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Machzor Blog: A Sin By Any Other Name

11505867Folks out there – colleagues and laypeople alike – feel quite strongly about the use of the word “sin” in the new machzor. Or so it seems from the feedback we’ve heard in the piloting process.  But these strong feelings about the word “sin” fall into two opposite camps.  There are those who object to the English word sin because of its Christian overtones, the sense it carries of permanence and of somehow being stained.  Others suspect that our decision to largely use other words (though not exclusively) such as “wrong” reflects a kind of moral relativism where nothing can be catagorically labeled as, well, a sin.

 The three words that are predominately used in the Torah and in our liturgy are cheyt, avon and pesha.  According to a baraita cited in Tractate Yoma 36b, each of these words refers to a distinct kind of sin.    Cheyt refers to inadvertent sins.  Avon references deliberate sins.  Pesha, the most severe, refers to sins committed as a way of rebelling against God.

 In our Kol Nidre service, these terms are translated in one place as “wrongs,” “act of injustice,” and “moral failures.”

The word most often used throughout the liturgy is cheyt, and the translation utilized by the new machzor most often is “wrong.”  This word seems to address both those who are looking to the machzor to provide clear moral standards, as well as those who fear that the word “sin” doesn’t carry with it the possibility for change.

Here is how the Vidui Rabbah is translated in the Kol Nidre pilot draft, page 47a:

 For the wrong we have done in Your presence by the spoken word,

And for the wrong we have done in Your presence through insincere promises….

 In the draft for Yom Kippur Minchah, we introduced a very different translation of the word cheyt.  Drawing upon the oft-cited etymology of the word as derived from “missing the goal” the pilot draft, page 50a and b, offered this translation:

 For missing the mark in Your presence through a selfish or petty spirit,

And for missing the mark in your presence through stubbornness.

 Maybe it was the absence of a commentary or explanation below the line, but this creative way of translation cheyt was viewed as highly objectionable, and laypeople and rabbis alike told us that this translation simply will not work.

Even the best translation and the most insightful commentary below the line cannot fully unpack the notion of sin, or wrong, or failure.  In the same 300px-Kol_Nidrei-2Talmudic sugya referenced above the Rabbis are bothered by the fact that the order of the three primary words for sin in High Priest’s confession doesn’t make sense in light of their own definitions.  For the Rabbis, the order to sin, in increasing severity, should be cheyt, avon, and pesha.  This therefore should be the correct order of the High Priest’s confession.  But Leviticus 16: 21 prescribes that the sins transferred to the scapegoat by the confession are avon, pesha, and cheyt.  Likewise, in Exodus 34:7 (the verse that forms the basis of our selichot prayers), God is described as nosei avon, va’pesha v’chata…

The Talmud solves the problem in an ingenious way. Rabbah bar Shmuel said in the name of Rav: The halakhah follows the view of the Sages. Moses was saying before the Holy One of Blessing, “Master of the Universe, at a time when Israel sins before you and then repents, transform for them their deliberate sins into inadvertent sins.”

In other words, the order of sins in the Torah comes not to teach us the order of the High Priest’s confession, but rather to teach that repentance has the power to change the order of what we’ve done, to transform even deliberate and rebellious sins into less severe inadvertent sins.

With regard to our translations then, might we say that teshuvah can turn “sin” into “wrong,” or even in to “missing the mark.”

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.

 

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Ethics General CCAR News Reform Judaism Statements

Arming Rabbis? Not in My Time, I Pray.

Yes, I have fired a gun on more than one occasion; most recently at a training range on a Kibbutz in Israel* in 2009 and early on as a teenager at target practice with a friend and his dad.  The experiences unnerved me; the echoing boom, the kick of the weapon and even more, the thought that the gun I fired, no matter how small, had the potential to take a human life.

Mourning in Newtown, CT
Mourning in Newtown, CT

My limited experience with weapons affirms for me the sentiments I have been hearing these past two weeks from my colleagues, friends and so many grieving families across the nation.  Guns are far too easy to use — and misuse — and we must continue to demand from Congress reasonable regulations for guns and assault weapons.

The “solution” suggested last week by the NRA- placing armed guards in schools- is beyond absurd. Even since Newtown there have been other mass shootings, including in a church, to which Gail Collins of the NY Times said in context of the NRA’s comment, “We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.”

