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High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

The Book With No Music

In September of 2014 a children’s book was published called “The Book with No Pictures.” At first glance, the book probably should have been a flop, but it certainly wasn’t. From the time that publishers could mass produce books with artwork, there probably hasn’t been a book for young children on the market that hasn’t had some kind of pictures. Walk into a children’s bookstore today and it is hard to find anything that in addition to colorful artwork, does not feature some accompanying CD, sound effect buttons, pop-ups, textures, toys, celebrity characters, or other gimmicks to help entice children to engage with books and their families to purchase them. But this book, in addition to having no pictures or characters whatsoever, has no story line and is simply a bunch of hilarious nonsense words and phrases for the reader to say: words like “Blork,” “Bluuurf,” and “Glibbity Globbity.” So how could it have been possible for a silly children’s book of this kind to become a New York Times #1 bestseller?

A video was circulated on the internet featuring the author of the book, B.J. Novak, an actor and stand-up comedian, reading his book to a group of children. The video featured their hilarious reactions to his reading, thereby proving that a children’s book does not need any pictures at all to be successful. The video went viral, garnering millions of views and the book became an instant bestseller. So what was the key to B.J. Novak’s remarkable success? Was it a clever viral marketing campaign? That surely didn’t hurt. Was it B.J. Novak’s celebrity status? I don’t think so. Was it the content? Probably not. Or could it have been because the book was developed to highlight the relationship between the reader of the book and the audience, and the storytelling, rather than placing too much emphasis upon the contents of the book? Now we could be on to something.

The CCAR’s new High Holy Day machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, took countless hours of time, thought, and resources to develop. The process involved many of our leading rabbinical minds, cantorial voices, and lay leaders collaborating over the course of many years. Because of this, many of us believe that these books have the capacity to shape an entire era of worship and religious thought, so it is particularly important what content is ultimately included in the book. And yet for the large percentage of Jews that only attends a Reform worship service once or twice upon the High Holidays, regardless of what language is used, what commentary is offered, or how the fonts or paginations appear, the prayers on the page may often seem nearly as foreign and nonsensical to the average Jew as the words in B.J. Novak’s book. This is similar to the idea in Dr. Ron Wolfson’s premise of Relational Judaism, where he argues that instead of investing in programming, congregations should strive to invest in building lasting relationships with congregants. We now have an opportunity to highlight the relationship between the readers of the machzor and their congregations. Now that Mishkan HaNefesh is published, we can focus more upon the relationships that are forged between congregants, clergy, and liturgy through the telling of the story.

Just as we publish new prayer books with new language to relate to each generation of worshippers, so too is music for worship continually evolving. This is why the making of new music for Mishkan HaNefesh is so important and why Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh, the musical companion to Mishkan HaNefeshis such a timely publication. Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh is a compilation of High Holy Day music assembled by the American Conference of Cantors from a wide variety of styles and sources that allows for contemporary Jewish composers to give voice to liturgy from our new machzor in innovative, rich, and meaningful ways. The book includes twenty-five exciting new musical settings of liturgy for Mishkan HaNefesh from the Reform movement’s greatest musical artists, including many accomplished cantors and singer-songwriters.

Even Avinu Malkeinu by Max Janowski was met with skepticism and resistance by discerning musical directors of congregations during Janowski’s generation who preferred a more sophisticated musical approach. Yet hardly anyone today could imagine his beautiful and timeless melody being controversial at all. Some of today’s musical innovators have the potential to become standard repertoire for congregations across all movements, but the music needs to be published, shared, and experienced at congregations in order to stand the test of time. Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh offers congregations the opportunity to give new voices a chance to make their way into the lexicon of High Holiday worship. We have read many of the same prayers again and again for generations. Today we have the opportunity to try to retell the same story, only with new voices.

The Torah provides thirteen chapters of vivid detail on the physical description and construction of the Mishkan, and yet there is no account of the kind of music that might have accompanied its sacred rites – not until the Mishnah was published many generations later. We can only imagine what the worship might have sounded like. The Torah, like all ancient oral traditions, was passed down musically, and yet we did not bother to write down the musical patterns until centuries afterwards when cantillation systems were eventually codified and notated. The Torah is our most sacred book, but like Mishkan HaNefesh, it is a book with no music.

