By Rabbi Richard Sarason
The blowing of the shofar is surely one of the high points of the Rosh Hashanah morning service. But the “Shofar Service” as the discrete entity we know today is actually a creation of Reform liturgists. Located at the end of the Torah service, before the Torah is returned to the ark, and including the three sections of Malchiyot (biblical verses dealing with God’s Sovereignty), Zichronot (biblical verses dealing with God’s Attentiveness), andShofarot (biblical verses dealing with the sounding of the Shofar), this is a synthesis of two different pieces of traditional liturgy.
At this same point in the traditional morning service, the shofar indeed is blown, preceded by the blessing, Baruch …v’tsivanu lishmo’a kol shofar (“Be praised…who has commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar”), and accompanied by psalm texts (Psalm 47 and additional verses). Later, in the middle of the Amidah in the Musaf(“additional”) service, the sections of Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot are added. In all other services on Rosh Hashanah, the Amidah has seven benedictions (as we noted some weeks ago). In the Musaf service, there are nine: Malchiyot is incorporated into theKedushat hayom (“Sanctity of the Day”) benediction, since God’s sovereignty is in any case one of the themes of that benediction on Rosh Hashanah. Zichronot and Shofarotimmediately follow this as separate benedictions, and are then followed by the three regular concluding benedictions of the Amidah. During the reader’s repetition of theAmidah, the shofar is blown after each of these special sections. Since most North American Reform prayer books have omitted the Musaf service, these three sections, which are the traditional centerpiece of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, had to be reconfigured—and actually have been variously reconfigured in different Reform prayer books. We’ll discuss that later, but let’s first examine what these prayers are and where they come from.
Malchiyot , Zichronot, and Shofarot are first mentioned in the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 4:5), in a description of the order of the benedictions in the Rosh Hashanah morning (or perhaps Musaf) Amidah. There is a dispute there about whether the Malchiyot verses should be recited in the Kedushat haShem benediction (what we call the Kedushah) or the Kedushat hayom benediction. The latter option becomes the norm. The Mishnah there also records that the shofar is to be blown after each set of verses has been recited, and notes that each section is to include no less than ten verses (that is indeed the custom to this day: three verses on each theme from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, with a tenth verse, from the Torah, concluding the series). Mishnah Ta’anit 2:2, recording the order of special prayers on fast days occasioned by drought, indicates that the first two of these prayers, appended to the Eighteen Benedictions, are Zichronot and Shofarot.
So what do these texts reveal about what’s going on here? All of this activity was clearly intended to get God’s attention (the repeated shofar blasts) and to draw down God’s providential favor. By (literally) reminding God of God’s own words of promise—that in past times of dire need, God remembered our ancestors and saved them; that the shofarwas blown both in times of trouble to summon God and in times of rejoicing; that at the end of days God’s sovereignty will be acknowledged by all humanity—that is, by invoking these words of Scripture, we release their power and help to bring about their fulfillment by “moving” God to act on our behalf. This surely is the primal meaning of the rite—but generations of commentators have seen less theurgic (or magical) meanings in this activity: the shofar blasts call us to accounting and repentance, reminding us of our duties to God and our fellow humans. Their impact is on us rather than on God.
While the ritual is referred to in the Babylonian Talmud as t’kiata d’vei rav (“the blasts—shofar blowing—of the school of the Master”;1 b. Rosh Hashanah 27a), the first full texts of these prayers appear only in Seder Rav Amram, from the second half of the ninth century. Each of the three sections—Malchiyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot—itself is made up of three parts: (1) an introductory poem, (2) the set of 10 verses which comprise the core, and (3) a petition that concludes with a chatimah (a benedictory flourish).
