Machzor adoption trends

As a bit of a follow-up to my discussion of how new machzorim will be adopted at the end of my review of Mahzor Lev Shalem and Machzor Eit Ratzon, my dad just pointed out this little piece about Lev Shalem in Austin’s Jewish Outlook. The Outlook is Austin’s local Federation-pamphlet-masquerading-as-a-newspaper entity.

This method of reading it online is pretty cracked out, but if you flip (flip!?) to page 28, you’ll see a little piece about the local Conservative outfit, Congregation Agudas Achim, adopting a limited set of Lev Shalem. They said CAA has purchased about 30 copies of MLS to supplement their existing machzorim for those who are interested.

The other machzor I reviewed, Machzor Eit Ratzon (and its older companion, Siddur Eit Ratzon), was created not by a movement but by Rutgers math professor Joe Rosenstein. What’s interesting is that CAA is adopting their movement’s new machzor in the same way that Joe recommends that some might adopt his siddur and machzor, as supplementary texts for interested congregants.

Of course the reasons that they’ve bought so few copies may be financial or it may be that there aren’t enough in print yet. But it’s still interesting. I wonder if there is a larger trend toward adopting a few copies of a supplementary siddur in synagogues.

Thoughts, anyone?

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14 Responses to Machzor adoption trends

  1. Glenda September 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    I strongly recommend removing your earbuds before flipping the pages in that interface. Loudness!

  2. Larry Kaufman September 1, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Trend? Probably not.

    There are two considerations when a congregation debates adopting a new machzor — 1, can we afford to buy enough books to supply one to everyone who comes to HHD services; and 2, are we going to get a lot of flack from our members if we ask them to pop for new books.

    At both my current and previous congregations, copies of Mishkan T’filah were purchased for the congregation as acts of philanthropy by a donor, so the transition involved no budget line item or tax on members. The same thing happened when GOR was published — rather than ask congregants to buy new books to replace their cherished copies of the UPB, we found someone with deep pockets. In fact, when we changed congregations, we had something like sticker shock our first HHD, because we had to buy machzorim. In any event, the decision is more likely to be financial than liturgical.

    In your initial review of MLS and MER, as I recall it, you concentrated on the innovation in format, typography, usability, quality of the commentary, etc. Sticking strictly to MLS, I don’t remember your calling attention to any major changes in the liturgy. Prayers added or dropped? Substantive changes in translations? If that is in fact the case, the impetus to change is minimized — although the speed with which the first edition appears to have sold out suggests that the congregations were ready for a change. (By the way, leaving aside you “specialists,” I don’t think congregants get tired of liturgy, but clergy do.)

    Here’s a theory — CAA didn’t feel the need for a switch, but did feel the call to support the movement, and thus bought machzorim as a symbol of support. And assuming no basic liturgical changes, whatever congregant happens to pick up a copy of MLS will be able readily easily to follow the service, and join in at those junctures where joining in is called for. (I hate Conservative or Orthodox davening where it’s every man for himself, comng together for opening and closing phrases.)

    Davar acher — you refer to the Outlook as a pamphlet masquerading as a newspaper, but any publication with 80+ pages is more than a pamphlet — and I would classify the effort as being more to emulate a magazine than a newspaper. I didn’t take the time to futz around and get the type big enough to read, but there appeared to be a lot of meaty material, probably mostly from JTA. Actually, fairly impressive for a community the size of Austin — the Chicago Anglo-Jewish press doesn’t begin to measure up. And I was pleased (although not surprised) to see a friend’s picture popping off the page — the only non-Wilensky I know in Austin.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 2, 2010 at 12:58 am #

      These two were my first real attempt to get into machzorim, so I don’t know the old Conservative one at all. I’m not in a position to make comparisons there.

      As for the Outlook, I guess online like that it does look like a magazine, but it’s printed on newsprint, alt weekly-style. I’m thumbing my nose at it because it’s news content it useless. Today, if the only real news you’re offering up in print is JTA material, you’re either confused about how people get their news in the 21st century or you’re too lazy to create your own content–or both.

      With few exceptions, Jewish communities in America are ill-served by their local Jewish “press” because it’s own by the local Jewish establishment–the federation. This system prevents real reporting from going on within all but the largest of Jewish communities–LA and New York.

  3. Larry Kaufman September 2, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    Suggestion: at some point, you might want to turn your attention to the media serving the Jewish community, both print and cyber. Any such analysis would need to reflect the differences between niche media like New Voices and one size fits all media like the rags serving local communities.

