Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The New Siddur ... here's hoping it actually comes out this time!

So I saw this little gem in the New York Times about the Union for Reform Judaism preparing to adopt a new prayer book. Hold the phone. Weren't we going to do this like ... a year ago? Six months ago? Three months ago? This thing has been in the works for AGES. At one service last year I heard that the printing was halted because of some typos. Then I heard that the printing was halted so that all the Harry Potter books could make it out in time.

Either way, I'm a fan of the new book.

I attended a service up north at a synagogue I ended up passing on where the head honcho was one of the leading rabbis on the new siddur. I knew this immediately because their personal prayerbook (they'd left the old Gates of Prayer behind long ago) was printed in the style that I had seen in the sneak peeks we'd gotten back home in Nebraska at B'Nai Jeshurun. It appeared for a long time that the union was sending out bits and pieces to rabbis for use in sort of acclimating their congregations to the new style of the forthcoming (still waiting!) prayerbook. It's a complete — COMPLETE — change from the old version.

If you poke at that article, there's an interactive section that shows you a bit of the new prayerbook. I like to call it the "choose your own adventure" prayerbook (its new name being Mishkan T'filah). Why? Well, each page is full of the Hebrew, the English and the transliteration, in addition to a lot of gleanings and optional prayer portions pulled from the great rabbis and thinkers, not to mention other portions of the Tanakh. The goal of the book is to appeal to anyone and everyone. Says the Times:
The changes reveal a movement that is growing in different directions simultaneously, absorbing non-Jewish spouses and Jews with little formal religious education while also trying to appeal to Jews seeking a return to tradition.
The siddur took more than 20 years to complete ... talk about an undertaking. The last siddur was published in 1975, and I guess I understand why just about every synagogue I've gone to outside of my home shul in Lincoln, Neb., has created their own version of the prayerbook in an effort to be more universal. I'll admit that nothing in the old Gates of Prayer offended me. In fact, there's a portion in there that inspires and moves me every day. But the new siddur has removed references to God as a “He”, and whenever Jewish patriarchs are named — like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so are the matriarchs — like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

I'm quite excited about the new book. I think — if anything — perhaps it will bring more people into the shul, seeing as it has a bounty of new stuff to read (the book is pretty thick, from what I've heard), so when you get tired of the rabbi's sermon you can just read on some wisdom from the sages or Elie Wiesel. It's variety, and that's what we thrive on these days it seems — something for everyone, gall darn't.

I suppose I should check in with my synagogue to see if we're taking on the new siddur or if we're sticking with our homemade versions. Here's to hoping this text can pump some fire into the hearts of my fellow Reform Jews!