Not in my time, I pray- may we not see armed ministers, rabbis or school security guards.

For decades the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has decried “the power of the NRA in controlling the debate on gun control” (2000) and called upon “the U.S. Congress to eschew the support of the NRA and to vote their support of stringent gun-control legislation”(1987).

Our resolution has not changed; we continue to support meaningful gun control legislation that will stem these senseless episodes of mass violence.  In the CCAR’s recent public statement about the Newtown shootings, we expressed our condolences to whose who suffered losses, sympathies for those wounded, and fear that the NRA will continue to thwart not just legislation, but even conversation, about the need to stop the gun violence.

But expressing these feelings is not enough.

Reform Rabbis who are on the front lines of Jewish communal life can join together, and with clergy of other faiths, to advocate in support of meaningful gun control nationwide and in their own communities- (studies indicate that “states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death”).  At the CCAR we remain committed to providing rabbis with resources on ways that they may advocate and organize, such as in partnership with Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.

Importantly, the CCAR also provides our rabbis personal support and resources as their communities turn to them for religious and pastoral comfort in time of tragedy.  Our volunteer Rabbis on Call and Rabbinic Hotline, as well as CCAR’s Rabbinic Staff, support rabbis who themselves offer prayer and comfort to their communities.  We also provide resources grounded in Jewish text, theology, and philosophy on subjects ranging from the sanctity of life to the abhorrence of violence.

Our rabbis also benefit from the strength of partnership.  At the end of last week, the CCAR joined forces with the Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative Rabbis), and the Religious Action Center to provide hundreds of rabbis the opportunity to learn from other leaders in our faith; including one of our rabbis who is serving Newtown as the Director of Spiritual Care at Danbury Hospital; a rabbi and advocate for Faiths United Against Gun Violence; and from the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

In the CCAR’s latest statement, we expressed our understanding that comprehensive laws cannot stop all gun violence.  But we must continue to act in the words of our tradition: “one who saves one life saves a whole world.”

*Important footnote:  As to the incorrect statements made last week by the pro-gun lobby, Israel is actually a country with strict control over weapons in the civilian population.

 

 

 

 

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Books General CCAR News Prayer Reform Judaism

Machzor Blog: Piyyutim and the Machzor

There was a time, more than century and a half ago, when piyyutim were seen largely as a kind of cultural burden to be cast aside in order to make the service shorter and more meaningful.  Early liturgical reformers argued that the siddur and machzor had grown too lengthy and no longer inspired modern Jews.  Piyyutim – medieval poetic extensions of the traditional prayers, with allusions incomprehensible to the average congregant – were first on the chopping block. The irony, however, lies in the fact that the piyut was itself a sort of liturgical reform.  While earlier generations of Jews were unable to change the statutory service itself, piyyutim allowed for an imaginative embellishment of that service.  It highlighted and expanded particular parts of the liturgy.  It added additional opportunities for congregational singing.  It was, in short, an early version of the “creative service.”

Over the past decade, there has been a growing phenomenon in Israel centered around the rediscovery and revival of medieval piyutim – not just in the synagogue (in fact, largely not in the synagogue), but rather in the cultural realms largely controlled by self-defined “secular” Jews.  Once seen primarily as an impediment for the modern worshiper, piyyutim are now being studied and sung by local “kehillot sharot” / singing communities that gather weekly in homes and community centers.  These groups combine community building, ethnomusicology, history and text study.  New CDs by popular artists are constantly being released with new musical settings to these piyyutim. Piyyut festivals in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have drawn hundreds of people of all ages.  The interest in reviving piyut is fueled in part by the small but significant programs and projects that driven by native-born self-described “secular” Israelis rediscovering the Jewish bookshelf, and reclaiming Jewish heritage on their own terms and in their own way.

There is an amazing website that has a staggering collection of recordings of piyyutim from dozens of different communities, explanations of the piyyut’s authorship and history, and the lyrics.  One piyut alone might have a dozen recordings made from paytanim, chazanim and congregations.  The most robust part of the site is in Hebrew only, but a significant selection of materials is available on the English language part of the site.  Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York convened a conference a few years back aimed at bringing the piyyut phenomenon to America, and some materials that emerged from that effort are also on the English language part of the site.