    If you don’t mind my morphing the discussion away from machzorim — after all, you opened the door to it — I find that communal ownership of the local Jewish media does not guarantee house-organ-ness, nor does independent ownership guarantee quality. And almost nobody can afford coverage outside their own geography without relying on syndicated or borrowed material.

    I know you don’t like to hear anything good about URJ, but its Friday round-up does capture a lot of good stuff from “outside,” alongside the house organ content. And it offers variety — unlike Joel Katz’s aggregated bulletins which focus only on religious issues in Israel and are essentially the same week after week.

    At the simplest and most banal level, although a huge amount of material with Jewish content comes into my mailbox daily, including material from my congregation, I have so far not been a good boy and opted out of receiving the printed bulletin. (I also have not bought a Kindle.) The content of Outllok may be useless to you, but it is probably the only access to Jewish news for most of the people who receive it (which is probaby a much bigger number than those who actually read it).

    Back to the machzor. I just pulled my copy of the 1972 Harlow Conservative machzor off the shelf. One change that I would expect in MLS is more gender-sensitivity in the translations, and possibly at least an option for the imahot. Even then, I was surprised to see, the English for Avinu Malkeinu, although it is headed Our Father Our King, transliterates rather than translates Avinu Malkeinu. And there is a little more commentary than I would expected, but it’s segregated from the liturgy itself, in the introductory pages and interspersed here and there at breaking points in the liturgy. And I think I would be annoyed, were I using this machzor in the synagogue, at the number of places where there are page after page of Hebrew without English, and page after page of English liturgy (I am not talking about the explanatory notes) without Hebrew. Of course, this may be a fore-runner of the left-hand pages in MT.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 2, 2010 at 11:34 am #

      “I find that communal ownership of the local Jewish media does not guarantee house-organ-ness, nor does independent ownership guarantee quality. And almost nobody can afford coverage outside their own geography without relying on syndicated or borrowed material.”

      I suppose it is not necessarily the case that fed ownership of local Jewish media guarantees “house-organ-ness.” (Thank you, Larry, for inventing that term for us all to use and enjoy.) However, I’ve never seen an example to the contrary, nor have I ever heard of one. I’m definitely open to seeing some examples, though. It is definitely no necessarily the case that independence guarantees journalistic quality. But I think it’s as close to a guarantee as we’ll get. The great thing about this digital media age that we’re living is that these local pubs, independent and fed-run alike, do not need to worry about coverage beyond their community. If, for instance, The Outlook wanted to cover something going on in a nearby city–say, Dallas–they can easily share their material back and forth with their Dallas counterpart. If they want to cover something national or international, they CAN go to the JTA for material. But the question is, SHOULD they? Is it a waste of their own paper and money to do so? JTA material is available all over the internet to everyone. So why should a local rag bother with that material at all?

      This is something we thought a lot about at The Acorn, the newspaper here at Drew University, while I was Editor in Chief last year. Our thought was this: Why should we review a book or a movie, or cover a national political event in an editorial? College students in particular are media-saturated people. They can get that movie review anywhere, from a professional. They can get commentary on that political event anywhere, from a respected voice. And while they’re doing that, we can cover things that no one else in the world is going to cover. We can cover Drew. Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to cover a play in New York City because members of our theater department are involved. And there are times when we can take a seemingly removed political event and make it local.

      These are principles that I would like to see applied in all forms of local press–Jewish or otherwise. Drew is located in Madison, NJ. The local paper in Madison is a weekly, called the Madison Eagle (which we lovingly refer to at The Acorn as “Our Low-Flying Eagle”). Jokes aside, The Eagle has one important function–they cover Madison, NJ, a place that no other media outlet in the world is going to cover with any regularity. Do they bother with state news? When it will directly affect Madison, they do. But otherwise, news from beyond Morris County isn’t really their cup of tea.

      Which brings me to a good point you made, Larry:

      “The content of Outlook may be useless to you, but it is probably the only access to Jewish news for most of the people who receive it.”

      That may be true. And it may also be true with The Acorn that when our liberal or conservative columnists write every other week about an issue of national concern, it’s the first some of their college student readers have heard about the issue. But in making it local and relevant, they may also have piqued the interest of those students who are just hearing about this issue for the first time. And this is a way that The Outlook and its ilk can do the job–that is not, again, their central job–of informing locals about issues that are not local, while doing what should be their primary job, creating quality coverage of their local community.

      Thoughts, Larry?