This image reminds me of when I met the head of the cantorial school at Hebrew Union College for the first time. On his ornate music stand in his office I found a very distinguished-looking book titled, “All I Know About Cantoring – By Cantor Israel Goldstein.” I opened the book and laughed out loud when I discovered that every single page of it was blank – a gag gift given to him by a friend. It was hilarious and memorable gift, but upon reflection, music can function a bit like that – it can be the sounds that can fill the pages of a blank book, the midrashic stories that can fill in the gaps between the story lines of Torah, or the images that can be evoked in the minds of children who hear a book read to them that has no pictures.

With the publication of Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh, the American Conference of Cantors tries to help us hear how we can retell our same age-old story in new and engaging ways. Not all books need to have pictures or music in them, but many congregations may wish to use this beautiful book as another useful tool for forging relationships between congregants, clergy, and liturgy for this generation and generations to come.

———

Cantor Dan Singer is the Senior Cantor at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. 

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General CCAR High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Rabbis

Opening the Sacred Envelope: The Joy of Seeing Mishkan HaNefesh Being Used

Some weeks ago I was sitting in a synagogue in the Upper East Side of New York on a beautiful May morning, listening to the beautiful words of Rosh HaShanah liturgy set to music during the Hava T’filah seminar for rabbis and cantors. Even the sound of the shofar pierced the air as a clergy team shared their model service with the group. In the very capable hands of the clergy and musicians of Temple Israel, eighty rabbis and cantors had gathered to pray the Rosh Hashanah Evening Service from the new CCAR Machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh. Yes, it was artificial by design. But it was real worship and so it was gratifying to see the book come to life.

Temple IsraelAs has been stated many times, Mishkan HaNefesh calls upon worship leaders to omit much of the service (there is enough material for many years) so that every choice you  make is important. I call this the Trader Joe’s method. If you walk into Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, Chicago, you can get lost – there are way too many choices. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, has just a few items in every category. By design, Mishkan HaNefesh is Whole Foods, offering you many options, but the worship service itself has to be Trader Joe’s. (Do not use this analogy on Yom Kippur).

The experience of the Rosh HaShanah service at Hava T’filah reminded me that the worship experience is very different than just the machzor itself. By all means embrace the machzor when preparing for the Days of Awe. But focus on the experience of the Days of Awe, allowing the machzor to be a sacred implement in your creation of the experience.

The great Bible scholar Uriel Simon once taught, in connection with Joseph, that a dream not interpreted is like an envelope not opened and a letter unread. I would argue that a machzor not employed in worship is the same.

What a pleasure it was to witness this sacred envelope being opened!

 

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High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Introducing Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh: New Music for the High Holy Days

I remember the first moments that I sat in the sanctuary at Temple Beth El of Great Neck and heard my cantor, Barbara Ostfeld, sing the majestic Avinu Malkeinu of Max Janowski for the first time.  With the organ and the choir joining her, I felt the emotion well up inside of me as I realized the impact that this incredible music had on me. I had those same feelings the first time I sang Kol Nidre as a Student Cantor, and of course Max Helfman’s Shema Koleinu at my first full time pulpit.

I still feel the emotion of the music of the High Holy Days each and every time I put on my white robe and stand before the Kahal to intone the majestic and powerful music of the Days of Awe.  It is why I am so proud to have been part of a project to bring new powerful and emotional music to the Reform movement helping to bring to life the beautiful poetry in our new machzor.

After nearly two years of work, the American Conference of Cantors, in partnership with CCAR Press, is proud to present to our movement this book of new compositions for High Holy Day worship.   This book brings musical life to many of the magical new texts found in Mishkan HaNefesh while also bringing musical voice to other traditional texts found in the machzor.  All of us have our favorite melodies for Avinu Malkeynu, or Shema Koleinu….I know that I do.  However, the music contained in Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh provides beautiful alternatives and an opportunity to introduce new musical memories to our communities.  Like the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, the music contained in this volume underscores the central value of Teshuvah, accompanying our journey during the Days of Awe, as together we seek repentance, new direction, and a sense of return to God and the Jewish people.

While I would never try to replace the melodies that are part of my life and my inner soul, I am so excited to join these new and exciting melodies to them thus enriching the musical life of the Jewish people for decades to come.

I look forward to sharing these new melodies with my community this coming High Holy Days and hope you will as well.