The poetic introduction to Malchiyot is Aleinu l’shabei’ach (this is the text’s original location and function in the liturgy; it was taken over into the daily liturgy, to conclude each service, beginning only in the thirteenth century in the wake of the Crusades in the Rhineland). It proclaims that Israel’s God is the God who created, and rules over, the entire universe and that, in the future, Israel’s God will be acknowledged by all peoples. This leads directly into the ten verses proclaiming God’s sovereignty. The section concludes with the petitionM’loch al kol ha’olam kulo bich’vodecha (“Reign over the entire world in Your glory”). This petition appears as well in every Amidah on Rosh Hashanah at the conclusion of theKedushat hayom benediction—and, indeed, Malchiyot is folded into this benediction inMusaf. The benedictory conclusion is “Praised be You, Adonai, King over all the earth, Who sanctifies Israel and the Day of Remembrance.”
The poetic introduction to Zichronot is Attah zocheir ma’aseh olam (“You remember the creation of old”), which emphasizes Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgment, on which God calls to mind all things past and present. It leads into ten verses that recall instances of God’s providential attention to Noah, to the Israelites in Egypt, and the promise that God will remember the covenant with the ancestors for the sake of which redemption will come to their descendents. The petition begins Zochreinu b’zikaron tov l’fanecha(“Remember/take note of us for good”), and concludes, “Praised be You, Adonai, Who remembers the covenant.”
The poetic introduction to Shofarot begins Attah nigleita ba’anan k’vodecha (“You revealed Yourself in a cloud of glory”), referring to the revelation at Sinai where the sound of theshofar was heard amidst thunder and lightning. This leads into ten verses that depict various contexts in which the shofar was, or will be, sounded, and the petition that God “sound the great shofar to proclaim our freedom,” as promised by the prophet Isaiah. The section concludes, “Praised be You, Adonai, Who hearkens in mercy to the sound of His people Israel’s shofar-blasts.”
The length of these three sections, both severally and all together, led many North American prayer books to abbreviate them or to spread them out a bit. Most instructive in this regard is David Einhorn’s Olat Tamid (1858), which includes an abbreviatedMalchiyot in the Kedushat hayom blessing of the morning Amidah (there is no Musaf), followed by an abbreviated Zichronot—both of these in the vernacular and neither followed by a shofar blast. That is held off until after the Torah reading, where it is preceded by an abbreviatedShofarot, also in the vernacular. Other Reform prayer books that omittedMusaf,2 including the UPB and (in its wake) Gates of Repentance, created a “Shofar Service” following the Torah reading that presented abbreviated versions of the three sections, either in the vernacular or bilingually. The draft of the Rosh Hashanah morning service for the new CCAR Mahzor (which now bears the name, Mishkan Hanefesh, “Sanctuary of the Soul”) builds on the tradition of Einhorn and spreads the three sections throughout the service. More on that next week.
- Some have construed “Rav” here as a proper name, and associated these texts with the Babylonian Rabbi of that name. But bei rav is an Aramaic idiom referring to the school of a rabbinic master. The poetic texts, in any event, are more likely to be from the land of Israel than from Babylonia.
- Isaac Mayer Wise’s 1866 Minhag America, vol. 2, retains Musaf, out of a desire to attract both moderate reformers and some traditionalists.
Dr. Sarason is Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought and the Associate Editor of the Hebrew Union College Annual. He was ordained at HUC-JIR.
At long last, it’s finally here. The comprehensive immigration reform bill that we’ve written about and waited for has finally been introduced! S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 was introduced this morning into the U.S. Senate.
In response to the legislation, RAC Deputy Director Rachel Laser writes,
“We are encouraged by many of the key provisions in the Senate bill released this morning. A path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants here today, a renewed commitment to clearing systemic backlogs, a plan for processing future flow of immigrants, and a reasonable approach to enforcement are all cornerstones of the Reform Movement’s immigration priorities, and we are pleased to see such policies reflected in today’s legislation.”
However, she continues to note that the bill is not perfect –
“We understand the nature of compromise and balance, and as such celebrate this bipartisan bill. At the same time, we know we can do better, and call upon our elected representatives to continue to strengthen this bill and to work to ensure justice for our nation’s immigrants. That includes justice for all family members, including brothers, sisters, and spouses, of all genders; justice for those who must wait too long to become citizens; and justice for contributing members of our economy and society who are denied basic rights and benefits.”
