Do Not Adjust Your Machzor! It’s Not a Mistake
With Mishkan HaNefesh, the new Reform machzor, reaching the public for the first time, it is natural that some of the differences between its Hebrew text and Gates of Repentance will confuse some readers. The purpose of this blog, and others to follow, is to explain the differences. They are not mistakes.
For instance, Gates of Repentance, includes the declaration HaMelekh HaYosheiv shortly before the Bar’chu, an apt statement for the Days of Awe. Ironically, such words are also found in the Shabbat liturgy. The more appropriate rendering for the Days of Awe is HaMelekh Yosheiv. There is something more immediate about this declaration. It reminds me of Rabbi Alan Lew (z”l) who entitled his book on the Days of Awe, This is Real and You are Totally Unprepared. Mishkan HaNefesh restores this more
traditional statement, dropping the second definite marker.
Another change deals with the words said at the beginning of the Selichot prayers on Yom Kippur. We are accustomed to asking God for forgiveness, although we are not stiff-necked to deny our culpability. This makes no sense. It’s like observing that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Of course you can. The proper statement is, “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.” Likewise, the declaration should be “We are so stiff-necked.” That’s why we are in need of forgiveness. Hence, the Hebrew now reads, “Anachnu azei fanim….” and not “She-ein anachnu azei fanim.” We have removed the illogical “ein” [not].
Our correction actually reflects the version in the 9th century Seder Rav Amram. The original Amram version says, “We are in fact so stiff necked as to maintain that we are righteous and have not sinned, but we have sinned.” In other words, we are actually so arrogant as to want to maintain the fiction of being perfectly righteous and never sinning, but actually, we really have sinned. It then follows naturally that we should confess.
Rabbi Larry Hoffman, a great source of help on matters such as this gap between logic and our received tradition, suspects the additional word, “ein,” [not] crept in over time because people were hesitant to say that we are indeed all that arrogant. They preferred saying “we are not so arrogant” as to maintain that we have not sinned.
The editors and proofreaders consulted many different machzorim, noting variants in the text. In many cases, the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh have followed the Ernst Daniel Goldschmidt version of the traditional machor when there have been questions of the best text to use. Goldschmidt (1895–1972) was a liturgical scholar who created what are considered authoritative critical editions of liturgical texts including the machzor. These changes may also cause some confusion for readers of Mishkan HaNefesh, especially in relation to Gates of Repentance. Each of these choices reflects the desire on the part of the editors to render the most faithful version of the tradition.
So back to mistakes. Yes, there surely are some mistakes in Mishkan HaNefesh. We used some of the top, most thorough Hebrew-English proofreaders in the country. Even so, the new machzor is a human endeavor and as such, it is necessarily imperfect. As with every book, we will correct mistakes in subsequent printing. But much of what might at first glance seem like a mistake is in fact a careful, intentional choice.
Edwin Goldberg, D.H.L., is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh, the new CCAR machzor.