———

Cantor Steven Weiss is the project director for Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh and the Vice-President of the American Conference of Cantors.  He also serves Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, MA. 

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Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

The Hebrew Types of Mishkan HaNefesh

Ismar David in his New York studio, 1980s.
Ismar David in his New York studio, 1980s.

We are pleased to share a post from guest-blogger Scott-Martin Kosofsky, who was the designer of Mishkan HaNefesh.

Type design in the 20th century has often been a tug-of-war between two graphic impulses: the typographic style, based upon letterforms that grew out of the metal-casting tradition, and the more freewheeling calligraphic style, based in the ways of the pen. In no script is this more evident than in Hebrew, especially during the years following the founding of the State of Israel.

The original Hadassah type by Henri Friedlaender.
The original Hadassah type by Henri Friedlaender.

The two greatest exemplars of this dichotomy, Henri Friedlaender (1904–1996) and Ismar David (1910–1996), each contributed landmark designs for types, each modern but in different ways, that have been part of our daily Hebraic lives ever since their creation. These are the types “Hadassah” (1959, .named for the Hadassah-Brandeis School of Printing, in Jerusalem, where Friedlaender taught) and the eponymous “David” (1954). Both men were Europeans, David born in Breslau and Friedlaender in Lyon, both were trained calligraphers, and both worked as book designers. Friedlaender’s work experience was, however, more in the direction of typefounding than was David’s, working for a time for the Haag-Drugulin foundry (whose offerings included some very popular Hebrew designs of the 19th century), in Leipzig, and at the Klingspor foundry, in Offenbach, where he came under the influence of the renowned craftsman type designer Rudolf Koch, whose Jewish disciples included the renowned designer Berthold Wolpe.

The David type appeared first in a 12 pt. metal version for the Intertype Corporation, American makers of a linecasting machine that was the rival of Linotype. Several years later it became available on the Photon, the earliest commercially viable phototypesetting system. The design did not include diacritics (the vowels and trope), but it did have a very special feature: a left-slanting “italic” of a singularly gracious design. The idea of a companion italic had ever existed before in Hebrew, though many medieval Ashkenazic scripts were left-leaning. (David also drew a monoline “sans serif” version, though it was not issued commercially in his lifeteime.) For a version of the David types released by Stempel in 1984, for one of its early digital typesetting machines, Ismar David created a limited set of diacritics.

Title page by Ismar David.
Title page by Ismar David.
The original Intertype version of Ismar David’s font “David.” Note the “italic” in the running head.
The original Intertype version of Ismar David’s font “David.” Note the “italic” in the running head.

David, the type, marked a radical break from any Hebrew font that had ever been made before. It is highly calligraphic, light in weight, with finely nuanced strokes. Israeli designers took to it slowly, but one event gave it a hechsher that propelled it into extraordinary popularity: its use by Dr. Moshe Spitzer for the 1960 Tarshish edition of S.Y. Agnon’s Kelev Chutzot (“A Stray Dog”), one of the most beautiful books ever made in the State of Israel. Overnight it became the choice for belletristic works and, especially, poetry. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, David would become available in a variety of digital forms, of varying degrees of fidelity to the design. What made it truly universal was its inclusion, for free, with Microsoft’s Windows software, making it a default choice for many uses. Sadly, the italic was not included with these versions; Israelis have preferred, instead (and oddly), to use the automatic “italic” button on various applications to create an artificially inclined letter—to the right, the default setting for the Latin alphabet. The Microsoft version (which is licensed from Monotype) includes all the nikkudot and taamim, though their positioning does not function properly. Moreover, the design of David, which was conceived for Modern Hebrew, has some particularly narrow letters (typical of Modern Hebrew), such as gimel and nun, which make the fitting of biblical diacritics very difficult. The design isn’t well-suited to setting very small type. Where the electronic versions of the David types often fail is in overly tight, poorly balanced spacing, with word spaces that are far larger than they need to be.

David was the type used by the CCAR for its Mishkan T’filah siddur. When I was approached by the CCAR to design the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, one of the first discussions was about the Hebrew type. The CCAR wanted something distinctive, something its own, but a type that would relate somehow to the David type, so that the new machzor would retain a familial similarity with the siddur. Two other facets of the Mishkan T’filah design were to be retained, as well: the navigation bars on the outside margins and the fundamental layout of Hebrew texts and translations in mirror columns. The narrow gimel and nun aside, the David font is too wide for this kind of setting—it needs space to work well A narrower type, one with fewer idiosyncrasies, would be preferable, though it would have to be wide enough to accommodate the full battery of diacritics, as there would be Tanakh segments in the book.

