How Debbie Friedman get labelled as “traditional” by BBYO?

My friend Laura Cooper has a terrific blog. If you like this one, you will like hers, I suspect. (She’s also a contributor to the New Voices blog.)

She posted something today that I thought all of you should know about. Laura was trying out BBYO’s BuildAPrayer thinger (which I covered here) when she stumbled across something to something so unexpectedly odious that it made me choke on my sandwich when I read it:

They had all different kind of things you could put in there. I clicked on “Traditional” rather than “Pluralistic” (which really just means “add the Imahot and take out most of Pesukei de Zimra”, which I think isn’t what pluralistic actually means), and there is a gigantic list of prayers.


See if you can spot the thing that’s not like the others.

I don’t know how it got in there, but apparently Debbie Friedman is now essential repertoire for even the “Traditional” service. Note, though that it’s one of the few that’s not “recommended”.

I disagree with one element of Laura’s conclusion to this bizarre liturgical tale. She writes, “What other folk song is considered ‘traditional’ material?” If Laura meant, “What other American guitar folk song is considered ‘traditional’ material?” I might let her off the hook. But it is far from the only songs in the liturgy that originated as a folk song.

I’m suggesting that plenty of our liturgy that we consider piyyutim originated as folks songs. (Not to mention the many German drinking melodies we make regular use of.) At the very least, songs like “Chad Gadya” can certainly be described as traditional inclusions in the haggadah.

However, I agree with Laura’s final statement on the subject:

This is crazy. My world is turning upside down.

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10 Responses to How Debbie Friedman get labelled as “traditional” by BBYO?

  1. Yakov Wolf July 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Debbie Friedman became Traditional the same way the Sex Pistols became “Classic Rock”; by people confusing “traditional” with “Nostalgic”.

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 16, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      Ha! Well said.

    • BZ July 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      “When the prayers were very nontraditional, they felt botched; the music was so distracting,” … “It seemed so disrespectful. I’ve become quite attached to saying the prayers the way I was bat mitzvahed with. It’s something I find really powerful,” she continued.

  2. Laura July 15, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I’m glad someone else’s world is upside down.

    She writes, “What other folk song is considered ‘traditional’ material?” If Laura meant, “What other American guitar folk song is considered ‘traditional’ material?”…

    I think that’s what I meant; ah, they’re synonymous to me.

    Speaking of that website….those translations were really…terrible….
    For one thing, some of the contributors apparently refuse to use “He” and “His” so this ends up with the unappealing “Adonai will save God’s people” or whatever. Yeah, that’s real nice.

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

      Disagree! I think if you’re translating within the mindset that God is without gender and that it’s an unfortunate happenstance that Hebrew is a gendered language, then you almost have to translate like that.

      • Laura July 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

        But it’s so distracting.
        1.) If you really had to do this, at least refrain from switching names around in the same sentence.. that’s my main beef with this.
        2.) I’m much more irritated by the fact that lots of siddurim don’t have the lady version of Modeh Ani (or the fact that Ohel Sarah exists) than I am by the fact that Hebrew is a gendered language..
        3.) Can you say “sie/hir“? I’d be the first one to buy that siddur.

        • David A.M. Wilensky July 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

          1–Fair enough.

          2–Me too.

          3–I’d buy that, but mainly as an item of curiosity.

  3. Diplogeek July 17, 2011 at 4:37 am #

    It’s funny; I’m pretty adamantly egalitarian, but the gendered siddur thing doesn’t really bother me at all, and I never add the Imahot when I daven (of course, neither does my synagogue, but I’ve found it cumbersome and distracting when it’s happened at other shuls I’ve visited). I don’t have a problem when, for instance, my rabbi adjusts language to refer to “Sovereign of the Universe” rather than “king” or something like that, but that sentence Laura cited just comes off as sounding a bit ridiculous; the poor grammar and sentence construction is way more off putting than any gender specifics might be, IMHO.

    Agree, however, that Ohel Sarah is just pointless and unnecessary, but then, not being a fan of Artscroll in general (not to mention being a non-Orthodox convert), I don’t think I’m their target audience.

    What I would really love to find is a Chinese/Hebrew Haggadah. I saw one in Japanese/Hebrew once and didn’t think to ask the guy where he found it, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

  4. Rich July 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    I’ll take Taubmans Mi Sheberach over Friedman’s any day.

    Friedman’s Havdallah tune, however, is considered Mi Sinai in some Orthodox shuls.

    Of course, if they DIDN’T call it Mi Sinai, they would have to admit that it was written by a woman, and a lesbian, no less!

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

      Indeed, when she died, I was surprised to learn how widespread her music was outside of the liberal streams.