Tuesday, October 2, 2007

More on the new Reform siddur.

I'm not sure if this came out before, or if this is new stuff. An article came out a week or two ago about a controversial prayer that was re-added to the new Reform siddur, which I wrote about here a month ago. The new prayer book -- Mishkan T'filah -- is expected to be out and about pretty quick here. The ins and outs of the new siddur can be found on the URJ website here.

But the reason we're here -- the restoration of a controversial prayer! Way back when, when Judaism was splitting all over the place, one of the great diverting theologies was over the idea of the resurrection of the dead. This goes back to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, with the former supporting resurrection theology and the latter rejecting it for not being explicitly mentioned in Torah. The idea of resurrection even appears in Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith. "Traditional" Jews still very much support the idea of resurrection, which foresees that at the coming of the messiah (since the Jewish messiah has yet to come), the righteous will be resurrected to enjoy the fruits of their righteous efforts.

There are some within Judaism who consider this theology to span to the idea of reincarnation of the soul, continuing on the work that was promised at Sinai in an effort to perpetuate and satisfy tikkun olam. These stories and ideas are largely held within Chasidic sects, and interestingly this idea is most definitely apparent in Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev" when Asher begins to question whether his divergence from the family trade is somehow harming the soul traveling from generation to generation within his family (as he's tormented by his great ancestor in his dreams).

But what does this all mean for Reform Judaism? In 1885, the Pittsburgh Platform explicitly DENIED bodily resurrection, as it seemed irrational and contrary to logic. Then there's this:
In prior Reform prayer books, the traditional blessing of God as the one who revives the dead — in Hebrew, “m’chayeih hameitim” — was changed to “m’chayeih hakol,” literally “who gives life to all.” The new prayer book includes the modified version, but also offers worshipers the ancient formulation as an alternative.
And more than 120 years later, here we are.

The new siddur, as I mentioned, is completely about inclusiveness. It's shooting at the whole body of Reform folks -- religious, non-religious, secular, non-Jewish spouses, etc. So by including the revamped version and the historically "traditional" version, the authors are hoping to pique the interest of curious parties and perhaps those who are aiming to be more traditional.

If anything, the inclusion of the traditional prayer and perhaps some accompanying gleanings can offer the reader -- religious or not -- a perspective of constant restoration of the self and of the soul. On Yom Kippur we're restored, no? The article has some interesting takes on the importance of the prayer, resurrection and messiah theology. Read it!

I'm really excited for the new prayerbook (though my opinions of resurrection theology are undeveloped, at best), because I've grown weary of the constant "return to tradition" that includes nothing more than a little more Hebrew in the service. I'm hoping this book will offer some truly more traditional takes on Judaism that hold to the tenets of a progressive Judaism, while also maintaining the roots and history and meaning of the thousands of years of Jewishness that preceded us.

In my eternal struggle to place myself on the spectrum of Judaism, I'm looking at the new prayerbook positively and hoping it'll keep me excited and searching.