By Andrew Keene, NFTY-NO Religious & Cultural Vice-President (RCVP)
Unfortunately due to incliment weather, I didn’t get to share my “Thoughts for Shabbat” with NFTY-CANOe. Here they are.
In 1885 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Reform Rabbis pledged to “recognize Judaism as a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason.” In Columbus, OH, in 1937, Reform Rabbis agreed that “The perpetuation of Judaism as a living force depends upon religious knowledge and upon the Education of each new generation in our rich cultural and spiritual heritage.” Out of the shadows of the Holocaust, when many Jews had lost hope and faith, the CCAR identified that “Within each area of Jewish observance Reform Jews are called upon to confront the claims of Jewish tradition, however differently perceived, and to exercise their individual autonomy, choosing and creating on the basis of commitment and knowledge.”
In 1999, back where it all began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Reform scholars affirmed that in addition to worship, “We encounter God’s presence in moments of awe and wonder, in acts of justice and compassion, in loving relationships and in the experiences of everyday life.” As you can tell, Reform Judaism is ever-changing–Changing to best meet and represent our spiritual beliefs, community needs, and collective ideals. We see this progression in many ways; through CCAR platforms like the ones I just mentioned, the formation of interest groups that represent certain facets of the Reform Jewish population, like RYPA, the new association for Youth Workers, and even the prayer book. While on the surface the prayer book is just a compilation of the prayers and readings used during services, much more lies within the pages. Over the last 150 or so years, the Reform movement has written and used six main prayer books. Why so many prayer books? It is said that any book is really just a stepping-stone towards another book and this is definitely true in regards to the prayer book! The prayer book constantly needs to embody the current feelings and practices of the Reform Jewish community. The Minhag Amerika prayer book, written in 1872, contains more English than many of us would be comfortable with and the Mishkan T’filah we use today probably contains more Hebrew than the Reform Jewish population of 1872 would have been comfortable with. To me, however, there is another reason it is beneficial to change the content of the prayer book every so often. Many of us have committed most of the prayers to memory and I bet if I asked you to recite the Ma’ariv, or the V’ahavta, or the Aleinu, many of us could do it near perfectly. Reform Judaism, however, has always emphasized understanding what you’re reading or praying which is why we so often read an English translation or rendition in addition to the Hebrew. Up until my Bar Mitzvah, my temple had used this book (Gates of Grey). At one point, I knew the page numbers by heart, and even some of the readings. Like….
You shall love your Eternal God with all your heart with all your mind with all your being…
I’d venture to guess that many of you could recite that paragraph without hesitation. Shortly after my Bar Mitzvah, Congregation Shalom started using the Mishkan T’filah. The first service with it, I remember getting to the V’ahavta and starting to read this translation and being a bit startled when it began “You shall love Adonai, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your MIGHT!” It made be do a double-take and in turn I actually had to, for the first time in a decade, READ the translation. Now I’m not trying to say that the purpose of a new prayer book is to interrupt people’s memorization habits, but maybe I am!? If anything, the Mishkan T’filah broke the cycle of me not even paying attention to the words and rather than mindlessly saying them as I always had, I really internalized the meaning of the V’ahavta. I challenge you to have one of these moments. A moment where what has always been in regards to prayer and worship becomes something new and takes on new meaning for you… To truly redefine what worship means to you. Shabbat Shalom!
Get a better look at the siddur NFTY-CANOe used on Friday Night to kickoff the campaign NFTY-CAR RCVP Jesse Altman and I kicked off: Redefining Worship!