Archive | March, 2011’s half-hour haggadah

Crossposted to the New Voices blog, the genius website that every other federation in the country should be clamoring to imitate, has created a new haggadah, “The Wandering is Over Haggadah.”

Much to the delight of people who get bored during the seder, they claim that this haggadah’s version of the seder should take only about 30 minutes. And much to the delight of open source Jewish text advocates, it’s licensed with a Creative Commons something-or-the-other. (Which means that they’ve made it available as both a .pdf and as a .doc so you can make edits, if you want.)

For a 30-minute seder, it looks pretty great. It takes as a given the 14-part order to the seder and then prunes the whole thing back to the essentials of each part. And it does this without cheapening the message, I think. Unlike most liturgically innovative things I encounter, it doesn’t make me cringe reading through it. Yet, it seems quite accessible for a mixed crowd of people with varying levels of experience with Passover.

It would be great for a Hillel that wants to lower the knowledge barrier to entry for a group of students who might not otherwise come. It could be advertised as “The 30-Minute Seder” on campus. I bet it would be a big draw.

In fact, I think I may use it. Last year, my housemate Dana and I created an event for our house–a pluralistic dorm environment called Spirituality House–called “Pre-Gaming for Passover: A Cinematic Semi-Seder.” I explained then that there were two things I saw as essential to the seder: the food and the story. So we first discussed the traditional foods and then we watched the excellent film “Prince of Egypt” while we ate. This year, I may try to fit the movie into the broader framework of this haggadah’s 30-minute seder.

So check that out.

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For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my Jewschool and New Voices colleague Harpo Jaeger created this LOLcat for me. I’m mostly amused, but slightly horrified.

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Snarky liturgical review… from 1890!

I did not–I repeat, did not–invent the snarky liturgical review. The new oldest incidence of such a thing was written by Israel Zangwill about a tragic then-new haggadah in 1890.

It was pointed out on the excellent On the Main Line blog, written by Mississippi Fred MacDowell, who writes,

Zangwill writes that every year he seems to “get hold of an edition which is funnier than the preceding year’s.” The trouble with this one is that the English is simply awful… In addition to the ones cited by Zangwill, I came across its mention of “horseradisch” and the “sederdish,” “Grace after meat,” and the remark that “we are leaning back” when one drinks the cups of wine. Zangwill also takes issue with the illustrations, which he thinks are atrocious.

The illustrations are atrocious!


Check out the rest of MacDowell’s post, complete with selections from the haggadah in questions.

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The new head of the Reform Jews?

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, your friend and mine, is retiring next year. He’s been the head of the URJ for 16 years.

Nominated to succeed him is Rabbi Richard Jacobs, who I have never heard of.

Things about Jacobs that seem noteworthy:

  • He is working on a doctorate at NYU in something called “ritual dance”
  • He used to be a dancer and choreographer
  • He is on the board of the New Israel Fund (!)

This does not sound like good news for the liturgy nerds of the Reform world.

Anybody know anything about this guy?

More on this at JTA

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Mishkan T’shuvah: I have a draft!

So it took like 20 years and a dozen committees to create Mishkan T’fillah, the current Reform siddur. Mishkan T’shuvah, the forthcoming new Reform machzor will take significantly less time for three reasons:

  1. It’s got a small core committee.
  2. They’re committed to a 2014 release date.
  3. All the major *ahem* style work was done on MT’f, which MT’sh is intended to be a companion for

Also, I am like a giddy schoolgirl. I have received a PDF of the current draft of the Rosh Hashanah morning service. I have not looked at it yet.

Why have I note read it already? Because I want to create some semblance of objectivity. So, before I read that draft service, here is some kind of rubric thing for it.