To read the rest of the RAC’s press release, click here. And remember to keep writing to your members of Congress to tell them what priorities YOU have for comprehensive immigration reform legislation!
In the wake of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the Reform community continues to come together to offer prayers and hold special services. At urj.org/bostonmarathon, you’ll find resources for you and your community to cope with this tragedy, including resources on Jewish mourning, for use in the aftermath of a communal tragedy, and guidance for parents trying to talk to their children about death. These resources include:
- Prayers for Current Events
- Prayers for Mourning
- A Prayer for Those Affected by the Boston Bombings
- A Prayer in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing
- What Israeli Resilience Can Teach Us After the Boston Marathon Explosions
- All of Us Are Boston Marathon Runners
In the wake of a tragic event such as this one, synagogue leadership often revisits the age-old question, “How can we keep ourselves safe?” The Union for Reform Judaism is committed to helping congregations become more secure, and we remain in ongoing contact with law enforcement officials, including the FBI. We encourage your congregation to make us of our Synagogue Security Resources.
If there’s anything the URJ can do to help your congregation or community during this difficult time, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your URJ congregational network contact.
This week, I was contacted by a colleague at another Reform synagogue. She shared that a member of their community is interested in endowing a special education program for their religious school, and she hoped that I might be willing to dream with them a little. She asked me, “What would you do with $30,000? With $50,000?”
First and foremost, just as every child with a disability is unique, so is every synagogue community that seeks to include them. Therefore, my answer to the question will vary depending upon a number of factors:
- Do you have an existing program to expand, or is this start-up?
- Do you have identified students in your community that you seek to serve, or do you hope to build a program that will attract students and families to your synagogue?
- What is your school’s vision? What is it you hope/want for each student when he/she completes your program? And how do you get them there?
But then I found myself thinking, as is often the case, about the bigger picture. Why do conversations like this only happen when significant money comes into the picture? Why aren’t we, as synagogues, making inclusion a priority and finding the money?
Why is the most common question asked when I give a presentation or lead a workshop: “How do you afford it?” (Disclaimer: the synagogue I spoke with already has great partnerships in disability work and are now fortunate to be receiving this gift to build upon what they have started.)
Let’s go back, for a moment, to question number three: vision. Shouldn’t every school’s vision incorporate inclusion? We talk often in the world of special education about adaptations, modifications and accommodations; and they are essential. However, I’m not sure we talk often enough of vision. True inclusion is figuring out how to ensure that your vision is not compromised for the sake of special education. Rather, you must provide the supports each student needs so that the school’s vision can be as much a reality for them as it is for every other student.
I get it, trust me. I live in the real world of synagogue life, the world of declining membership, financial struggles and tough choices. Sure, there are angels out there, but isn’t inclusion too important to wait for an “angel”?
Isn’t it essential that we make inclusion a reality regardless of our means?
Here are some practical, inexpensive and realistic ways to begin to make inclusion an affordable reality for your congregation:
- A huge part of inclusion is attitude; and changing attitudes is free.
It’s hard work. It takes genuine commitment. But it is free. Start small. Learn about person-first language. Change the way you speak, change the way your teachers, madrichim (teen teaching assistants) and clergy speak. Change the wording on all your forms, letters, and school and synagogue communications. Make this one conscious change and see it through. Then reflect on what this change has brought to your community.
- Invest in professional development opportunities for your teachers and madrichim.
This is where I think you can get your biggest bang for your buck. Almost every religious school I know has some budget for professional development. Bring someone in to lead a full-day or a half-day workshop for teachers and madrichim. It could be strategy-based, or you could seek to include sensitivity training and/or simulations. Extend the learning by gathering to discuss student case studies and apply what you have learned. Meet more frequently with teen assistants to support them. Maintain the learning with in-person or virtual check-in opportunities throughout the year.
- Use your synagogue’s existing tools and structure to promote inclusion.
