Archive | June, 2008

Josh Levin on Reform Judaism @

This series continues here at today with the thoughts of Kutz participant Josh Levin.

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Edie Joseph on Reform Judaism @

The series I mentioned the other day continues today with the thoughts of Edie Joseph at

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Jade Sank on Reform Judaism @

As previously noted, I’m now one of the many authors of the North American Reform Movment’s official blog, As part of that, I’m working now on a series of questionnaires handed out to a variety of Reform Jewish teens and twenty-somethings in response to a piece that appeared in the Summer issue of Reform Judaism Magazine.

For the full story on what the series is and for the first post in the series, check out

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Alive and Well and at Kutz

I am alive and well and at Kutz. I’m not quite sure what my shedule is going to look and I probably won’t know until next week, when staff week is over. Because of that, I don’t know how often I’ll be able to blog this summer. I do have a little project up my sleeve that I’ll be working on for, so you’ll definitely see the results of that in the coming weeks.

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The Language of Prayer

It was with great excitement that I heard about the new theme for the Thursday editions of the URJ’s Ten Minutes of Torah: T’filah, prayer. My wishfully thinking little mind conjured up a picture of totally engaging discssions of the progressive apporach to liturgy. Unfortunately, these Thursday posts will not be entirely about litrugy, but often about the little English readings that so often accompany the liturgy in our progressive sidurim. See today’s, a discussion of one of the alternative readings for Mah Tovu, here. Keep reading this to find out why I don’t think that these readings are actually litrugy!

My gut response to this development was to berate the folks who throw Ten Minutes of Torah together and go on an extended anti-Mishkan T’filah rampage acorss the blogosphere. Then I though better of myself. I will, however explain something that I have been asked about on a couple of occasions by readers of my blog: If I am so obsessed with litrugy and prayer, why do I so rarely (if ever) comment on the vernacular readings?

Well, dear readers, the answer is this: The vernacular readings are totally transient. For example, everyone open up to page 130 of our 1896 edition of ye olde David Einhorn’s classic Reform sidur, Olat Tamid. (Come on. I know you all have one.) Those of you playing along at home will see on page 130 an English replacement for Yotzer Or. The first paragraph of it reads,

We praise Thee, O Lord our God, King of the universe. At Thy word the light shineth forth, and by Thy command darkness spreadeth its folds. Peace Thou establisheth for all that Thou hast called into being. In Thy mercy Thou sendest light to the earth and to them that dewll thereon, and renewest daily and without ceasing the face of Thy creation. Thy handiwork prolcaimeth etc etc etc blah blah blah yadda yadda and so on.

So here’s the question: Do any you, save the oddballs amongst you that have studied Olat Tamid recognize this paragraph? I would venture to guess that, no, you do not recognize it because you have never seen it in a sidur. In fact, though I’m just guessing here, this paragraph has probably never appeared anywhere else other than in Olat Tamid.

What about this selection, from page 160 of the original 1892 edition of the Union Prayer Book?

We praise Thee, O Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, that in Thy mercy Thou causest light to shin over the earth and its inhabitants, and renewest daily in kindness the wonders of creation. How manifold are Thy works, O Eternal; in wisdom hast Thou made all them etc etc etc blah blah blah yadda yadda and so on.

Recognize that? You actually might. Many people still in the Reform movement today grew up on the Union Prayer Book. If you’re a regular attendee of Reform worship today you probaby recognize this, from page 17 of the 1994 Gates of Prayer for Shabbat and Weekdays (you know, Gates of Grey or Gates of Gender depending on your ironic naming persuasion):

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe. Your mercy makes light shine over the earth and all its inhabitants, and Your goodness renews day by day the work of creation etc etc etc blah blah blah yadda yadda and so on.

If you’ve been lucky enough to daven with Mishkan T’filah yet, you’ll recognize this:

Praised are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of light and darkness, who makes peace and fashions all things. In mercy, You illuminate the world and those who live upon it. In Your goodness You daily renew creation etc etc etc blah blah blah yadda yadda and so on.