David, as it appears in CCAR's Mishkan T'filah
David, as it appears in CCAR’s Mishkan T’filah
The six weights of Shlomo
The six weights of Shlomo

No such type existed, so I would have to make a new one, as I had done for the Conservative Mahzor Lev Shalem, which I also designed and produced. (It was published in 2010.) Beginning with some of the letter shapes of David, it occurred to me right away that the new type should be called “Shlomo,” the Hebrew name of Solomon, son of King David. As often happens with such inspirations, the new work quickly took a form of its own. The majority of Hebrew letters are square and it is for that reason that its print form (i.e., non-cursive) is called m’ruba (“square”).

How much narrower could it be made and still have space for the diacritics? About 85% is what I determined after a series of experiments, though the nikkud and taamim would have to be on the small side if decent proportions were to kept. That seemed to be a reasonable compromise, as most people who read liturgical and biblical Hebrew use the diacritics as mnemonics. The key to making any typeface easy to read is its internal spacing, and in the case of Shlomo great attention was given to this important aspect of its reader-friendliness. I made Shlomo in several weights and in versions suited to specific sizes. This allows it to be read clearly in the small versions used in the notes at the bottom of the page and in the navigation bars at the right margin of right-hand pages.

The Hillel type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as used in Mishkan HaNefesh.
The Hillel type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as used in Mishkan HaNefesh.
Ashkenazic letterforms.
Ashkenazic letterforms.

Shlomo, like David, should be classified as a Sephardic design, the general typology that dominates the majority of Hebrew types, and has dominated it since the earliest Hebrew types were made in the 15th century. The Ashkenazic style, with its greater differentiation of thick and thin strokes (the result of its origin as a letter drawn with a quill pen as opposed to the Sephardic predilection for reed pens) came to the fore only in the 19th century, as exemplified by the types made for the Vilna publishing house of Romm, publishers of the editions of Talmud that are still regarded as the standard. But these were as much a product of the prevailing European fashion for Latin types with exaggerated thick and thin strokes (the so-called “Classical” style, as exemplified by the types of Giambattista Bodoni) as they were a reference to the Ashkenazic letters of old. It was during the late Middle Ages that Ashkenazic letterforms reached their apogee, when they were a Hebrew counterpart to the Gothic Latin letters of Europe. The Hadassah type and its offspring Milon, the type I made for the Rabbinical Assembly, are Ashkenazic designs, even though the lack the thick-thin characteristic. This lessening of contrast while keeping the basic Ashkenazic shapes was the essence of Henri Friedlaender’s contribution.

The Milon type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as in Siddur Lev Shalem.
The Milon type by Scott-Martin Kosofsky, as in Siddur Lev Shalem.

I have a great fondness for Ashkenazic letterforms, so when the CCAR was looking for a contrasting type for special headlines in the machzor, such as the recurrent Sh’ma and the shofar blasts and the section titles, I suggested that we use a type I made some years ago, a classic Ashkenazic letter based on 14th-century manuscripts. I called the type Hillel, in honor of Harvard Hillel, for whom I first made a version of it for use as titles in The Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook (1992). For Mishkan HaNefesh, I reworked the design considerably and made for it a full set of diacritics, including the cantillation trope. Not only is Hillel used for these

back cover of the Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook, which shows the earlier version of the Hillel type. (Note the odd form of bet.)
back cover of the Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook, which shows the earlier version of the Hillel type. (Note the odd form of bet.)special purposes within the machzor, it is also used on the cover. I hope to one day have the opportunity to make a text version of these noble letters.

special purposes within the machzor, it is also used on the cover. I hope to one day have the opportunity to make a text version of these noble letters.

 

 

Scott-Martin Kosofky designs, produces, edits, composes, writes, and makes types for books in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he is a partner in The Philidor Company. His specialties are complex typographic books, advanced typography for liturgical and biblical Hebrew, and interesting image-based books, with occasional forays into music, art, and graphic design.