Creating a new Reform machzor that will be used for the next 30-40 years requires us to pay attention to this growing piyyut revival. From these creative efforts, our congregations may find new models for re-introducing this classic poetry to the Reform synagogue.

The new openness to expanding the number of piyyutim is found in several places within the machzor, but most especially with the selichot prayers of Yom Kippur, particularly the most fully developed version in Kol Nidre.

So here are two piyyutim that we have included in the draft of the new machzor, and a link to one traditional and one contemporary recording of each.  Enjoy.

Here is Yonatan Razel singing Adon HaSelichot (Chatanu lifanecha.)

Here is the same piyyut sung in the traditional style of Jerusalem Sefardi community.

Here is Meir Banai singing his arrangement of Aneinu.

And the same piyyut sung by the Cochin Jews of India.

Learn more about the new CCAR Machzor.

 

 

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CCAR on the Road General CCAR News Reform Judaism

Chanukah Blessing in the White House: Only in America

Rabbi Steve Fox and President Barack Obama

Many mixed emotions ran through me last night as the harmonious voices of hundreds of Jewish community leaders joined with the President and First Lady of the United States in the singing of the Chanukah blessings.  We then joined in a Shehecheyanu prayer as we celebrated the sixth night of Chanukah and the sixth annual Chanukah White House celebration, led by a military rabbi who just last year helped Jewish soldiers in combat.

Surrounded by rabbinic colleagues, family and friends from the community – new and old ones – and, my excitement and energy was tempered by a twinge of melancholy.  I could not help but think of my immigrant parents who never would have been invited to the seats of power in their countries of origin, Germany and Austria – in fact, just the opposite was true; they fled from the oppressive governments that sought to destroy them and their communities.

I can hear their accented voices saying “only in America”:  for only in America can immigrants from Germany and Austria rebuild lives, raising a son and a daughter who both now serve the Jewish people as rabbis.  Only in America would their son be invited to the White House – the home of the highest leader of the government — representing the Reform Rabbinate.  Only in America can the President, First Lady, Rabbis and community leaders join together singing blessing representing our enduring capacity to overcome oppression, be it 2,000 years ago or a mere 70 years ago or in the world today. As my parents would say, “only in America – Happy Chanukah.”

Categories
Israel News Reform Judaism Statements

Reform Movement Response to
United Nations

Photo By Bill Aron

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has joined with the Union for Reform Judaism, ARZA and ARZA-Canada to issue a Reform Movement statement about the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state.”
http://ccarnet.org/joint-statement-un-palestinian-status/

A CCAR Mission of Reform Rabbis is currently in Israel.  Follow our Rabbis as they show our support for Israel and as the CCAR leads our communities in engagement with Israel by visiting Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Israel News Reform Judaism Statements

Reform Movement Response to United Nations

Photo By Bill Aron

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has joined with the Union for Reform Judaism, ARZA and ARZA-Canada to issue a Reform Movement statement about the United Nations decision to upgrade the status of the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state.”
http://ccarnet.org/joint-statement-un-palestinian-status/

A CCAR Mission of Reform Rabbis is currently in Israel.  Follow our Rabbis as they show our support for Israel and as the CCAR leads our communities in engagement with Israel by visiting Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Books Prayer Reform Judaism

Machzor Blog: How ‘Current’ Should a Prayer Book Be?

Machzor Page-spread

There are those who look to a prayer book to reflect – in language and in tone – the lives we aspire to live.  The words of prayer should uplift, sanctify, and elevate.  For others, when confronted exclusively with such language, they feel as though the prayer book is irrelevant, that it has nothing to real say, that it is, at best, a relic.

The 2-page spread format for this new machor, like Mishkan T’filah, enables us to do both.  Or at least to try.  And sure enough, many respondents to pilot versions of the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur draft services responded by saying things like, “I found my own voice in this prayer book,” while others were offended by the very same readings.

Calibrating this balance between the real and the ideal can be tricky.

Just a single word can make a reading seemingly inappropriate for a prayer book, as the editorial team is learning from piloting feedback.  In a pilot version of Rosh HaShanah morning, a left-side reading from the Orthodox theologian, Yitz Greenberg, offered an alternative on the part of Emet v’Yatziv  (the blessing after Sh’ma that speaks of redemption) this reading:

Where does Israel get the strength –

The chutzpah –

To go on believing in redemption

In a world

That knows mass hunger

And political exile

And [refugees]?

