach.

Here’s a shot of the side-by-side translation. You can see how the Shma is clearly set apart in the translation. You don’t have to know German to notice it.

The other sidur I was given has a green cover with similar symbols to the black one on its cover. It was part 2 of a set.

It was published in 5630 (or 1871) by Verlag von Josef Schlesinger’s Buchhandlung, which was located at no. 5 Seitenstattengasse. This sidur is for Pesach, Shavuot, Sukot, and Shimini Atzeret in the Sfarad minhag.

You can see that the instructions are written in a different typeface, some kind of Rashi script, I think.

So that’s way fun.

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 5 }

37 and is this working?

Today is the 37th day of the Omer. Shavuot is coming closer snd closer.

For the first time in the life of this blog, I have posted every day for over a month. Actually, forget the month. I’ve never posted every day during a week. I’m going to keep doing it until the Omer is over, believe you me, but I’m a little worried that the quantity of posts has come at th expense of quality.

I’m asking for audience participation today. Have people acutally like the daily posting? Or should I go back to the once or twice a week posting?

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

36 and Yom Hazikaron Amerika’it

Not only is today the 36th day of the Omer, but here in the U.S. of A., it’s also Memorial Day.

I hadn’t planned on doing anything special for Memorial Day, but a friend my mother and I, Bob Fleischman, performed today at noon in the rotund of the Texas State Capitol with the Austin Chord Rangers barber shop quartet choir (don’t ask me how a choir is a quartet). They were quite good and they sang patriotic songs of all sorts and I got to thinking. Remember way back on day 18 of the Omer when I went to Radio City Music Hall for a Yom Ha’atzma’ut concert? Of course you do. When I was there I positively swelled with nationalist pride. I felt totally 100% patriotic that night.

Today was a different story. Songs about America didn’t move me at all. I was there with several other Jews who all noted feeling teary at several of the songs. I felt nothing. On the other hand, being at the capitol for the first time in a few years felt great! Looking at all of the Texan semi-pseudo-national imagery totally made me swell with Texan pride.

The weird thing about the Israel thing is that I don’t feel at all Israeli. But I do feel more Jewish than American. In full, I feel more Jewish than Austinite, more Austinite than Texan, and way way more Texan than American. Funny, ain’t it?

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

35 and some fun liturgical acquisitions

Today is the 35th day of the Omer. Only 14 days left!

I recently made two exciting, if obscure, liturgical acquisitions. The first is a pdf I found online of the Friday night service recently used at a World Union for Progressive Judaism international convention and the second, finally, after a lot of searching, is a weekday morning service from the first American Reform sidur, Minhag America.

Sometime this summer, you can expect thorough reviews of the here at The Reform Shuckle.

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

34 and Shabat and my trip to Agudas Achim

It is the 34th day of the Omer.

I went this morning with my neighbor, Malka, to Shabat Shacharit at Congregation Agudas Achim, Austin’s Conservative synagogue. Normally I don’t go there, but I was operating on information that there would be a Bar Mitzvah service at my usual Reform congregation (blech!) and that the library minyan at my usual Reform congregation would be rather lame this week. So off I went with Malka, who also usually goes to the Reform outfit, for services. Malka was signed up to chant all of the curses in this week’s Torah portion at CAA, which she did a fine job of.

So now I have this problem. I really like the services at CAA. It was very similar to my Chavurah back in NJ, about whom I’ve written before. Though their ideology is, officially, quite different from my Reform perspective, the style was exactly what I would want. There was a Bat Mitzvah. She did one aliyah or reading from the Torah and chanted the Haftarah and gave a brief drash. To that end, her sway over the service was significantly limited when compared to the total dominion these sorts of things hold over the proceedings at most Reform synagogues.

And people were loud. You can attribute some of it to the fact that perhaps there were more people there than there usually are at the Reform place and maybe there are better acoustics at CAA, but most of it can be attributed to the fact that people felt more invited to participate and they were more knowdledgable. There is a larger group of educated Jews in the pews that come to this service every week. The Chazan leads to service, facing the same direction as the congregation, as though he is participating along, rather than facing the congregation such that people feel the need to shut up and listen to the performance.

So here’s my problem. Does my future hold Conservative congregations? I’m still Reform. Can I be Reform without a Reform community? Can I be a Reform Jew who just happens to go to a Conservative shul? Or are these issues of liturgy and musical style superficial enough that I can ignor them and continue trying to get what I can from Refrom synagogues?

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 5 }

33 and Lag Ba’omer

Today is the 33rd day of the Omer, which makes it Lag Ba’omer, which is a very silly thing. Lag, by the way, is the vocalization of ל and ג , which are the Hebrew letters used to make 33 in the traditional Hebrew numerical system. What follows is a very long quote I have stolen from BZ’s blog, Mah Rabu. It explains why he (and I) don’t observe Lag and why the idea that the Omer is a period of mourning is goofy. I couldn’t have said it better. So, I figured I’d let BZ say it for me.

With this whole framework in place, the idea of observing sefirat ha’omer as a period of mourning for Rabbi Akiva’s students seems to come totally out of left field. Why are they entitled to 7 weeks of our time (or 33 days, depending on how you count) every year? Yes, I’ve heard that it’s really about the Crusades, but the Crusaders or the Romans don’t get to take over our sacred calendar, just as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising doesn’t get to take over Pesach. There is nothing about the omer period (as discussed above) that should make it a time of mourning.

I can understand the idea of not scheduling weddings during the omer, and that isn’t dependent on it being a period of mourning — we also don’t schedule weddings during Chol Hamo’ed Sukkot or Pesach, which are clearly festive times. But most people get married a maximum of once in a given year, so all this means is scheduling the wedding for one time instead of another time. Refraining from listening to music for 7 weeks (or 33 days), on the other hand, is disproportionate to the importance that mourning Rabbi Akiva’s students should have (if any!), and is inappropriate to marking the journey from Pesach to Shavuot.

Therefore, I don’t observe Lag Ba’omer, because this cessation of mourning customs only makes sense within the paradigm of observing the omer as a time of mourning in the first place (which I don’t do either). Lag Ba’omer also creates a false climax to sefirat ha’omer (I’ve heard people say things like “sefirah’s over now”); the one and only climax of sefirat ha’omer should be Shavuot.

And let’s not even get started on the idolatry surrounding R. Shimon bar Yochai. And no, I’m not shaving or cutting my hair tonight (though I will shave, as usual, for Shave-uot).

I guess the kabbalistic understanding of the omer (tiferet sheb’netzach and all that) is harmless and whatever floats your boat, but I think this is also a distraction. Case in point: I saw an omer calendar that had a suggested activity for each day related to that day’s sefirot. The activity for the 6th day of the omer was “Create something constructive” or “Construct something creative” or something like that. What’s the problem? The 6th day of the omer, this year and every year, is the 7th day of Pesach, when creative labor is forbidden! Oops! That’s what happens when you try to overlay something onto the omer without regard to Pesach and Shavuot.

Regardless, I really do need a haircut. I could probably even get one today, but I’m not going to, just to make a point.

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 3 }

32 and a big WTF? from an Israeli Rabbinic Court

Day 32. Tomorrow is Lag Ba’omer. Time for a hair cut soon.

This shit is out of control. It has got to stop. It is unethical and it goes against Jewish law!

And now, the Omer:

Read full story · Comments { 2 }