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High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

It Is Up to Us: An Alternative Aleinu in Mishkan HaNefesh

There I was, standing next to the Palestinian man when I said “Thank God I’m not like you.”  But it felt wrong and degrading.  While it was a part of the traditional Aleinu I had been saying for years, I had spent all day with this man and others, along with my fellow HUC students (back in 2004), trying to build bridges of understanding between our two peoples.  After a day of discussing and debating, and most importantly, just hanging out, we invited this group of interested but reserved Palestinians to join us in maariv (our evening prayer service).  The fact that many of them understood Hebrew gave me a new perspective when going through our prayers, especially when we got to Aleinu.

I’ve always had trouble with the traditional words of Aleinu.  And a look at Mishkan Tfilah, with the 3 other alternatives, suggests I’m not the only one.  It was written in a time when one of the few ways Jews could fight back against persecution and discrimination was liturgically.  It helped us to feel better about our lot by thanking God for not making us like them.  But times are different now.  We are one of the most successful minorities on the planet.  And while there are still trouble spots and incidents, the perspective and tone of the traditional Aleinu, even before it was acutely raised in my consciousness during services following our mock “peace talks”, troubled me.

After all, there are a number of examples of Reform liturgists crafting or re-writing prayers to maintain their basic structure and context, but to reshape their phrasing.  For example, in nissim bchol yom, we no longer say “Thank you for not making me a slave” but “Thank you for making me free.”  We no longer say “Thank you for not making me a woman” but “Thank you for making me a man/woman.”  They are positive reframing of negative statements. Certainly the Aleinu could take this same approach: thank God for who we are as Jews, rather than for not being like everyone else.

The trouble with the existing alternative Aleinus was they were fairly awkward to say.  We instinctively wanted to use the traditional chanted melody (i.e. Sulzer), but the words didn’t quite fit.  Plus, there were times when the community was saying the traditional version, and I wanted to say an alternative, and the auditory dissonance was too much for me.  So, I set about writing a new alternative, which both fit to the traditional melody and proclaimed my thanks for our unique role in the world.

Medwin-Alternative-Aleinu-MhNAs I see it, two of the most important roles Jews play are: (1) as stewards and guardians of the Earth, as seen in the Garden of Eden and the midrash which has God giving Adam a tour of the whole world and ends with “take care of the Earth, for if it is destroyed, there is no one after you to repair it.”  And (2) as messengers of the teachings and morals of Torah to the world.  Additionally, while we are a unique people, the reality is that our destiny is intertwined with the other peoples of the world.  For example, global climate change doesn’t just effect some people; it effects all of us.  We live scattered around the world, our lives intertwined with others.

And so, when the editors of the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, wanted to include my alternative Aleinu, paired with a new translation by Rabbi Shelly Marder, I was both honored and humbled. Symbolically it is very powerful, since Aleinu as a prayer began in High Holy Day liturgy, and from there made its way into the daily service.  To have my Aleinu be a part of something so powerful and reflective of the current state of Jewish life, is such a blessing.  In this new machzor there is truly something for everyone, and I pray that my alternative Aleinu can be that something for many Jews, for years to come.

Rabbi Dan Medwin is the Publishing Technology Manager at CCAR. 

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High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Rabbis

Inside Mishkan HaNefesh: Doing it Right or Doing it Well?

At one point in the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore lets Harry know that there will come a time when he has to choose between what is right and what looks easy.  The point he is making is that Voldemort chose the easy over the right; of course Harry should do the opposite.  The right choice is clearly the moral one.

When it comes to the creation of Mishkan HaNefesh, the editors were instructed by Rabbi Larry Hoffman to consider a different choice, but one that will have its detractors on either side.  In short, when it comes to relevant liturgy we have to choose between doing it right or doing it well.  As explained in his piece in the summer 2013 CCAR Journal, rightness is about following the rules.  Doing it well is responding to the experience of the worshiper.  Of course, the alterations from the rules need not be radical.  We don’t need to declare Et laasot l’adonai and for the sake of God overturn everything, but we must practice common sense.

I thought of this as I remembered looking at the traditional Yom Kippur liturgy and omitting countless repetitions of the Thirteen Midot.  Now, I think the Thirteen Midot are about as fundamental a text to the Days of Awe as anything.  I am just okay not having it repeat more than five or six times in a given day.