 

How can Jews testify to hope and human value

When they have been

Continuously persecuted,

Hated,

Dispelled,

Destroyed?

 

Out of the memories of the Exodus!

(Where does Israel, “Jewish Courage in the Hope for Redemption,” Irving Greenberg, in Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information and Contemplation, Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Lights, 2010, p. 68.)

Many respondents commented that they didn’t want the word “chutzpah” in their prayer book, and suggested that it was chutzpadik for us to put it in there.  The word is too colloquial, too irreverent, they said.

On the other hand, there are cases where the language was perceived as so lofty, indeed so “highfalutin”, that it was experienced negatively as well.  For example, opposite Mi Chamocha, we put the following by William Blake:

Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau:
Mock on, Mock on, ‘tis all in vain!

You throw the sand against the wind,

And the wind blows it back again.

 

And every sand becomes a Gem,

Reflected in the beam divine;

Blown back they bling the mocking Eye,

But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

 

The Atoms of Democritus

And Newton’s Particles of Light

Are sand upon the Red sea shore,

Where Israel’s tends do shine so bright.

This poem by Uri Zvi Greenberg, was placed opposite Birkat Avodah (the “R’tzei – the fifth blessing of the festival Amidah).  Some felt it to be too racy to be read aloud in a synagogue, and it was removed from the second draft.

Like a woman who knows that her body entices me,

God, You taunt me:  Flee if you can! But I can’t flee.

For when I turn away from You, angry and heartsick,

With a vow on my lips like a burning coal:
I will not see You again –

I can’t do it,

I turn back

And know on Your door

Tortured with longing

As though You had sent me a love letter.

(Like a woman who knows, Uri Zvi Greenberg, translated and adapted by Chaim Stern, in Gates of Forgiveness, CCAR, 1980, p. 30.)

Some didn’t want the prayers to make them feel sad.  A reading and a poem about Alzheimer’s disease that paralleled the Zichronot section of the Rosh HaShanah morning service were disturbing to some.  In the reading, we included the following text:

 Let us use our gift of memory to remember all who are affected by illnesses that cause dementia, along with loved ones, friends and caregivers.  Let us find ways to share God’s message of love and blessing.

A poem by Donna Wahlert, entitled, Here Let Us: Late Middle Alzheimer’s Disease accompanied the text in the first draft of the service.

Here let us sit together

under the weeping beech

here let us talk about milk glass

chifforobes and elderberry wine

here let us sooth your ankles

swollen with childhood memories

we won’t remind you that your mother

has been gone for thirty years

that the house you want to go

home to is no longer there

that your children are drown and gray

that you are the last of your friends

here let us drink our wintergreen tea

and talk about this primrose

the thing spaghetti you had for lunch

the nurse who brings you Hershey bars

here let us not dream about the days to come

here let us sing you your mother

here let us sing you your children

here let us sing you home. 

(Here let us sit, Donna Wahlert, “Here Let Us: Late Middle Alzheimer’s Disease,” in The First Pressing: Poetry of the Everyday, iUniverse Inc., 2003, p. 123.)

There are readings that feel too raw to some.  Take, for example, Linda Pastan’s poem The Bronx, 1942

When I told him to shut up,

my father slammed on the brakes and left

me like a parcel in the car

on a strange street, to punish me

he said for lack of respect, though

what he always feared was lack of love.

I know now just how long

 

forgiveness can take

and that is can be harder than respect

or even love.  My father stayed angry

for a week.  But I still remember

the gritty color of the sky through

that windshield, and how, like a parcel

I started to come apart.

(The Bronx, 1942, Linda Pastan, Carnival Eve­ning: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998, NY: 1998, W.W. Norton, p. 274.)

Or, how about this alternative reading entitled, “Avinu Malkeinu: A Prayer of Protest”

Avinu Malkeinu –

Hear our voice:
Some of us have cancer.

Some have lost strength of body; some have lost memory and speech.

Some of us are in pain.

Some can’t find work.

Some of us bear the marks of human cruelty – inside, where the scars don’t show.

Some live with depression; some battle addiction; many feel alone.

Some have known shattered marriages, trust betrayed, hopes destroyed.

Some of us have lost the ones we love, far too soon.

And some of us have lost a child.

All of us have seen suffering in our midst.

All of us know the ravages of war – for which there are no words.

