The following is a follow-up of sorts to William Berkson’s excellent post about commandedness in the Reform movment.
A Shabat morning with Chavurat Lamdeinu, progressive non-denominational minyan extraordinaire, is always full of oddities, whether it’s just the assortment of people or the comments made throughout the service. This week was no different, except that this week’s major oddity was a fantastic education in obscure litrugical rules and a perfect example of what bothers me about the way we Reform Jews threat our prayers.
When I arrived to services this morning, Tanach study had just wrapped up so a few people had just left. Unfortunately, not enough showed up to replace them. I was the ninth person to arrive for services, making today’s crowd a small one, even for us.
In accordance with standard rules about how to daven with no minyan, we skipped Kadishes and the Barchu. In the middle of our silent, minyan-less Amidah, two more people showed up, putting us over the top at eleven pray-ers. I did not know it, but apparently we were then faced with a dilemma.
Though we now had the requisite number for a minyan, we hadn’t declared ourselves so, making a bit of backtracking necessary. As I learned this morning, one of the purposes of the Barchu is to declare that the community is complete and has at least the minimum number of people for a minyan. So we went back to the Barchu.
After the Barchu, a little bit of splitting up was required. The two new arrivals needed to do the stuff they’d missed, so they continued silently at breakneck pace with Yotzer Or, trying to catch up to those of us who’d shown up on time. The rest of us returned our attention to the Amidah.
In a more ritually conservative community, the Amidah is recited once by the congregation silently, followed by an out-loud repetition by the Chazan. Normally at Chavurat Lamdeinu we use a medieval invention called (I’m gonna get this wrong because I just learned about it this morning and have never seen it spelled out) a Heyga Kadisha (dear God, someone please comment and correct me). This little innovation involved saying just the first three parts of the Amidah (Avot v’Imahot, G’vurot, Kadisha) out loud, and then reading the rest silently.
Unforunately, we could not do that this week. Having already recited the Amidah silently when there were only nine of us, we were locked into the system of a silent Amidah followed by an out-loud chazan repetition. Luckily, amongst us was a single man who, although I don’t know his full story, must have some amount of training in traditional Ashkenazi chavanut. He belted out a fantastically loud, operatic repetition of the Amidah.
All of this done, we could continue with a full Torah service.
Why do I say that this story exemplifies my issue with Reform treatment of liturgy? Because in Reform synagogues, people often go on with full service even if there’s only nine people. Because in Reform synagogues, even if you lack a minyan and you’re actually behaving that way, if a tenth person shows up in the middle of the Amidah, you would never go through any of this.
Now before anyone goes off thinking what I initially thought upon learning all of the above this morning, let me stop you right there. I thought that this Heyga Kadisha (or whatever it’s called) was the norm in the Reform movment for a moment. Until someone stopped me and pointed out that although Reform Jews often do the first three aloud, followed by th rest silently, they also often sit down after the first three or go on to song Sim Shalom or Shalom Rav aloud, or go off on some cantorial solo for R’tzeih.
We seem dead set in this movement on toying with the words of the service, sprinkling our prayers with poetic readings and whatnot. On the contrary, I hold that the real poetry of the service comes from its structure and from the laws and the details that we often disregard as silly Orthodox stuff, throwing it out the window along with our tefilin and the 10% donation to the poor. It is attention to this stuff and educating ourselves and our peers about this stuff that will truly make people not just enjoy services as an aesthetic experience, which often seems to be our chief liturgical concern, but really understand the grand-scale meaning of the service.
Amen. Selah. Shabat Shalom.