My point is this: These translations, to say nothing of the “interperative readings” offered up to us by the editors of Gates of Prayer and Mishkan T’filah, are totally fleeting. Between the Gates of Prayer version of Yotzer Or I quote here and the Mishkan T’filah version, there is less than 15 years! Yet, they are vastly different in construction and diction. They may be prayer for those that are moved by them, but they are not litrugy, in the sense of potentially lasting additions to the structure, rythym and meaning of the service.

Is that to say that prayer in other languages is wrong? No. Though I do prefer to pray in Hebrew, I won’t go so far as to say that doing otherwise is wrong. The reason these things don’t last is because they don’t fill a need, not because they’re in English. They take up space already occupied by a Hebrew version that’s been doing its job quite well for quite some years now.

I can even cite a one example of non-Hebrew litrugy that has made a lasting impact on the prayer service and one that I predict will do the same within my lifetime. Kadish, in all five of it’s forms (funeral, Yatom, Shalem, Chatzi, and D’Rabanan), is a mostly Aramaic construction, though it ends usually with a couple of lines of Hebrew. Prior to the introduction of Kadish, there was no piece of liturgy tasked with punctuating the service. Kadish Shalem punctuates the end of the Amidah, acting as a colon. Chatzi Kadish acts as a semicolon, marking the ends of minor liturgical sections. Kadish Yatom punctuates periods of mourning, while also behaving as a period at the end of the whole service. And the funeral Kadish marks the end of a life. They have stuck, despite their extra-Hebraic origin, because they fill a purpose.

Similarly, I believe we will see a standardized Prayer for America, in English, crop up at the end of most synagogue services in America and that prayer will last as long as there are Jews living in the Unites States of America. Why will it survive? Because it serves a new purpose. I don’t personally like it, but many people are greatly in favor of such a thing. So it will stick.

On the other hand, no English whatsoever made the transition from Union Prayer Book to Gates of Prayer and very little of it survived the move from Gates of Prayer to Mishkan T’filah. This is becaue, as I’ve already said in this post, these alternative vernacular prayers are essentially fleeting and transient.

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Don’t Mess With The Zohan

Dear readers, I’m about to do you a great service. I have gone to see “Don’t Mess With The Zohan” so you don’t have to.

The film was recommended by A.O. Scott (or so says my mother whom I’m no longer sure I believe on that fact) so we went to see it last night.

Good things:

  • The music was good. The music was mostly provided by Israels top rap/pop group, Hadag Nachash, of whom I’m a big fan. it was nice to see them get their big Hollywood coming out party in this movie.
  • The houmous jokes were great. Over the course of the movie, uses for houmous get increasingly ridiculous. One of the first shots of the movie is Zohan dipping some pita in a jar of houmous. From there, someone dips his glasses in houmous and licks them. One person puts a dollop of houmous in his coffee. By the end of the movie, houmous has been used as toothpaste and a hair styling product.
  • It has a nice, if elementary school-level message about mideast peace.
  • Zohan’s Israeli friend in New York, Ori, is a spot-on exact replica of everything I find funny and strange about Israeli men.
  • In Zohan’s Tel-Aviv apartment, there’s a huge black and white poster of Moshe Dayan.

Bad things:

  • It’s an Adam Sandler movie. It’s not like it’s a movie with Adam Sandler in it. It is actually an Adam Sandler movie.
  • Judd Apatow is involved in writing this thing. I really like Judd Apatow and I feel like this a real low for him.
  • I don’t want to see elderly Jewish women have sex with Adam Sandler repeatedly.
  • Because it’s an Adam Sandler movie, Rob Schneider has to play a would-be terrorist.

Remaining questions:

  • Why is George Takei in this film?
  • Why is Mariah Carey in this film?
  • Why is John Turturro in this film?
  • Who, in Hollywood, thought this was a good idea?
  • After having seen yet another trailer for that Mike Meyers love guru movie thing, I’m left wondering what had happened in Hollywood. Have the writers all been replaced with monekys valiantly trying to produce Hamlet?
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49 and done!

