Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Mishkan T'Fillah finally appears

That's the rumor, anyway. Apparently some copies of the new Reform siddur have filtered their way out west, and are finally getting to see the light of day.

The good:

Laid out almost entirely in a two-page-spread format, “Mishkan T’filah” is the “high-def widescreen” of prayer books. Right-hand pages contain prayers in Hebrew, along with transliteration, English translation and footnotes. Left-hand-side pages contain alternative readings and related commentary.

Every page has a “pull-down” menu in the upper corners, in Hebrew and English so readers always know exactly where they are in the service.

Unlike “Gates of Prayer,” which leaves out the matriarchs and refers to God as “He,” the new siddur is gender-inclusive. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah all get props in the Avot v’Imot prayer.

Some of the language retains the lofty elegance of the old Union Prayer Book, but much of it is modern and poetic.

One Shabbat evening prayer reads in part: “Lend us the wit, O God, to speak the lean and simple word; give us the strength to speak the found word, the meant word…”

And smack in the middle is the Sh’ma, spread over two pages in ornate Hebrew calligraphy (reserved only for the most sacred objects).

The siddur also reinstates techiyat hameitim, the prayer for the resurrection of the dead, something unimaginable in previous Reform siddurs.

TV comparisons for a siddur? I can't wait to see what metaphors these guys break out to talk about the Bible.

The bad:

"I had concerns about the formatting of the text and the small font size,” said Kory Zipperstein, Rodef Shalom’s worship committee chairman. “It didn’t seem to progress in a linear fashion. Some older members of the community were not at all happy with this new prayer book.”

Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El also had a few gripes. “I do not love the book,” he said. “The language is at times child-like. It is hard to maneuver the pages. Constantly having to call out page numbers interrupts the flow of prayer.”

...[Barak] has a few bones to pick. “It would nice if the cantorial [directions] were more indicated,” she said. “And as for responsive readings, they didn’t do it consistently. I really do love the call and response tradition in Jewish prayer.”

Oh, and one more thing. Barak reports that “everyone is making remarks about the weight of the book.”

By that she means the physical weight. “It’s extremely heavy,” she acknowledges.

That's a good point, especially since CCAR is also putting out a copy in large-type, which is probably even more gigantic. Let me tell you, I know old Jews and while they don't mind fasting to the point of passing out Yom Kippur, spraining a wrist trying to hold a damn book is a whole other story.

The miscellaneous:

And then, to satisfy cantors, “Mishkan T’filah” includes an extensive selection of songs and hymns, more than 100 for every conceivable worship or simcha setting. Also included — at Barak’s urging, is “America the Beautiful,” a song she likes to sing in services close to Thanksgiving.

One thing “Mishkan T”filah” does not include: any instructions. No responsive readings in italics, no “sit” or “stand” commands. For that sort of traffic control, clergy and congregants are on their own.

Meh. I think I'll live without explicit stage directions. America the Beautiful I could take or leave, but it will be cool to have a song section (one of the things I like about Temple GLBT, which, incidentally, I owe at least one new post on).

Lastly, the interesting: it's not just Reformies who like the new book.

In 2006, Menachem Creditor proofed some early drafts of the book. Creditor is the rabbi at Netivot Shalom, a Berkeley Conservative synagogue, yet he thinks highly of “Mishkan T’filah.”

“It’s a very inviting text,” he said. “Part of what sets it apart from previous [siddurs] is its willingness to engage in classical language and its attempt to become a more standardized prayer book for Reform Jews. I see this as a real triumph for the Reform movement."

The Conservative movement’s siddur, “Sim Shalom,” was first published in 1985 and has been revised twice since then.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the article including a random quote from an Orthodox rabbi (relevance?) but since he doesn't use it as an opportunity to bash anybody, I think I can live with it:
The Orthodox movement uses a variety of prayer books, such as those published by Artscroll, the siddurs of choice San Francisco Orthodox shul, Adath Israel. Rabbi Josh Strulowitz jokes that his siddur hasn’t been revised in a thousand years.

“What might change is the commentaries on the [Torah],” he said. “They might modernize the translation or occasionally add something new, like the prayer for the state of Israel, but nothing groundbreaking. That’s a big part of what we are. We modernize the interpretation and understanding, but we don’t change the text.”

That 1,000-year reference is not arbitrary. It wasn’t until the 10th century C.E. that the prayer language found in most siddurs became fixed. For centuries prior to that, prayer was led by the shaliach tzibur — or messenger of the community — who provide the voice of public prayer, sometimes extemporaneously.

Hmm. Could that be a hidden dig at the rabbi? Nah. Couldn't be. They leave that stuff to folks like me.

I'm glad R. Strulowitz is good-humored about this (as opposed to some Orthodox triumphalists I could name), but I still can't help but wonder if an article about a largely Orthodox issue- like an eruv or shmitta- would have included a token quote from a Reform rabbi. Oh well. Diversity and all that.

1 comment:

Sam said...

The [prayers contained in the] ArtScroll siddur haven't changed in a thousand years? Bull Shit!

This deserves a long rant. Soon.