Thursday, August 12, 2004

Liturgical unity—pros, cons, and compromises

After several years of being a completely non-practicing Jew, I became a baalat teshuvah—of sorts—when I was in my mid-twenties, returning to Judaism not as an Orthodox Jew, but as a member of a synagogue with ties to both the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. So the first prayer book from which I really learned to davven as an adult was the original Reconstructionist prayer book.

The Reconstructionist prayer book was based on the Conservative prayer book, in terms of structure, but had some major changes in wording, based on differences in belief. (For example, there was no mention of the concept of the chosen people.) The advantage of davvenning with it was that the prayers were consistent with my beliefs. The disadvantage was that I couldn’t go down the street and davven in another shul comfortably because I didn’t know all the prayers, which was the then-rabbi’s complaint, as well.

By the time I was in my late twenties, I had become sufficiently fed up with my ignorance to do something about it: Over the course of about six months, I taught myself to pray from an Orthodox siddur/prayer book. (Learning the weekday Amidah prayer was the most difficult, as I had to learn the 13 or so brachot/blessings that aren’t included in the Amidah of Shabbat/Sabbath.) The day I walked into an Orthodox synagogue and was able to figure out which prayer the chazzan/cantor was chanting without being told the page number, I was proud as punch.

But davvenning from an Orthodox siddur has its drawbacks for a religious radical like me. I decided to take my then-rabbi’s advice and think of the “sacrifice” readings as quotations recited out of respect for the past. But the female-free, or, occasionally, outright sexist language was another matter.

So I compromised. Using the Birnbaum Orthodox siddur—you can use any Orthodox siddur that cites chapter and verse for all biblical quotations—I tried to differentiate biblical quotes from rabbinic compositions. Having done so, I established a personal rule: I davven any biblical quote exactly as written, but rabbinic compositions, such as the Amidah, are fair game for editing. I add the Mothers, and, where the wording speaks of sons, the daughters, as well. I maintain liturgical unity by using an Orthodox (or, in my own shul, a Conservative) prayer book. Unless I choose to mention it, nobody knows that I'm also maintaining my own integrity by playing with the wording of the prayers therein.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who's on much the same path, I just wanted to thank you for your blog. I love the egalitarian Conservative shul we attend now (I've learned so much!!!), but I wonder how we will fit in with whatever congregation we wind up in when my husband and I finish our degrees and have to leave this university town...

Sun Oct 17, 12:32:00 AM 2004  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thank you for your kind words. It's always good to hear from readers who appreciate what I'm writing.

Having left an egalitarian synagogue for our present one when we moved, I empathize. Best of luck.

As they used to say on a long-gone TV show, "Y'all come back now, hear?" :)

Sun Oct 17, 07:58:00 PM 2004  

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