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☞   Liturgical traditions

Musical Liturgy and Traditions of Colonial American Jews

Early American Jewry’s liturgies and rituals were conducted in a western Sephardi tradition which had developed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Amsterdam. Although most of the members of the first American Jewish communities were of Spanish and Portuguese origins, their worship evolved in the style of the Dutch Sepharadim. These oral transmissions led to adaptations and variations but Sephardi ḥazzanim (cantors) succeeded in passing their repertoire down to succeeding generations. These tunes are still identified with the American Sephardi tradition. . . .

להבין את התפלה | Rav Amram Gaon’s letter to Rav Yitzḥok b. Shimon of Sepharad, circa 9th century

The opening letter of Rav Amram to a community in Spain from his 9th century order of prayer (Seder Rav Amram Gaon). . . .

Reconstruction of a Greek text of the Shabbat Amidah preserved in the Constitutiones Apostolorum (circa 380 CE), by Dr. David Fiensy

This is a reconstruction of a sabbath liturgy for the Tefillah of the Amidah, at least in some variant of its public recitation, in Greek and preserved in an early Christian work, the Constitutiones Apostolorum (Apostolic Constitutions), a Christian work compiled around 380 CE in Syria. Several prayers derived from Jewish sources appear in the Apostolic Constitutions and they can be found grouped together and labeled “Greek” or “Hellenistic Syanagogal Works” in collections of apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. Because explicitly Christian references appeared to be added onto a pre-existing text with familiar Jewish or “Old Testament” themes and references, scholars in the late 19th century were already suggesting that as many as 16 of the prayers in the Apostolic Constitutions books 7 and 8 were derived from Jewish prayers. A more modern appraisal was made by Dr. Fiensy and published in Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish (Scholars Press 1985). Based on a careful analysis of the prayers, he concludes that the only prayers which can be identified as Jewish with certainty are those found in sections 33-38 of book 7. . . .

Adventures in Ancient Jewish Liturgy: the Birkat Kohanim

The earliest artifacts recording Jewish liturgy (or for that matter any Hebrew formulation found in the Torah) are two small silver amulets, discovered in 1979 by Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay. He discovered the amulets in a burial chamber while excavating in Ketef Hinnom, a section of the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem’s Old City. The inscriptions on these amulets conclude with parts of the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing), the three-part blessing in which the Kohanim are instructed to bless the people of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27. The script in the amulets dates them approximately to the reign of King Yoshiyahu (late 7th or early 6th century BCE) predating the Nash papyrus, and the earliest of the Dead Sea Scrolls by four centuries. . . .

Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer, by Rabbi Dr. Seth Kadish (1997)

A comprehensive treatment on the praxis of Jewish prayer. . . .

תהלים כז | A D’var Tefillah on Zombies, Elul, and Psalms 27 by Rabbi Jessica Minnen

As the month of Elul wanes, we are preparing. We prepare for the new moon, we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, and we prepare for the zombie invasion. I have it on good authority, as do you, that the onslaught is imminent. The alarm blares every morning — a shofar blast and a warning… . . .

בלוס פון חלה | How the Grateful Dead, Jewish Text, and Worship Explain One Another and Raise Interesting Questions, by Virginia Spatz

I believe that even those who actively dislike the Grateful Dead, or always happily ignored them, will find ideas worth considering in this comparison. “I guess they can’t revoke your soul for trying.” – Robert Hunter Some years ago, my husband and I dragged our kids (then 11 and 13) to see the Dead. The kids asked why the folks in the parking lot were staying outside, even though the concert was scheduled to start: “How do they know when to go inside? Or, is the band waiting for them?” My husband, a non-Jew, noted that he was often similarly mystified by worship services: “How do they know when to it’s time for….?” Not long after that I was part of a small havurah gathering waiting for a minyan, and we got to talking about when we might expect various regulars. This started me thinking about when, how and why Jews show up to services. I realized my husband’s sentiment about worship services – like my kids befuddlement about Dead concerts – is shared by many Jews, even regular service-goers…. Over the years, I’ve been thinking about ways that Jewish text and worship and the Grateful Dead parallel one another. The result is this chart. . . .

עשרה בטבת | The Tenth of Tevet on a Friday: Can one fast half a day? by Rabbi Ethan Tucker (Mechon Hadar, Center for Jewish Law and Values)

Asarah B’Tevet (10th of Tevet) is one of the minor fast days in the Jewish calendar. Mechon Hadar’s Rabbi Ethan Tucker provides an overview of the various halakhic issues that are raised by a fasting on a Friday due to the upcoming Shabbat – how do we balance the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem in 6th century BCE, which our fasting commemorates, with the joy of Shabbat? . . .

על הניסים ליום העצמאות | Al Hanissim for Yom ha’Atsmaut: Theological and Liturgical Reflections, by Yehonatan Chipman (2003)

Every year on Yom ha-Atzmaut I feel a certain sense of frustration about its liturgy, and the failure of Religious Zionism to shape the holiday into one that would make a clear and definite religious statement. The “festive” prayer for Yom ha-Atzmaut is a hotchpotch of Yom Kippur, Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat Mevarkhim, and Pesaḥ. One gets a sense that there is an avoidance of hard issues. Even such a simple thing as saying Hallel with a blessing is not yet self-evident, but a subject of constant debate. Every year, there seem to be more leading rabbis, who adopt crypto-Ḥaredi stances, issuing pronunciamentos as to why one must not enter into the doubt of saying a brakha levatala, an unnecessary blessing, in this case. (As I was typing these words, I was interrupted by a phone call from a friend with this very question!) Bimhila mikvodam (no affront to the honor due them intended), but what on earth do they think the Talmud is talking about when it says that “On every occasion that Israel are in distress and then delivered, they are to recite the Hallel” (Pesaḥim 116a), if not the likes of Yom ha-Atzmaut? . . .

