Archive | March, 2010


So I decided that between running twitter accounts for myself and two Jewish orgs, writing The Reform Shuckle and for Jewschool and being in school, I don’t have enough to do.

Thus, I give you The Infinite Shabbos Playlist, a blog about Jewish music: the good, the bad and bizarre.

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L’chu N’ran’nah–another new bencher

Crossposted to Jewschool

A while ago, I reviewed a new bencher called Yedid Nefesh, by blogger Rabbi Josh Cahan. I’ll be referencing that review in this one. Full disclosure: a regular Jewschool contributor is an associate editor of this bencher.

When I reviewed Yedid Nefesh, I wrote:

You could pretty easily divide the world of benchers into two categories. On the one hand, there are totally perfunctory versions that exist as a mere vehicle for what their editors consider a fixed collection of blessings and prayers and a smattering of songs. On the other hand, there are a few benchers that are not mere vehicles for your embossed name and the date of your wedding, bris, bar mitzvah, or whatever. These are generally more liberal in their attitude toward the content and tend to contain some amount of commentary. Yedid Nefesh, a new bencher from Joshua Cahan, a rabbi coming out of the Conservative tradition, falls into the latter category.

If Yedid Nefesh, with its neither-here-nor-there approach to the imahot, is Conservative, L’chu N’ran’nah is Reform. Which is not to say it has anything to do with the URJ. Rather, it comes out of what I would call a Reform intellectual background; it’s Reform without the movement.

Each page on LN has three columns: translation, Hebrew and transliteration, parallel to each other, in the style of Siddur Eit Ratzon and Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael. The layout is fine and clean on most pages, but lapses into florid title pages.

It’s bigger than many benchers, but not overly so. It is slightly awkward to use because of its longways page orientation, but a certain width is required for the layout, which I like, so I’ll forgive the width.

The songs section is robust, bigger than Yedid Nefesh’s.

I love that Birkat Hamazon is clearly separated into its four constituent sections, showing users of LN that BH is designed and has a coherent order to it, something that is unfortunately lost on most.

Both benchers have abbreviated versions of BH, with LN’s running shorter. Differences in substance are negligible. LN, however, includes a variety of other, very brief BH options, including the tiny Aramaic one from Brachot 40b–a personal favorite of mine. It’s also got a woo-woo one by Shefa Gold that I’m not a huge fan of and a few others.

Over all, it’s nice. The biggest drawback I see is that there is slightly less commentary than I’d like. It looks like a little bit less than YN, but I’m willing to forgive that because of its otherwise good three-column layout.

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When the laity just sit there and flail…

The congregation in this anecdote will remain anonymous. Suffice it to say that it is URJ-affiliated and around 700 families. I promise it’s a true story that I heard recently from a source in a position to know.

After years of tweaking Friday night service times at least annually, the synagogue settled, seemingly happily, on services at 6:30 p.m. every Shabbat evening.

This went along fine for a while, but a few vociferous folks, 20 or 30 people, complained that they couldn’t make it to services if they were that early.

The Ritual Committee felt that since no time would work for everyone, they wouldn’t go out of their way to accommodate this handful of people.

The President of the congregation felt differently and demanded that the Ritual Committee and the Rabbis create a once a month 8 p.m. service for the people who can’t make it to the 6:30 p.m. service.

Hardly anyone comes, but the service goes on.

Immediately, I thought, why not create an 8 p.m. monthly lay-led service. The people who can only come late would love it and a whole other crop of people who prefer lay-led services and like to lead them would latch onto it also.

So I asked the guy telling me this story if they considered a lay-led service. Yes, he told me, they had. It was the first thing that the Ritual Committee thought of.

They floated this idea around to the people who wanted the 8 p.m. service. No good, these people said. We want a “real” service led by the professionals with a real sermon and real music.

God forbid anyone should take responsibility for their own Jewish needs. Make sure you get the professionals to take care of it.

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Why the Rabba isn’t Reform

Crossposted to Jewschool

So the word now is that Rabba Sara Hurwitz can keep the title of Rabba, but she can’t make any more rabbas. Her Yeshivat Mahara”t will only ordain new Mahara”ts.

A number of people, including one Jewschool commenter have asked, “If the orthodox world won’t fully accept her and other women as rabbis, why doesn’t she just leave for a more liberal stream of Judaism?” Some have even suggested she become a Reform rabbi!

The thought is preposterous. What help would someone thinking and living in an Open Orthodox mindset contribute to a Reform community as its leader? No one would ever suggest a Reform rabbi just up and leave, seeking a job in an Orthodox synagogue because they are dissatisfied with something in the Reform world. So why suggest Hurwitz should become Reform?

The most interesting part of it is that one of the people who suggested this to me has been one of the loudest voices asking me to stay put in the Reform movement and try to fix what I’m not satisfied with.

This isn’t just my abstract speculation about a woman I’ve never met. I had a chance to meet Hurwitz at Limmud NY 2010 and I asked her a question about the utility of labels. The word Orthodox is important to her. It allows her to be who she is.

I don’t think Hurwitz is going anywhere and I don’t want her to either. I hope she stays put and continues to be a positive influence on her community.

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