Make inclusion a synagogue-wide priority. Encourage clergy to offer sermons about the value of inclusion. Select texts to study together at weekly Torah study, in committee meetings or at special programs. Write about inclusion in your weekly newsletter and highlight success stories in your monthly newsletter. Incorporate lessons on disability awareness, tolerance and acceptance in religious school classes and at youth group events. Form an Inclusion Committee to delve into the issue more deeply.
“It is not your responsibility to finish the work (of perfecting the world), but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirkei Avot: 2:16)
Do one thing, and you are one step closer to inclusion.
Originally published in a two-part series at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block
As the entire country struggles at make sense of the acts of terror that took place yesterday in Boston, the Reform Movement sends our thoughts and prayers to all of those affected by the bombing. We pray for the victims of this senseless crime and for everyone’s safety and healing.
Throughout the Boston area, Reform Jewish synagogues are planning special services to allow the local Jewish community to grieve and pray together. For more information on any of the services below, click through to the congregation’s website or Facebook page for event details.
- Boston: Temple Israel, services at 7pm
- Brookline: Temple Ohabei Shalom, services at 6pm
- Brookline: Temple Sinai, services at 5:30pm
- Lexington: Temple Isaiah, services at 7pm
- Newton: Temple Shalom, sanctuary open and clergy available 7-8pm
- Wellesley: Temple Beth Elohim, services at 7pm
- Westwood: Temple Beth David, services at 7:30pm tomorrow (Wednesday)
For bereavement resources, visit urj.org/bostonmarathon.
This article by Rabbi Neal Gold originally appeared Monday, April 15 at Rabbi Gold’s Blog.
Following today’s explosions at the Boston Marathon, the essential things first, reflective things afterwards: First, if you or your family need us at Shir Tikva, we’re on call and ready to hear from you. If you or someone you love was in Boston at the time of the explosions, please let us know. And if you or your kids want to talk, we’re here for you – always. Please call.
Our hearts go out to all the victims, and our prayers are with all of them.
Now, some reflection:
This all may become moot very quickly. As stories unfold in real-time, I worry that three hours from now something I write now will look very wrong and naive. As I write this, the time is now 5:15 pm, and the reporters are just starting to use the words “bombings” and linking the events at the finish line of the marathon and at the JFK library to the fact that today is “Patriots Day.”
It is also, as the sun goes down, Israel’s Independence Day. (In Israel, it’s already been Yom Ha-Atzmaut for a few hours.) And sadly, Israelis know all too well the feelings that we in Boston are feeling tonight: the vulnerability, the fearfulness, the unknowns… and the defiance.
In Israel, when there’s a terrorist attack, there’s a rhythm that tends to occur:
First, there is a quick reaching-out to friends, neighbors, and family in order to see who is all right, and to make sure our loved ones are accounted for. It occurs to me that this is already happening rapidly on Facebook.
Second: We tend to the victims. When there are dead victims, their bodies are recovered with as much love and respect as possible, and they are buried with honor and dignity.
Third: Everyone watches the news closely, to get all the information as it unfolds – and carefully to discern authentic information from rumor and speculation.
Fourth: There is a ritual the next day, upon the release of the names of the victims. There is communal sense of mourning. Israel is a small country – one community in a time of crisis – where there is zero degrees of separation between families.
Fifth: There is defiance. Stores and restaurants that have been blown up often are repaired and back in business shockingly quickly. This is not psychological denial. There is a desire in the face of terrorism to defiantly return to the rhythms of life.
Again, our hearts go out to the victims. We pray for their healing and their well-being. We will say Kaddish for the dead, we will say Mi Shebeirach for everyone else, including families. Our resolve demands justice from those who would do this to us. And I suspect that in Israeli resilience and independence, there is a model of strength and inspiration to be unbowed in the face of fear – from any sort of thug who would perpetuate such evil upon innocent people.
Rabbi Neal Gold serves Congregation Shir Tikva in Wayland, MA, outside of Boston.
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