      • Larry Kaufman September 2, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

        The analogy to the Acorn is a good one. I would think its mandate should be to cover the campus, the community, and the collegiate world. And I think it would be reasonable for it to assume that its readers have access to the New York Times, as well as to the Internet, so it doesn’t need to report on national or international issues — but it may want to give voice to campus opinion on those issues (even if those voices are also expressing them n the blogosphere).

        You and I are having this discussion against the background of Ami Eden’s call for more cooperation between and among the broad-circulation Jewish media– JTA, Forward, Haaretz, JPost, etc. I get JTA (and Jewish Ideas Daily, and eJewish Philanthropy, and Religion and State) directly into my mailbox; I follow Twitter links for Forward articles that appear to be of interest; and I count on the Union’s weekly email to steer me to other stuff, especially that of specifically Reform interest. (Major coverage in the Denver Post, for example, of Emanuel’s new rabbi, or links to the Cleveland Jewish News relative to the Reform congregations in my hometown.) That provides a filter against the irrelevant — nothing frosts me as much as when the local independent J-paper does a piece on retirement investment strategies, clearly related to advertising from local financial advisors. But if they want to a real estate piece centered around Jewish amenities in a particular neighborhood, that would seem to be legit.

        Despite the availability of almost anything on line, I feel that the local Jewish press should not assume that its audience is accessing that information, and is on firm ground on the two-fold basis that this is the reader’s only access to Jewish news — or to Jewish spin on Israel stuff that is reported broadly — and that there must be a Jewish connection to anything that is covered. And that for the next few years at least, it must be offered in print.

        I don’t know whether the two excellent papers you cite, the LA Jewish Journal and the (NY) Jewish Week, are Federation supported — I suspect they are, but it doesn’t intrude. Nor does it seem to intrude in the Cleveland Jewish News, also Fed-supported. As I recall the independent papers in Detroit, Baltimore, and Atlanta (all of which, I think, have the same ownership), they are thick, carry a lot of superficial local news, and are Outlook written large.

        Chicago has three J-papers — the Federation monthly, which has a few good outside columnists, and an occasional interesting local feature, but which is predominantly a house organ; the Chicago Jewish News, an independent weekly run by an open-minded Modern Orthodox Jew, who lacks the resources for a lot of meaningful local coverage, but does typically offer one substantive feature per week — not enough to justify my subscribing, but enough to pick up a copy when I see one at the free distribution points around town. The third, an independent bi-weekly, has a more pronounced Orthodox bias, makes a greater attempt as far as I can see to do independent reporting on local issues, and seems to have as its main goal to infuriate me. Their current issue does have a lengthy discussion, with good background information, on the upcoming vote in a local MO congregation to change its bylaws to permit the search committee for a new rabbi to talk to YCT ordinees. Prior to reading the story, I didn’t know this conversation was taking place — and the article tried to blow this up into a contentious issue, whereas I suspect that the change will breeze through with the support of the outgoing rabbi (Asher Lopatin) and of the Board.

        From my perspective, neither the Star nor the CJN offers the scope to be the sole source of Jewish news and the Fed paper doesn’t even try. If the two indies would fold, I suspect the Fed paper would go weekly and try to become substantive — but it doesn’t want to put them out of business, or try to buy them out, which would be presented as trying to force them out. Note that I am not a Federation insider, although I believe that contributing to “the campaign” is an obligation like paying taxes. Thus my theory about the situation in Chicago is just my personal theory, not based on any information, gossip, or knowledge — just a perspective on how Federations work.

        • David A.M. Wilensky September 3, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

          I think I’m in agreement with on everything until this:

          “I feel that the local Jewish press should not assume that its audience is accessing that information”

          Your argument, construed broadly, is that a publication should assume the responsibility of their readers to ensure that the readers are well-informed about subjects that are not the subject of the publication in question. Either that, or we are simply disagreeing about what the subject is. For me, the subject of your average local Jewish paper should be the local Jewish community. It will be the rare paper that can cover the whole Jewish world. Those that can’t, shouldn’t, and they should leave it to those who can.

          “Nor does it seem to intrude in the Cleveland Jewish News, also Fed-supported. As I recall the independent papers in Detroit, Baltimore, and Atlanta (all of which, I think, have the same ownership), they are thick, carry a lot of superficial local news, and are Outlook written large.”