I will judge it on these four factors:

  1. Design and layout: I can’t expect them to break with the design standard that began in MT’f. However, if they insist on going with that one-prayer-per-page-with-commentary design, I hope this time they fill up all the blank space it leaves with engaging commentary. I’ll be judging them on what they manage to do within the constraints of the MT’f layout/design style.
  2. Quality of commentary: Part of the success of Mahzor Lev Shalem, as I’ve said before, is in the diversity of its commentary and the many levels of knowledge it appeals to. MT’f’s commentary, however, often plays only to the least knowledgeable members of the audience.
  3. Liturgical integrity: I’ll have to ignore day-to-day and week-to-week liturgical issues of the sort that have already been addressed in MT’f. I fully expect them to receive the same treatment in MT’sh. But I will be looking at the unique liturgical issues raised by the season.
  4. Translation.

The obvious fifth category might be the alternative readings. But I know I’m gonna hate them, so I’m just not gonna bother.

I don’t know how long it will be before I actually write about it, but if there’s anything anyone else thinks I should look out for, let me know in the comments.

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A guide to posts about LimmudPhilly

I’ve been busy. Last weekend, I was in Philadelphia for LimmudPhilly. The weekend before that, I was in Washington for the J Street Conference. While in DC, I made two visits to services that will soon be reviewed here. For now, you’ll have to content yourselves with the LimmudPhilly posts:

Liturgical oops, part IIn which the Reconstructionists screw everything up

Liturgical oops, part II: “Birkat ha-moo-zon”In which we discover a very funny typo

In which a Sephardic Rabbi answers a bunch of questions

Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass singing kids Musaf thingIn which I get away with leaving my head uncovered in a Conservative shul and then a bunch of kids sing Avot and we’re all like, “Wait, is this Musaf?”

“Hey, Nakedhead!” guy strikes again

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Liturgical oops @ LimmudPhilly, “Birkat ha-moo-zon”

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

There were no benchers at LimmudPhilly. There was some grand plan to produce some that didn’t pan out at the last minute, so this Birkat Hamazon sheet was hastily assembled.

And yes, Desh–a frequent Jewschool commenter who I finally met in person at Limmud Philly–did indeed moo during Birkat Hamazon at one meal.

And yes, upon discovering this typo, knowledge of it quickly spread hilariously and not-so-quietly throughout the assembled crowd of people attempting to say Birkat Hamazon.

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LimmudPhilly: In which a Sephardic Rabbi answers a bunch of questions

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

On Sunday at LimmudPhilly, Rabbi Albert Gabbai did a session on Sephardic Jewry. Unlike a lot of Limmud sessions that have some highly specific point they’re getting at, Gabbai, the rabbi at Sephardic Philly shul Congregation Mikveh Israel (founded 1740!), was just sort of talking a rather tangential fashion about Sephardi Jews. Then he took questions from a rather dumbstruck group of rather Ashkenazi Jews.

Here are my notes, with an emphasis on what he had to say about ritual and liturgy:

  • Who is Albert Gabbai? He’s been the rabbi at CMI for like 20 years. He is of Baghdadi descent (see this for more on Philly’s other Baghdadi rabbi), but he grew up in Cairo. And his mother in law is from Livorno.
  • Azose's siddurim

    Sephardi Siddurim: I inquired about which Seph. siddurim he recommended. He recommended David De Sola Pool’s classic Seph. siddur and current Seatle Seph. cantor Isaac Azose’s siddur. Here’s an article that I haven’t read that compares the two.