What are some more subtle examples of how the editors omitted sometimes important prayers in order to privilege more important pieces?  Understanding that there is a limit to how much any given volume can contain, as well as our commitment to an integrated theology along with two-page spreads, the choices were not easy but they were necessary.  So for instance, the Torah services in Mishkan HaNefesh omit some verses such as Ki Mitzion.  We have nothing against this declaration.  We just needed to cut somewhere.  The same was true of Gates of Repentance.  They cut out Genesis 21.  We were not prepared to lose that again.

We also don’t have the full traditional verses of the Sh’ma everytime.  There are many beautiful piyyutim that are not included.  The Torah and Haftarah portions feature very limited commentary.  We would like to offer more in a supplemental book.

Not including things is not easy.  We take comfort in knowing that many congregations will avail themselves of screen technology, if not today then in the future, and omissions can be corrected on the screens, or with the old standby, handouts.  It is not ideal but then we could only produce a sacred tool to help present effective and meaningful worship.  There will never be a “just add water” prayer book.

An old sermon title has a great name: “Steering or Drifting, Which?” The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh wrestled with a different but potent dilemma, “Doing it Right or Doing it Well, Which?”  It is an art, not a science, and we are humbled by the task.

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.

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Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Inside Mishkan HaNefesh: A Letter to My Younger Self

What follows is a hypothetical letter written after this coming Yom Kippur to myself.

Dear Myself from Three Months Ago,

As I munch my Yom Kippur break-the-fast madeleine, I recall the past ten days with joy that so much about praying with the new machzor went well.  But I also feel some regret, and a bit of the subjunctive mood sits in.  If only I had known three months ago, when preparing for the Days of Awe, what I now have discovered having used it.  So I am writing this to you in hopes that, through some wrinkle in the space-time continuum, you get this before it is too late and can prepare properly.

Here are Ten Things, in no particular order, I wish I had known about Mishkan HaNefesh before these High Holy Days:

  • The Hashkiveinu in the evening services restores Shomreinu to Malkeinu. After all this is the time of year for the sovereign side of God to be highlighted.
  • The Kaddish restores the High Holy Day ul-eila mikol. It’s the same matter of privileging the transcendent as above.
  • The Uvchein restores the image of the Sparks of David, not as a literal progenitor of the Messiah but a symbol of messianic hope.
  • The Kaddish Yatom inclues now kol yoshvei teiveil, in keeping with our historic Reform value of universalism and in recognition of the worth of all humanity.
  • HaMelech HaYosheiv is now correctly HaMelech Yosheiv, the proper phrasing for the High Holy Days.
  • Page 207 of Yom Kippur has Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire as a commentary to Unetaneh Tokef.
  • Page 243 of Rosh Hashanah adds to the Akedah verses about Abraham’s brother’s great progeny back in the old country. This is another test of Abraham’s faith.  He sacrificed everything for one son, whereas Nahor stayed put and was blessed with so many.
  • There is a great midrash (Pesikta drav Kahana 24:1) on Cain repenting and receiving a reduction in punishment from God.
  • Page 607 of Yom Kippur features a great transition from Yizkor to N’ilah:

Set me as a seal (chotam) upon your heart, for love is strong as deathSong of Songs 8:6Love stronger than death leads to the “seal” motif of N’ilah.

  • The Prayer for Our Country for Canada contains French.

Bonus Insight: The Al Cheyts are different than in GOR.  Wish I had known that!

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is the rabbi of  Temple Sholom of Chicago and is one of the editors of Mishkan HaNefesh

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High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Why Is the Shofar Service in Three Sections in Mishkan HaNefesh?

With Mishkan HaNefesh now close to being published, the decision regarding the Shofar sections made by the editors many years ago, and piloted for many a season, is naturally coming under review by colleagues.  The responses range from, “So excited” to “Wait, what is going on with the shofar service?”  It therefore seemed like a good time to review why we made this choice and why it has been so popular in the piloting – and why you should be excited about it.

