Mishkan and the Messiah

Someone recently claimed on the iWorship listserve that among other generalizations one could make about Reform Jews, one could say that Reform Jews don’t believe in Olam Haba–The World to Come.

This used to be a big cornerstone of what I believed all Reform Jews must believe, as evidenced by a lot of the nonsense I said on this blog back when I was actively working on a new sidur.

I now know that most Reform Jews don’t believe in a personal Messiah. Many prefer the ill-defined “Messianic Age” (like me, for instance). I would say that many, if not most, believe in some sort of Olam Haba, whether its physical or spiritual and whether it involved the Messiah at all or not. But I have met a handful that openly acknowledge a belief in a Messiah or at least a high degree of openness to the idea.

So how does Mishkan come into this? Reform liturgy, it seems, is still replete with the Messiah, whether we really want him/her/it or not. Take Havdalah, for example. NFTYites and participants in Reform camps often cite Havdalah as their favorite ritual experience. And at the end, we sing all about hastening the arrival of Messiah, Son of David.

And then, in Kabalat Shabat, we’ve got L’chah Dodi. Gates of Prayer knew what the Reform Jews in the pews still know–most of us don’t believe in a Messiah. That’s why GOP and many of its Reform liturgical predecessors lacked two verses of L’chah Dodi that referred explicitly to the Messiah. (Never mind that they tossed out a few other totally inoffensive verses as well.)

Verse four of L’chah Dodi says:

At hand is the Son of Yishai (Jesse, David’s father), of Bethlehem.

Another verse puts it like this:

At hand is the Man, the Son of Peretz (Peretz being another of David’s ancestors).

It’s not too easy to metaphor-ize these verses. Either because of that or because no one wants to bother learning the “new” verses, I have yet to attend a single MT-using Reform service in which all verses of L’chah Dodi were sung.

Is this evidence of a new approach to the theologically distasteful in Reform movement liturgy? I think not. If it were, we’d find references to the restoration of Temple sacrifice in MT and mentions of the imahot out of it.

Yet, here’s the Messiah. Back in Reform liturgy. He’s not wanted in L’cha Dodi (except, apparently, by its editors). But he is wanted at the end of Havdalah.

What gives?

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11 Responses to Mishkan and the Messiah

  1. Elf's DH January 5, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    When I pointed out the havdalah inconsistency to Elf (it’s also true in the Reconstructionist siddur “Kol Haneshama”), Elf suggested that people just like the song and couldn’t give it up.

    The Reconstructionists made the theological problem even worse by adding the awful “מרים הנביאה” song.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 5, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

      “Miryam haNeviah”? What context does that come in?

      And it’s pretty likely that Elf is write about it. Which is pretty upsetting.

  2. BZ January 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Someone recently claimed on the iWorship listserve that among other generalizations one could make about Reform Jews, one could say that Reform Jews don’t believe in Olam Haba–The World to Come.

    In fact, they claimed that this was “Reform halachah”; I would say it’s clearly aggadah, not halachah, but I didn’t want to get into that argument on the list.

    At hand is the Son of Yishai (Jesse, David’s father), of Bethlehem.

    Since the next line, “קרבה אל נפשי גאלה”, is a quote from Psalms, traditionally attributed to David, this line could also be translated as “in the words of [or ‘by the hand of’] the son of Yishai of Bethlehem:”. (Cf. “… על ידי דוד משיח צדקך: ימלך ה’ לעולם”) And the other line could be understood this way too: “ונשמחה ונגילה” is close to “זה היום עשה ה’ נגילה ונשמחה בו” (also from Psalms). (Lechah Dodi doesn’t mind switching around word order – e.g. putting shamor before zachor so that the stanza starts with a shin.) I wouldn’t be surprised if Alkabetz meant it both ways.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 5, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

      So one wonders why, if there are alternate and more appealing meanings in the stanza, the editors of MT didn’t throw those into the sparse commentary they sprinkled their sidur with.

  3. David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    The following just came in via twitter from @Chase2k04:

    I work @ Anshe Emeth in New Bruns. NJ & we sing all 9 verses.

    Which is a change for them. I’ve been to AE in NB and don’t recall that having happened. It’s the kind of thing I would’ve remembered. Then again, it’s been a year or so, so who knows…

  4. BZ January 6, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    That’s why GOP and many of its Reform liturgical predecessors lacked two verses of L’chah Dodi that referred explicitly to the Messiah.

    GOP (the original blue one) has all 9 verses of L’chah Dodi in service I, even if they were rarely used.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2010 at 8:50 am #

      Right you are. I always forget how much I like Service I in GOP.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 6, 2010 at 8:52 am #

      And by the way, I didn’t actually do the legwork on this one. I should have checked GOP’s predecessors, many of which I have copies or photocopies of. But, alas, I am in NYC and most of my sidurim are in Austin right now.

  5. rogueregime January 8, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Many prefer the ill-defined “Messianic Age” (like me, for instance).

    Me too! Which of course begs the question what the heck we actually mean when we talk about it. Ressurection from the dead? Probably not. But then what? I’ve always considered it to be a kind of faux-eschatological question: We talk about The End not because we think it will ever actually come, or that we would want it to come (I don’t know about you, but I’m not too keen on the notion of the Temple being rebuilt), but because it allows us to project our own feelings, hopes and dreams onto the blank slate that is “That Day”…when the Lord shall be one and his name one, etc.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 9, 2010 at 7:55 am #

      I’m right there with you, rr. The Messianic age, for me, is the unlikely, but possible period when the work of tikun olam is completed by humanity working together.

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