  • Syrian ArtScroll whaaaat? He also mentioned that some Syrian Jews went to ArtScroll for a siddur. I said that sounds disastrous. He agreed. He thinks it wasn’t published under the ArtScroll name though. I’m guessing they went to ArtScroll for layout help or something like that. Still. Terrible.
  • Year 68, not 70: According to Seph. tradition, the second Temple was destroyed in the year 68, not the year 70.
  • Ladino is not a language: He was quite adamant that Judeo-Spanish is a language and that Ladino is merely a translation of either Spanish into Hebrew or Hebrew into Spanish–it was unclear which way. He also mentioned Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-French, Judeo-Italian–and of course, Yiddish. He emphasized that all were written in Hebrew characters and then cracked a joke about how American Jews all transliterate Hebrew into English all the time.
  • Seph. Jews arrive at conclusions! He was quite adamant–this became a recurring theme of the session–that Seph. Jews arrive at conclusions and Ashkenazi Jews just talk and talk and discuss and discuss and never settle anything. (So?) In support of this, he mentioned that the major law codes–Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah–are Seph. creations.
  • Seph. Jewish scholars are cooler: Rashi takes midrash even it if makes no sense, he says. Ramban (seph., of course) is more logical. And Ibn Ezra might be called the first modern biblical critic.
  • Seph. Jews study secular stuff: While there are Ashk. yeshivot that don’t study science etc, Seph. Jews all follow the Ramban, who says that you must study science and philosophy.
  • They hang their mezuzah straight: The original tradition was vertical or horizontal. Ashk–who, he pointed out, never like to settle the argument–compromised and hang it at an angle. But Seph. say, “No compromise! Either, or!”
  • He is very punny: While explaining why Seph. Jews eat beans and rice during Passover, he mentions spelt. Someone asks what that is. He says, “Spelt. S-P-E-L-T. There, I just spelt it!”
  • Different legal fiction for lighting candles: I have to say, I think the Sephardim have it right on this one. There is a problem: One cannot light fire on Shabbat. One cannot say a blessing after the act being blessed has been performed. And candles must be lit at the start of Shabbat and the act of lighting them must be blessed. Ashk. Jews work around this by lighting them, then covering their eyes and saying the blessing. Then, they open their eyes and–surprise!–the candles have been lit. Sephardim just light them shortly before Shabbat and announce that it is now Shabbat and begin acting as though it it. As Gabbai pointed out, you can’t delay Shabbat, but you can welcome it into your home early.
  • How many times around the groom? Germans brides go 3 times around the groom. Polish brides go 7 times. Seph. brides don’t go at all. Which is great because it gives some precedent for eschewing that bizarre practice altogether
  • If there are too many reasons, there is no reason: That thing about going around the groom was the first example of Gabbai’s favorite thing: pointing out a minhag with no real reason. “If there are many reasons, he said, there is no reason.” I like this guy.
  • No white for wedding: They don’t wear white for their weddings, they don’t fast before their weddings and they don’t avoid seeing their intended for any arbitrary period before their weddings. He mentioned that there is Talmudic tradition that the bride and groom are cleansed of their sins before the wedding. “You can still have sins forgiven if you don’t wear a white coat!” he said.
  • Tefilin inward: Seph. wrap their tefiling inward instead of outward. Apparently, Lubavitchers do this also. He said they have many Seph. traditions because Kabbalah is of Seph. origin.
  • No yizkor: It started in 1648 after the Chmielnitzky massacre in Europe, so Seph. never picked up the tradition. He wondered to us whether German shuls have it, since the massacre was in Poland. “You have to go to a real Yekke synagogue to find out!” he said.
  • Bride buys groom a talit: The bride buys the groom a new talit for the wedding, though Seph. boys begin wearing their first talit when they’re six. During Sheva Brachot, the bride and groom stand wrapped in the talit together. I think that’s nice.
  • Yahrtzeit: They say Kaddish from the Shabbat preceding the anniversary of the loved one’s death through the day of the anniversary. So if the anniversary is on Tuesday, they say it Shabbat, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and then they stop.
  • No cantors! A Seph. chazan, according to Rabbi Gabbai, has only one job: to pass on the tradition as he has received it. So melodies, he says, don’t change. “Not a cantor!” he emphasizes. Seph. nusach is in a major scale, not a minor one like Ashk. so it’s happier and more uplifting.
  • A very ancient nusach: Some melodies are from Spain, but for some things, such as Az Yashir and Ps. 92, the nusach is pentatonic, which means it’s very ancient. It’s similar to the Greek Orthodox Church music, which purports to be so ancient that it’s from the Temple.
  • No chaos! To avoid chaos, Seph. always roll to Torah to the proper place ahead of time.
  • And no Kabbalat Shabbat either! In the Amsterdam Seph. community, the reaction to the disappointment of Shabbetai Tzvi was to remove Kabbalat Shabbat, by association. But they kept Lecha Dodi!
  • Persians do what? Persian Jews whip each other with scallions during the seder.
  • If you chew it long enough… He said that they use lettuce for the bitter herb. “It you chew it long enough, it gets very bitter.” Whatever. Lettuce is for sissies. Real Jews use magenta horse radish!
  • Lemon juice? He also claimed you can use lemon juice instead of salt water.
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LimmudPhilly: Shabbat morning at BZBI with a weird-ass Musaf thing