So here we are. Today is the 49th and final day of the Omer. It’s been quite a ride. To all of my regular readers, thank you. The pressure from y’all that my brain concocted to post everyday kept me posting for all of the 49 days of the Omer. For a full assessment of what this daily ritual has meant for me, I suggest reading the post I contributed to the other day.

By way of a post for today, I’ll continue my chain of recent posts about new acquisitions. I was at Half Price Books today. I looked through the Judaica section, as I always do when I’m at Half Price Books. Disappointed by a lack of cheap, used volumes of My People’s Prayer Book, I was about to leave the section when I saw these:

For those not familiar with the Jewish Catalog series, they are based upon the Whole Earth Catalog series of hippie, how-to-survive-the-collapse-of-civilization guides. The Jewish Catalog, is bascially a how-to guide to being Jewish with no authorities or craftspeople to ask. Because of this woman, who, by the way, is a great professor and taught me a lot about what she was there to teach, I’ve become convinced of late that society is basically on the verge of collapse a la Road Warrior.

Rather than do something prudent about this, like buy a set of the Whole Earth Catalog, I’ve become intensely and neurotically worried about the plight of Judaism will be in such a situation. I wouldn’t know what do if I, say, needed a new talit, and could neither buy one online, nor Google how to tie tzitzit. Now that I have the Jewish Catalog, I have all of that sort of how-to knowledge at my fingertips.

That is, at least I’ll have that knowledge at my fingertips as long I can still carry the books with me in my backpack as I flee the burning city and head overland to start an isolated, utopian kibutz beyond thunderdome in the post-apocalyptic desert of the real left behind when the world ends.

And now, dear readers, for the last time, the Omer:

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48 and a week from Kutz

Today is the 48th day of the Omer. It looks like I may acutally make it to a full 49 days straight of daily posting. Gosh.

A few hours short of one week from now, I’ll be back at Kutz, welcoming Shabat amongst friends and colleauges. It will be the beginning of staff week, as we prepare for another summer of broadening the minds, souls, and intellects that will, hopefully, be the future of the Reform movement; but, truthfully, if we succeed, we’ll just be broadening the minds, souls, and intellects that will be the future of whatever they deem it worth their time being the future of.

For those just joinging us here in my life, my first summer at Kutz was truly a broadening experience. I met a few key people there who irrevocable altered the course of my life. That first summer at Kutz, I decided that Judaism would be my carreer. My second summer, I studied liturgy seriously for the first time. My favorite corners and topics of this blog are the product of that. My third summer, this time as staff, I became massively disillusioned with the entirety of Big, Institutional Judaism.

It is with great trepidation that I return to Kutz. After last summer, I swore up and down to anyone who would listen that I wasn’t coming back. Last summer, Kutz was the sight of heartbreak, intellectual stress, cynicism, hypocrisy, and mistakes for me and for the people around me. I felt as if I could see the entire place falling down around me. All year, tremendous rumors of Kutz’s impening closure swirled and I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal, emotionally, with being at Kutz during its final summer.

Still unable to tell whose information is correct, the rumors still swirling, and with new management in place at Kutz, I’m returning anyway. But it will all be worth it to be in the room in the picture at the top of this post at at least just a few more times.

And now, the Omer:

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47 and my new second blogging home

The end is nigh. Today is the 47th day of the Omer.

So yesterday, I said that you’d be able to read stuff from me occasionally at starting on Shavuot. By Shavuot, I meant today. Because my first article is up at today. See it here.

Also, 18 brownie points to whoever finds my name in this week’s Weekly Briefing from the URJ.

And now, the Omer:

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46 and

Today is the 46th day of the Omer and the end is closer than ever before. I suppose that’s true of most things at most moments.

The URJ recently unveiled its new blog,, the official blog of the Reform movement of North America. It’s good. Go check it out. If you need more of a reason to look at it than me telling you it’s good, keep reading.

I commented on a post on last week and quickly recieved an email from Donald Cohen-Cutler, the Communications Manager for the URJ, the man in charge of the blog. He suggested that I become a contributor to the blog. On Shavuot, you’ll be able to see my first post there. I’ll also cross-post it here. You can also see my brand-spanking-new bio and a headshot on here.

And now, the Omer:

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