הגדה לסדר פסח | The Ritual of the Seder and the Agada of the English Jews Before the Expulsion (1287)

Jacob b. Jehuda of London, the author of that valuable contribution to the literary side of Anglo-Jewish history, the Talmudical compendium Etz Chaim, so providentially rescued and preserved for us, never dreamt, when he noted down, in the year 1287, the Ritual and Agada of the Seder Nights according to English usage, that he was fixing a permanent picture of what was doomed to destruction, and was recording not a mere portion of the liturgy, but a page of Jewish history. Faithfully copying his great prototype, Maimonides, the English Chazan also embodied in his work the texts of the Recitations on the Seder Nights in the form customary among his countrymen, and appended the correlated rites according to Minhag England. . . .

Rules of Etiquette for Public Prayer, by Isaac Seligman Baer (1868)

The impetus for writing this monograph came from a long-time observation that most worshipers and, by extension Shalechei Tzibur [prayer leaders], are either generally unaware of certain basic Laws regarding Public Prayer and Conduct in the Synagogue or simply lax in their proper observance. As such, I felt that there is a need to refresh in the minds of the general public certain fundamental regulations in these areas. I have chosen to translate the prefatory pages relating to these matters from the classic Siddur Avodas Yisroel by Dr. Seligmann Baer, published in Rödelheim in 1868. His summary is terse, yet comprehensive, and very closely aligned with the accepted Halochoh. Although, in those instances where there is a difference from commonly accepted practice and custom, I have tried to augment his text with instructions found in the popular Siddur Tefilas Kol Peh (TKP, Shaliach Tzibur edition, published by Eshkol, Jerusalem, and which was prepared in accordance with the Mishne Berura) and other sources. . . .

It’s All Greek To Me–Praying in Languages Other than Hebrew (sourcesheet) by R’ Ethan Tucker

Language is simultaneously a portal and a barrier to prayer. Jews have prayed in Hebrew for millennia, yet our oldest sources also speak of prayer in other languages. Come explore the history of the language of prayer, how our linguistic preferences define what prayer is about, and how we might approach this issue today. . . .

Feminist Influences on Jewish Liturgy: The Case of Israeli Reform Prayer (2009)

In Israel, the Reform movement, which is called the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), dates back to the 1950s, but a serious concern for women’s role in liturgy is a relatively recent development, namely since the last decade of the 20st century. This paper examines the modes of liturgical change with regard to the role and presentation of women in Jewish ritual and worship within Israel: what they do to regain their voice[s] through worship and how they are depicted in contemporary liturgies. Today, gender-related issues are among the most heated issues faced by contemporary liberal, non-Orthodox Jews; discussions on the subject dominate the religious and academic spheres as well as the socio-cultural arena. This paper is based upon the assumption that the Israeli case is a distinct one compared to the North American treatment of gender in the liturgy, because Hebrew is not only the liturgical language, but also the vernacular for Israeli Jews. This makes it much harder to change liturgy, as it is perceived as holy matter. Another unique aspect of the Israeli liberal liturgy is the fact that it operates in a rather conservative religious environment: both Orthodox and secular Jews in Israel are less prone to experimental approaches toward liturgy and ritual. . . .

The Limits of Liturgical Change: selections of halakhic discourse with translations by Rav Ethan Tucker (sourcesheet)

A sourcesheet on the halakhic opinions and attitudes towards praying in languages besides Hebrew. . . .

נֻסְחָאוֹת | A Historical Map of Jewish Liturgical Influence and Variation, by Aharon Varady after Joseph Heinemann

Maps showing the relationship between the nusḥaot are quite helpful to us. The Open Siddur Project is seeking to digitize all the extant nusḥaot witnessed in siddurim and other manuscripts, in order to show the evolution of individual prayers and blessings. This will helpfully represent at least the textual diversity of Jewish spiritual expression in the many geographically dispersed Jewish communities over the past three thousand years. I also hope that representing this diversity in t’fillah will be an inspiration to individuals engaging in davvening as an intellectually engaged and creative discourse speaking across generations. The extent to which we’ll be able to realize this vision will be limited to how many source texts we’ll be able to identify, transcribe, and share with open standards and free culture licenses. Seeing that the design of the map appearing in Hoffman’s book left much to be desired, I redesigned it for clarity while adding some additional nusḥaot. I hope that the following map based on Joseph Heinemann’s work will help inspire fellow researchers to contribute to this project. . . .

Concerning Intolerance of New Practices in Jewish Prayer, by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1989)

It is the responsibility of leadership in every generation to remove stumbling blocks from paths provided for seekers of Hashem. The needs of the faith community have dramatically changed. In our generation, many of the paths to Heaven that used to work very well in the past, don’t work any more. Why is that? For several reasons: . . .