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

I was gonna go to Society Hill Synagogue, which the LimmudPhilly program book described as “Unaffiliate, Conservative-style” because I wanted to know what that means. According to one person I asked, there are readings. Gah.

But Desh–a regular Jewschool commenter who I had met for the first time in person the night before–said he was going to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel–which everyone calls BZBI–because it’s much closer to him. Turns out, it was easier for me to get to as well and it seemed better to go somewhere with a friend.

Plus, I figured, it would be nice to go somewhere predictable and not feel like I have to write a review. Wrong on so many levels, was I.

First of all, at a Conservative shul, I expect a kippah patrol. I arrived with my kippah at the ready, but did not put it on. Eventually, the honors patrol came by and offered me gelilah (this story starting to sound familiar to anyone?). I accepted, certain that he was also about to tell me to cover my head. Instead, he handed me the card–intricately detailed instructions, by the way–thanked me and told me we’d have to find a kippah to wear on the bimah. I told him I had one with me and he said OK fine whatever and moved on with his honor-distribution duties.

I consulted Desh–quite the regular at BZBI and thank God for that because I ended up sitting in a rather snarky section of regulars, just my type!–and he said that at BZBI, men are expected to cover their heads in the sanctuary (so much for that), but everyone is expected to cover their heads on the bimah. Given that, I felt fine putting a kipah on for gelilah. The cantor (more on her shortly) told me I was a very skilled Torah dresser, by the way.

(As an aside, there were way too many women whose doily-laden heads looked like they might take flight at any moment for my comfort!)

Anyway, notes (mental, I mostly refrained from notetaking) from BZBI:

  • The cantor and the music: Despite being very appreciative of my Torah-dressing skillz, the cantor drove me berserk. All of the melodies in the service were familiar to me and none were unusual for the Conservative setting. However, this cantor–one of those cantors who closes her eyes while emoting her way through every other note–was all over the place with this melodies. In some, she was putting the emphasis in funny places, in others, tweaking the melody ever so slightly. It made it impossible to sing along. I also think I was sitting in the only section of singing along types in the whole place.
  • Am I done with rabbis and cantors on bimahs? I’m beginning to think I’m never gonna be happy with a rabbi-and-cantor-on-the-bimah arrangement. I hate it more every time.
  • Begin with Ps. 92? BZBI is apparently trying something new. Their services used to begin at 9 and end at 12:30. The new plan is to being at 9:30 and end, still, at 12:30. [EDITED: I got those times way wrong. Here are the correct times.] There are variety of strategies for doing this that are currently undergoing testing. One of them is to skip straight through Pesukei Dezimrah. So they begin with Psalm 92 and then it’s straight on to Kaddish Yatom and then on to Shochein Ad straight away. Given that the Kaddish that’s at the beginning of the service can tend to migrate anyway, this makes some sense. And there is, of course, a devoted corps (mostly just Desh and some old dudes) who come early to go through PD on their own.
  • No Imahot? I was surprised to find a Conservative shul with a (relatively) young Shabbat morning crowd and relatively (like, really relatively in the case of the rabbi) young rabbi and cantor that still isn’t doing Imahot. Desh and others explained to me that the rabbi and cantor are in favor of doing Imahot, but there are some very strident anti-Imahot people who are quite old. I guess they’re just waiting it out…. Anyway, it was odd.
  • The nusach massacre continues in Kedushah: This is getting grotesque. Kedushah took like ten minutes. *face-pew*
  • The hakafah crisis: The sanctuary has an aisle up the middle and one on each side and both are connected in the back and front. Normally at BZBI, both hakafot proceed all the way up the middle and down both sides. But this week, in the interest of saving time, the rabbi announced that the first hakafah would only go up the middle aisle and that it would go all the way around–skipping the middle aisle–the second time. There was a lot of discussion of how much time this might actually save from within the snark-zone I was sitting in.
  • Thank God for the Torah readers! One of the reasons BZBI needs special strategies for shortening the service is that they’re still doing full readings of the Torah! No triennial here, friends. Yet, the Torah reading is about the coolest thing ever. There’s a retired Baghdadi Sephardi rabbi in the congregation who reads Torah. He does it about as slowly as I’ve ever seen it, but it’s damn cool to hear him doing it. He differentiates in pronunciation between Chet and Chaf and I can hear him vocalizing his Ayins from time to time. His wife then does haftarah, which is also great!
  • And then the second hakafah: They almost forget that they’re not going up the middle aisle. They go up one side, halfway across the back and then turn to go down the middle. They a good portion of the way down before they get the message from the rabbi, gesticulating wildly, to turn around and go back to the back and then come back down the other side. The snark-zone is in stitches.
  • And then the little kids started singing! Good God. There’s nothing worse than accidentally showing up to a consecration service! They do religious school on Shabbat at BZBI so the consecration kids (third grade or something?) emerged and joined us in the service toward the end of the Torah service. They sang  (!), of all things, “Yachad Lev v’Lev”–and Israeli pop song–and something I’d never heard of. And then. Shit. Got. Weird.
  • Then they started singing Avot… v’Imahot. At the point in the service, I didn’t know any of the stuff I wrote earlier about how Imahot works (or doesn’t) at BZBI. The kids sang Adoani Sefatai Tiftach and then they actually started singing Avot v’Imahot. In the snark-zone, there was a lot of uncomfortable glancing about and hiding behind pews. We weren’t sure if this was meant to be musaf or what was going on at all.
  • It was musaf. But there was a poem with some remarkable rhyming. One of my new snark-zone friends said of me to Desh, “He’s never gonna come back, is he?”
  • Eventually, it was over. And we did real Musaf. And then we all moved on with life.

Rating: The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System is explained here.

Music and Ruach: One Ballpoint Pen

I didn’t like the music at all and there seemed to be very little ruach of any sort in the room.

The Chaos Quotient: Four Ballpoint Pens

I’m gonna go ahead and count whatever those kids up to toward this service’s tremendous Chaos Quotient. Between that and the hakafah, this shul is to be congratulated. On the one hand, I didn’t like the service too much. On the other hand, the chaos was excellent and made me feel very much at home.

Liturgical Health: Two and a Half Ballpoint Pens

On the one hand, I don’t like having the beginning of the service so truncated and the reason they don’t do Imahot is silly. On the other hand, it’s nice to find a shul making conscious, but practical choices about liturgy. And the full reading was pretty spiffy. On the third hand, I didn’t see anyone using anything other than Siddur Sim Shalom.

Welcoming Community: N/A

I arrived pretty early, had friend there already and bolted when the service was over so I’m not gonna try to rate them on this one.

Overall Rating: One and a Ballpoint Half Pens

And they’re only getting that half because the chaos was so good.

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LimmudPhilly: “Hey, Nakedhead!” guy strikes again

I went to LimmudPhilly and wrote a bunch of posts. Here’s a guide to them.

The same deranged jackass who inquired of me, “Hey, Nakedhead! Where’s your kippah?” at Limmud NY struck again at LimmudPhilly.

Not only was he lurking about all weekend, but he came up to me at one point, looked at my tzitzit, pointed at them and then asked, “What? No petil techelet?”

What is wrong with people?

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