Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A conversation

Blog friend Antigonos wrote in:

Dear Friar Yid,

Every time I want to comment, after writing all my profound comments, and clicking "Post", Blogger informs me I can't comment unless I open an account with them. Since I have one already, this is a problem. Moreover, Blogger erases what I've just written!

So I have to write to you directly.

As regards your post about differences in siddurim, there are several reasons for this. Eastern European Jews did not [and do not] all use the same nusach. There are differences between Nusach Sefard [NOT Sephardi] and Nusach Ashkenaz. One of the biggies is in the responses of the Kedusha on Shabbat Shacharit and Musaf, but there are a lot of little ones, which may account for some lines being included and others left out. [Just to complicate things, my local shul davvens Ashkenaz for ordinary Shabbatot, but Sefard for hagim. Why? "That's the way my father did" is the answer. You would think that now that there is an official Nusach Israel, we'd use it, but no]

The "savri" introduction to the Birkat Hamazon is used when three adult males are benching together. In fact, the introduction becomes more and more elaborate as the number of men reciting Birkat Hamazon increases. The Artscroll siddur explains this, although not why it is so. In fact, the Artscroll siddur is a good reference work for comparison study, with standard Orthodox explanations and many of the halachot associated with davvening. [The use of "Hashem" for God drives me crazy after a while, but I think that's because one of Israel's loonier pop groups used the term in a rock song] The Birkat Hamazon, btw, also has variant lines between the nusachim, in this case between the Mizrachi and Ashkenaz versions.

As to the Song of Songs, the rabbis had a tough time deciding whether to put such an obviously erotic book into the Tanach at all. They weren't alone in insisting that it was an allegory: the Catholic Church insists that it is a dialogue between Christ as bridegroom and the Church as bride, and religious orders such as the Carmelites who tend to mysticism use it a great deal to symbolize the relationship of the soul to Christ. Yes, to us it all seems rather absurd. I'm sure that, at bottom, the rabbis knew the real meaning of the book: after all, it is recited on Friday nights when married couples perform the mitzvah of having relations if they can.

I LIKE the Artscroll editions, even when some of the rabbinical commentary verges on the absurd. I hear the new Koren prayerbooks, with translations and commentary by the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, are very good. The classic Orthodox approach has got to be the benchmark by which all the other streams of Judaism are measured. I think I've written this before. I can remember when my mother, who was an on-again, off-again Reform synagogue member, "discovered" Havdala in an adult education course. She'd never ever even heard of it. This is one of the big reasons I have relatively little time for Reform: reinterpreting Havdala, yes -- even writing a modern version, but not junking it altogether. The function of Havdala is marking the boundary between sacred and profane time, just as lighting Sabbath candles does. The Reform does seem to see that they have been throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and are backtracking on this, to a point, by reintroducing "quaint" customs--but after 3 or 4 generations grew up without the slightest idea of them, it is a struggle.

Do you know the Yiddish meaning of "friar" [freier]? It means "a sucker". Did you intend your soubriquet to give that impression? I don't think you are one.

-Antigonos


Hi Antigonos,

First of all, thanks so much for your comments! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

Regarding Blogger and its mysterious ways, I must admit I'm a little stumped. When I comment in Blogger, I get a window that looks like this:

If I'm logged in under a different account (like my home email), I always just click on the Name/URL option and it lets me write my e-handle in manually. Some readers like Conservative Apikoros also use the "Anonymous" option and then sign their replies with their name. Do you get a different window?

Thanks for your notes about siddurim and the Birkat. I understand some of the rationale but I guess I'm still just slightly irked that the Conservative movement dropped the ball on this one. I have an old Artscroll siddur lying around and it's a good idea to grab it for some comparison study; if it's got anything, it's got commentary.

Ah, the Song of Songs. Yes, while I'm sympathetic to the inclination to try to improve on the pshat by adding some extra levels of meaning, at a certain point I think the rabbis doth protest too much-- and Artscroll's "translation" has that in spades.

I have heard good things about Koren, too. My dilemma is that since our Hebrew reading is still in baby step mode, I'm having a hard time justifying getting a siddur that neither Mrs. Yid nor I will be able to use. Hopefully at some point down the line we won't need transliteration, but that day isn't here yet.

I agree with you that throwing babies out with bathwater is generally a pretty terrible idea; but given that it's now several generations since Reform struck out on its own and has been steadily making its way back to some form of ritual awareness, if not strictly observance, it's hard for me to bash them too hard. All the Reform services I've been to have seemed to take Havdalah pretty seriously and everyone there seemed to know what it was. I think that though specific liturgy may still be hazy, the general knowledge level about ritual has gone up since the heydays of High Reform. Obviously it's not perfect, but it's better than it used to be. (Mrs. Yid and I tend to prefer fairly traditional services, albeit in egalitarian settings.)

I've heard the Freier=sucker line before, but my understanding is that that's the Israeli gloss on it. The Yiddish meaning, as I originally read it in Robert Eisenberg's Boychicks in the Hood (one of the first books on Judaism I found as a teenager) was "an uninvolved Jew," that is, not Reform, not Conservative, just "free," unaffiliated. In fact the precursor to this blog was a series of mini-essays I wrote in college (most of which never saw the light of day) that I had some grand plan of self-publishing as "Letters from a Freier Yid" about why so many Jews, especially young folks, were staying unaffiliated in the Twenty-First century. As I became interested in blogging, I also decided to change the spelling to be a little less jarring on the eyes. And, wouldn't you know it, there was already an English version for me to co-opt.

Though it's been over ten years since I first read Boychicks (agh! time!), I'm still unaffiliated with any particular movement, and, from an Orthodox POV, still "frei," in both the sense that I am not particularly observent by Orthodox standards, and that I don't consider myself to be specifically "obligated" by halacha. I see it as more of a cultural inheritance to be accessed as the want or need arises.

Ironically, in the Israeli context in which a freier is someone that stands in line, follows rules and generally does what they're told, yes, I would be considered a freier. For me the 614th mitzvah is "thou shalt not be a jerk in public." One more strike against aliyah, I suppose.

1 comment:

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually your 614th mitzvah is already in the top 613. We are commanded to sanctify God's name in public and Chazal say this means through good behaviour that will lead people to comment positively (Yoma 86b)