 

Avinu Malkeinu, why?
Avinu Malkeinu, are you there?  Do you care?

Avinu Malkeinu, hear our pain.

Hear our anger. Hear our grief.

Avinu Malkeinu, here is our prayer:
Give us the strength to go on.

Give us reasons to get up each day; give us purpose and persistence.

Help us to fend off fear and to hold on to hope.

Help us to be kind.

Don’t make us bow or grovel for your favor.  Give us dignity and give us courage.

 

Avinu Malkeinu –

Show us the way to a year of goodness.

Renew our belief that the world can be better.

Restore our faith in life.  Restore our faith in you.

(Copyright © 2012 by CCAR Press.  All rights reserved)

Can the Machzor simultaneously inspire, while speaking to the reality of our everyday lives?  Is there a place for sadness, regret, sensuality, anger, and doubt within the pages of the prayer book?  What do we lose by including such readings, and what do we gain?  What would be lost if we left them out?  We’re interested in your thoughts.

Rabbi Leon Morris is on the editorial team of the new CCAR machzor, and is the rabbi of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, NY. 

[Find out more about the new CCAR machzor.]

Categories
General CCAR News Reform Judaism

Introducing…Ravblog!

Welcome to Ravblog, the blog of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The world in which we live continues to change rapidly, including shifts in the Reform Movement and broader Jewish community.  This includes changes in demographics, finances and religious practice, as well as the way we gather as communities.

The CCAR itself is changing, as are the 2,000 rabbis who make up our membership, and the 1.5 million Jews we now serve in all walks of life including congregational and community settings. The CCAR’s mission, as it has been since 1889, is to strengthen and enrich the Jewish community.  We do this in many new ways be it through life-long learning, liturgical and Jewish practice publications, as well as cutting edge digital publications and Apps. We are also anchored in tradition as we apply Jewish principles to contemporary issues.

One way we continue to learn and grow is through engagement — engagement with our own rabbis, with other Jewish professionals, lay leadership in the Reform Movement, and with members of the broader Jewish community.

It has been great to hear from you and engage in conversations when we see each other in person at CCAR Conventions, national Biennials, professional conferences, congregational visits, universities, and even on military basis (yes, our rabbis serve Jews in the military).

To talk more often, we¹ve created Ravblog, as an ongoing space for us to interact.  Together we¹ll look at issues facing the CCAR, the Reform Movement, Israel, and the Jewish world as a whole.  We¹ll look at issues of today, and of tomorrow.  What are we all thinking about?  What are we working on?  What challenges are you facing?  What are the big ideas on our minds?

Some of our staff members will blog, as will CCAR leadership, and you¹ll also hear from a number of guest bloggers.  To our members who are great bloggers, and others who participate in this great online Jewish conversation — you have inspired us and set the bar high.

Let us know what you think and keep teaching us.

Koltuv,

Rabbis Steve Fox, Hara Person, Debbie Prinz, Alan Henkin, and Dan Medwin

(The CCAR Rabbinic Staff)

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General CCAR News Reform Judaism

2013 CCAR Convention

Rabbis Leading the Shift

Pre-Convention Programming, Sunday March 3rd 9:00 AM-3:00 PM

Convention will kick-off Sunday, March 3rd @ 4:00 PM and conclude Wednesday, March 6, 2013 @ 10:30 PM

In the past year, the Convention Committee listened to hundreds of our colleagues in face-to-face conversations and in small groups. We heard stories of shifting economic priorities, concerns about the relevance of synagogues and the Reform Movement, and questions about technology changing the nature of human interaction. We also heard stories of optimism, hope, and possibility – a desire for our colleagues to work together to shift focus, skills, and intentions so that we are ready to lead our communities through an ear of rapid shifts and change. Based on this input, the Convention theme has developed into Rabbis Leading the Shift: Jewish Possibility in a Rapidly Changing World.

As at Conventions past, you will have an opportunity to reconnect with friends, pray, and engage with some of the finest scholars, teachers, and learning opportunities in Southern California. We will also create opportunities for colleagues to listen, reflect, and meaningfully discuss the issues, concerns, and interests about which the CCAR members are most passionate. The Torah Lishmah and Professional Development learning will be integrated in three main areas: “finding my way through the shift,” “leading the shift in my workplace,” and “leading the shift in the larger world.” We hope that you will join us.