Monday, November 05, 2007

A peek at a Reform prayer book

A friend of mine from the neighborhood persuaded me to spend an evening at her favorite Reform synagogue, taking one of a series of classes on the siddur/prayer book that the synagogue is currently sponsoring. I found the class informative—but not necessarily in the manner that she had intended.

Okay, major confession--I didn't really check the name of the prayer book that we were using, nor did I pay close attention to the English text (translation and/or other).

A couple things did stand out, though. One was that the second and third paragraphs of the Sh'ma seem to have been omitted. I can understand why the Reform Movement eliminated the second paragraph, which gives me problems, too—not being a great believer in reward and punishment, I usually just barrel my way through that one while trying not to pay too close attention to the meaning of the words. But what’s the problem with the third paragraph? Are they afraid to talk about tzitzit (ritual fringe, such as that on the corners of a tallit/prayer shawl) and/or mitzvot (commandments), because most of their members don’t believe in either?

The other was that the official second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer also seems to have been omitted. (I say “official” because what would be the first paragraph in an Orthodox siddur/prayer book has been split into two paragraphs in this Reform version.) I can understand that, as well, since the traditional second paragraph of Aleinu is about as chauvinistic as our siddur gets, other than the “asher barchar banu” (“who has chosen us”) and similar statements. I usually zip through that paragraph, too. What I found surprising was that some of the people in the class found the (“official”) first paragraph offensively chauvinistic, because it asserts that HaShem “did not make us like the peoples of the other lands.” I guess some people see a connection between this statement and the belief in the “chosen-ness” of the Jewish people. At this point, I don’t. We do seem to have ended up being singled out for a different fate, for better and/or for worse. It was pointed out to me, on the way home, that some of the folks who were offended by Aleinu were Jews by choice. It hadn’t occurred to me that some people not born Jewish might have a problem with the idea that “some of these folks are not like the others.” That’s something worth thinking about. Maybe I need to be more sensitive to the concerns of relatively new Members of The Tribe.


Blogger Tzipporah said...

Well, speaking as a (relatively) new member, I can say that we tend to interpret chosenness as a voluntary commitment to additional responsibilities, rather than a genetic predisposition to "specialness" - otherwise, how would conversion be possible or sanctioned?

Wed Nov 07, 06:48:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, good point.

Thu Nov 08, 01:13:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

interesting. i've always understood the differentiation in the first paragraph of ‘Aleinu as referring to the special national responsibility of having a contract with God consisting of the mitzvot.

Sun Nov 11, 08:52:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steg, thanks. I've never heard that interpretation before, and I like it, though I'd prefer to see it phrased in the positive, rather than the negative.

Tue Nov 13, 12:37:00 AM 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>