Archive | June, 2010

Mishkan T’filah for Travelers–a bad message in a bad title

L to R, top to bottom: Koren Sacks, ArtScroll, Haavodah Shebalev, Seder Hatefilot, tiny MT given out for free at a NFTY convention, Mishkan T'filah for Travelers

I’ve been sitting on and not reviewing my copy of purple Mishkan T’filah for Travelers, the first manageable-sized edition of MT, for months. In services on Friday night, in honor of some high school students shortly departing for a summer in Israel, the rabbi took the chance to do a little study of T’filah Haderech, the prayer for travelers, with the congregation.

To do this, she passed out papers with a copy of TH on it, which I thought was weird. I figured it must be in MT, so why should he use handouts. I couldn’t find it in MT. I couldn’t even find it in my copy of Mishkan T’filah for Travelers that I brought with me! I was incensed and ready to blog! Luckily, I waited and later found TH hiding in both editions among the “Prayers for our Community” section, which is fine, I guess. I would have hoped that in a volume titled “for Travelers” it might be printed on the inside cover for the easy use of the eponymous users. That would have been hoping too much.

Which brings me to the main question of the post: Why is it for travelers?

It’s standard these days to produce a small size of any siddur meant for mass consumption. Sim Shalom, ArtScroll, Koren, and even Haavodah Shebalev and Seder Hatefilot–Reform siddurim from abroad–come in pocket size editions. But do any of these receive the label “for travelers”? No. Siddur publishers generally understand that in the audience for every siddur there will be people who bring their own with them when they come to shul, in some cases everywhere they go. The know that there’s a general market of some size for every siddur for a pocket edition.

“But of course, who can imagine such a Reform Jew? Why would a Reform Jew want a little siddur?”

I know that some Reform Jews will buy this just because they want a little siddur, but I can’t imagine who the target audience of this slim siddur was supposed to be.  If, as I assume the publishers assumed, no one would want this for daily use, who are these Reform Jews that don’t want a pocket siddur for daily use, but crave one for use while traveling? It makes no sense.

And, by the way, if you don’t know your way around MT already and you buy this to take with you to your Reform synagogue, you’ll be disappointed because they didn’t keep the same pagination!

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Southern Hemisphere Mishkan T’filah

Commenter Chajm confirmed that there was a mention of a special souther hemisphere MT in the recent issue of Reform Judaism Magazine. So I had a good idea. I googled it.

Here’s a South African order form for it and an article on an Austrialian page about it.

The idea is apparently that it will be seasonally adapted to the southern hemisphere’s seasons for use in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I suppose this means they’re creating an entire edition of MT with changes in Gevurot and Shanim, but I’m curious to know what changes. Does this mean the seasonal connection to Israel is leaving this siddur? As it is, the seasonal variations don’t match up particularly well in many places. Part, but only part, of the point of these seasonal variations is that they match up quite well with the seasons in Israel. I think we’ve discussed ways to do this for the southern hemisphere on this in the comments at some point, but I can’t for the life of me remember where.

And now I’m reading something that says it will have all the relevant national anthems.

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International Mishy T?

On the Wikipedia page about Mishkan T’filah, I found this:

A World Union for Progressive Judaism edition of Mishkan T’filah is being developed that will reflect the more traditional approach often taken by English speaking Progressive Jewish communities outside the United States of America. This edition of Mishkan T’filah will also be sensitive to the experience of Jews living in the Southern Hemisphere (particularly Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) where traditional liturgical seasonal references relating to the Land of Israel are out of step with local weather cycles.

Anyone know anything about this notion? Any attribution? Anything?

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Rabbi Eric Yoffie is retiring

Crossposted to Jewschool

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism will retire in two years.