As you will see when you open Mishkan HaNefesh, each service has a certain theme that we focus on throughout the liturgy.  The point is not to reduce a complex, theologically rich and poetically vibrant worship service to a slogan.  We do wish to privilege a certain message, however, because there are certain themes that ground the worship service.  As an example, if you can reduce a sermon to one essential sentence (which many homiletics professors suggest) that does not mean the rest of the sermon is redundant verbiage.IMG_2402

Early on in the creation of the machzor, the editors looked at Rosh HaShanah morning and decided that there is a particular symbolic act that permeates the whole morning.  Like synecdoche in literature, the one thing represents something far greater.  For us – and quite possible for you – that is the sounding of the shofar.  But it is more than the sound; it is the liturgy surrounding the shofar sounding.  And more in particular, it is the tripartite themes of malchyuot (Sovereignty), zichronot (Remembrance) and shofarot.

Reform Judaism did away with the musaf service on Rosh HaShanah (and everywhere else) long ago but kept the practice of the three shofar sections.  The editors of Mishkan HaNefesh realized that these themes and the sounding of the shofar could be developed and dramatized in a pervasive way by splitting the three sections into three different places in the worship service, each positioned in some logical place.  After experimentation during the piloting phase, we settled on the following: malchuyot would come in the Amidah, following the M’loch declaration.  Zichronot would follow the scriptural readings, including God remembering Sarah and Hannah.  And Shofarot would precede the closing prayers and the redemptive message of the second part of the Aleinu – l’taken olam b’malkhut Shadai.

Dividing the shofar sections means the congregation can spend more time with each theme.  Chevruta, musical selections, min-sermons, iyyunim, much can be innovated.  Or not.  The choice is up to the worship leaders.  One could even decide to feature the three sections one after the other if preferred.

When the editors first introduced this model of separating the three sections of the Shofar liturgy and blasts, it was admittedly met with some skepticism.  Because we were in the early piloting phase at that point, we decided to give it a try and evaluate after the piloting.  The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive about the way in which it impacted on the overall feel, flow, and meaningfulness of the service, even from those who had been the most resistant, that we chose to maintain this innovation.

Mishkan HaNefesh is not so easy for worship leaders not because it restricts choice.  Quite the contrary.  Because there are so many choices. Depending on the choices you make, these three shofar sections can become high points throughout the Rosh HaShanah morning service.

You should know that, in addition to the three shofar sections, the shofar also can be sounded earlier in the service as well as the night before.  These are possible soundings to once again focus on the prime imagery of the day.  Like the rest of the book, the idea is not to do everything.  Rather it is to decide what matters most for you and your congregation and employ the machzor in that endeavor.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg is the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom in Chicago, and part of the editorial team of Mishkan HaNefesh.

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Books High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Prayer Rabbis

The Art in the Mishkan: Joel Shapiro and Mishkan HaNefesh

One of the goals of the editorial team in creating Mishkan HaNefesh was to allow for many different doorways into the High Holy Day experience for participants. Based on the idea of different modalities of learning, we wanted to address different modalities of experience.

For some people the beautiful translations of the liturgy might be what speaks to them. Other people might find a way into meaning through the poems throughout the book. For others, the music is going to be what makes their experience meaningful. For still others, it might be the material meant for personal reflection and mediation, while for some it might the more intellectual or philosophical commentaries on the bottom of each page. And of course for some, it will be the rabbi’s sermon.

We talked for a long time about adding visual art, one more doorway in for the visually inclined worship participant. We considered many different ideas before deciding that abstract art would be the best fit for the machzor, and that if possible to use art all from one artist. Even once we narrowed it down, the question of art was still complex. We wanted art that would enhance the beauty of the text and be a fitting companion to it. We wanted art that would speak to the big themes of High Holy Day liturgy. Then we also had certain parameters set by the realities of printing and reproduction. For a time, it seemed like it was going to be impossible to find art that was just the right fit.

SHAPIRO_portrait_Yves_Bresson__2013In our search, we were introduced to the artist Joel Shapiro. Joel is an internationally acclaimed artist with pieces in major museums and other settings throughout the world.  He works mostly in sculpture, but also does other work including prints.  We showed Joel some of the initial drafts of Mishkan HaNefesh, and he was intrigued by the project. During an afternoon spent in his huge, airy and art-filled studio in Long Island City, we were intrigued by him and by his work.  A short while later, he told us that he was inspired and moved by Mishkan HaNefesh, and generously offered to create a series of original prints for us. It was an incredible offer and we accepted with great enthusiasm.