          Surely, as we discussed in earlier comments, independence doesn’t ensure good quality, nor does fed support ensure low quality. I would guess, however, based on my knowledge of college newspapers, that an independent one is more likely to be of good quality and a fed supported one is more likely to be of low quality. Though, in the college news world, this is skewed because there is an unwritten rule at most colleges (and written at some!) that interfering with the student paper, even if it receives school funding and/or support, is verboten.

          “and seems to have as its main goal to infuriate me.”

          If there’s one thing I’ve learned at The Acorn, it’s that a paper that is infuriating to no one is also useless to no one.

          “Note that I am not a Federation insider, although I believe that contributing to “the campaign” is an obligation like paying taxes. ”

          Imagine what you could do if you stopped paying the feds and became the funder of a real, mainstream Chicago Jewspaper!

          • Larry Kaufman September 4, 2010 at 9:29 am #

            Yes, we do disagree on the scope of coverage a local paper should provide. I believe it should cover its own community on its own, establish a network of cooperation with other communities of assumed local interest (in other words, Austin and Dallas should cooperate, but Austin doesn’t really have to worry about Minneapolis), and rely on JTA and syndicated columnists for the rest.

            And while I may feel complimented that you think so, I assure you my contributions to the Fed wouldn’t cover the phone bills for a real newspaper.

            • David A.M. Wilensky September 4, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

              I wasn’t quite being serious about you and the paper. Twas merely a passing thought.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 2, 2010 at 11:40 am #

      “One change that I would expect in MLS is more gender-sensitivity in the translations, and possibly at least an option for the imahot.”

      There is certainly more of that. Rather than offering Avot in one page and Avot v’Imahot on the next, like the recent editions of Sim Shalom, MLS offers the two side-by-side on the same page. As BZ pointed out in the comments on the review, this prevents C-shuls from telling people to flip to page X, thereby telling them whether they will be saying Imahot or not.

      “And I think I would be annoyed, were I using this machzor in the synagogue, at the number of places where there are page after page of Hebrew without English, and page after page of English liturgy (I am not talking about the explanatory notes) without Hebrew.”

      I think that siddur layout, design and structure has improved dramatically relatively recently, though I couldn’t say exactly when that began to happen without sitting down with my collection for a while and really thinking this through. This may be because the number of elements we expect to find in a siddur has increased (we now expect Hebrew, English, some translit., some commentary, come kavvanot) and it’s taken us a while to figure out how best to arrange that material. Or it may be because the digital tools for doing the layout and design have improved dramatically recently.

  4. Theophrastus September 11, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    David: You may be interested in looking at this page of special lectures on the new Conservative machzor from Congregation Nevitot Shalom — one of their rabbis, Stuart Kelman, was one of the translators of the Machzor Lev Shalem and the shul held a four-day learning program on the new machzor. Several of the lectures (the first and last — by R. Kelman) talk about the philosophy of the new machzor. Also of particular interest is a lecture from Robert Alter, whose Bible translations have been making a big splash recently.

    My own opinion is that this is the nicest recent non-Orthodox machzor that I’ve seen. The design, layout, and meditations that are in it are simply stunning. I’m a bit disappointed that it falls halachically short (there are only 70 shofar blasts, for example).

    Since you are looking forward to the R. Soloveitchik siddur, I thought I would draw your attention to the R. Soloveitchik machzor’s published by the Orthodox Union. The layout of this particular volume is similar to the Artscroll machzorim, but the commentary/notes (which are quite voluminous) are all drawn from R. Soloveitchik’s teachings. This makes it quite interesting to daven from — it has a specific point of view and is quite different from the typical sort of annotations one sees in siddurim or machzorim. We sometimes see haggados or chumashim with deep, and interest annotation, but for me, the Soloveitchik machzorim are the first to have that sort of annotation in the machzor. At least speaking for myself, I got a lot out of it.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 11, 2010 at 8:33 pm #

      Theo, cool stuff! I’m definitely gonna take a look at Kelman’s lectures. Thanks for pointing them out.

      Who publishes the Soloveitchik machzor? Koren? Or does the OU self-publish it?

  5. Theophrastus September 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    OU published it as “K’hal Press” (and I believe it is the only publication by “K’hal Press”) — this appeared in 2007, so it predates R. Gil Student’s taking charge of OU Press and the joint agreements with Koren. The bottom line is that it looks like an Artscroll Machzor — and I suspect that the same printer that Artscroll uses also printed this. (Although I think it is much, much better than the standard Artscroll Machzor!)

    Here is Olivia Wiznitzer’s YU newspaper review — hardly impartial, but still strikingly passionate.