Jonathan Sarna has a nearly glowing review of Yoffie’s tenure at The Forward. The final point of Sarna’s piece is:

In confronting these challenges, will the URJ look to a leader who champions, as Yoffie consistently has, Torah, prayer and the practice of mitzvot? Or will it, in keeping with American Jewry’s larger outward turn, select a leader who will take the movement in a new direction, perhaps seeking to expand Reform Judaism’s involvement in projects of tikkun olam? Whatever happens, the Yoffie era will go down as an important period in the history of the Reform movement. At a “critical juncture in Jewish history,” he made Reform Judaism more Jewish.

Lets ignore the final sentence of this and move on from my aneurysm. I do have some appreciation for what Yoffie has done. Despite Sarna’s point about him growing NFTY (I’m not prepared to give him credit for that anyway), he’s also been openly dismissive of NFTY presidents and overseen the total demolition of the URJ’s college programming and said stuffy nonsense like (I’m paraphrasing here) if you don’t wear a suit to a Reform congregations, you’re a putz.

So I don’t think too highly of him.

But at this point we’ve got a great opportunity to talk about what the right replacement for Yoffie will be like. Sarna’s article explores two possibilities: someone like Yoffie or “a leader who will take the movement in a new direction, perhaps seeking to expand Reform Judaism’s involvement in projects of tikkun olam.

The new president needs to be able to do two things, neither of which involve being an ideological dogmatician.

Leave tradition and social action to a team of experts and let the new president be the face of a more well-written message. So the first thing the URJ needs is a charismatic salesperson who can tell American Jews why Reform Judaism is good because the URJ has a message/marketing problem.

Meanwhile, the administrative, structural and technological functions of the URJ have to come to forefront of the job of the president of the URJ. The URJ is teaching congregations how to blog, it’s tweeting, it has its own (dysfunctional) blog and it needs someone who understands these things and knows how to grow the URJ with these tools. It needs someone who can be like @daroff with his or her own heavy twitter presence. Last year, the URJ underwent a major restructuring effort. The next president of the URJ has to be an administrator to continue reconsidering the bloated infrastructure of the URJ.


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New siddurim from Italy!

I’ve just returned from Italy and Budapest. Budapest is my new favorite. I want to go back. While my mother and I were in Europe, I had some wonderful opportunities to grow my siddur collection.

First up, my Siddur Derech Haim, the siddur of the oldest and most active Reform congregation in Italy, Milan’s Lev Chadash.

SDH is absolutely unique amongst Reform siddurim, as far as I know. Generally, when we talk about Reform, we’re talking about a Reform of the Ashkenazi rite. This nusach Ashkenaz experienced the enlightenment to a greater extent than the practitioners of any other rite, so this is what Reform comes from. However, the rabbi of Lev Chadash, Rabbi Haim Fabrizio Cipriani has other ideas.

LC was founded by Brits living in Milan, though the group we encountered included Italians, Americans and some French. In its early days, the group used the British Liberal siddur, Lev Chadash. When Cipriani arrived at LC, he set about creating a new siddur. Cipriani, much to my surprise, did not go to either of the European Progressive rabbinical schools. He attended the only remaining traditional Italian rite yeshiva that grants smicha.

So the siddur he created is not a reformation of nusach Ashkenaz, but of the old, much rarer, Italian rite. He told me, if you’re gonna have a Reform in Italy, have it be Italian Reform. I couldn’t agree more.

During services, I was repeatedly jarred by remarkably different blocks of Hebrew. But I have some questions, as you’ll see with the next set of siddurim I acquired in Italy.

These two are published by and for what I can only assume are traditional Italian rite synagogues, Siddur Bene Romi and Siddur Bene Romi: Il Mio Siddur. The second is a children’s siddur.

When I got Siddur Derech Haim, I assumed that the vast pieces of unfamiliar text were because of the Italian rite. Indeed, Cipriani told me that he made only minor changes to the Italian rite text, such as imahot. However, Siddur Bene Romi is much closer to the Ashkenazi text.

I purchased SBR at the Jewish museum in the Venetia ghetto, where I also learned that Italy has very old Ashkenazi communities. If that’s the case, perhaps this reflects the rite of those communitites? This page has shed some light on the subject, I’m still not sure what’s going on. Anyone have any light to shed on this?

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