When Joel proposed creating wood block prints, we loved the idea. They would reproduce well on the printing press we were using for the book, but more than that, we loved the idea of using wood to create the art for the machzor. The associations were rich and plentiful – for example, Torah is a tree of life, eitz chaim, and the connection to earth and nature.

Joel spent months reading the drafts and studying High Holy Day liturgy.  He worked first with paper, drawing, cutting and tearing shapes as he pondered the best way to represent the major ideas of the High Holy Days. To prepare for his work, we offered him a list of themes for each service. The themes follow below, along with some thoughts on each piece.  All art is, of course, by its very nature open to interpretation. It will be meaningful and beautiful to some, and simply pages to skip over for others.  The comments that follow below are some very subjective interpretations on the art which may be helpful when looking at it, but don’t be limited by these ideas. They are not what the art is definitively “about” – they are just some of the possible interpretations.

RH p. ii: This is the frontispiece for the Rosh HaShanah volume. There is a sense of it being a portal or doorway into the High Holy Days, especially with that piece on left folded back to create an opening, as well as also conveying the idea of parts coming together to make a whole.

RH p. xxxi: Rosh Hashanah evening: Avinu Malkeinu, renew us…   This piece conveys a feeling a gathering, ingathering, and homecoming, a house of prayer.

RH p. 101: Rosh Hashanah morning: Hear the call of the shofar…   The shape at the center is a heart, the biological kind, not the Valentines kind. Combined with the circularity, it’s an intriguing choice for the service that contains the shofar sections running throughout it, a sense of sound and emotionality.

YK p. ii: This is the frontispiece for YK. In this image there is a sense of brokenness and off-kilterness which emphasizing the uniqueness of the day, the idea that we are turned upside down on Yom Kippur, that we’re off balance. There’s also a hint here of the idea that the focus of Yom Kippur is in exploring our internalities – there’s a lot going on in the woodgrain inside the shapes.

Kol Nidre Shapiro
Kol Nidre by Joel Shapiro, from Mishkan HaNefesh.

YK p. xxxiii: Kol Nidre: I forgive, as you have asked…  The slight bend in the image feels like a good metaphor for asking forgiveness, conveying a subtle sense of brokenness within the wholeness, as well as penitence. The very simplicity of this piece also feels like a fitting beginning to Yom Kippur, when we’re stripped down to our core.

YK p. 129: Yom Kippur morning: You stand this day, all of you, in the presence of Adonai your God…  This image embodies a sense of community, a oneness despite all the different shapes and types. There’s also a sense of tension between our internalities and externalities.

YK p. 321: Yom Kippur Minchah: You shall be holy…  Parts of a whole are being brought together – each one individual but together forming a community.

YK p. 441: Avodah: May we ascend toward the holy…   This is an abstract interpretation of the steps leading up to the Temple, an ascension toward holiness. There is also an unfolding of layers that take us back to the core of the Holy of Holies, and to the core of ourselves, imbueded with tension between holiness and the profane.

YK p. 513 : Eleh Ezk’ra: For these things I weep…   This is a difficult, agonized image that evokes perhaps a tormented tear, a body twisted in pain, a display of deep mourning.

Yizkor Joel Shapiro
Yizkor by Joel Shapiro, from Mishkan HaNefesh

YK p. 535:  Yizkor: These are the lights that guide us… These are the ways we remember…   This image is strong and mournful yet also embodies a sense of peace and oneness. There is also the circularity of the life cycle and the fullness of life, the idea that we go around and around.

YK p. 609: N’ilah: You hold out Your hand…   This is the end of the cycle.  There is a sense of ascension, a path to holiness, and the closing of the gates, the light at the end of tunnel. We move back toward God and toward uplift as the gates begin to close.

In the end though, art doesn’t have to be understood in order to be felt and experienced. Art can evoke emotion that goes beyond words. Viewing these pieces is another way to connect with some of the central High Holy Days tropes, with the acts of reflection and repenting, remembering and hoping, celebrating and grieving, questioning and confessing, forgiving and asking for forgiveness.

Rabbi Hara Person is Publisher of CCAR Press, and served as Executive Editor of Mishkan HaNefeshthe new Reform Movement machzor for the High Holy Days.

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Machzor Mishkan haNefesh Prayer Rabbis

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
HaMelechtraditional 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.