Jen Taylor Friedman (hatam_soferet) wrote,
Jen Taylor Friedman

I went to hear R' Professor Jonathan Magonet talking about the new (UK) Reform siddur.What he said is pretty much what he's written on this site, so you can go and read it in his words and not my rendition of same.

Here are some of the things which impressed me.

The layout. It is beautiful already, and he only showed us the pre-flight version. Marc Michaels, he without whom you would not be reading these pages, did it, and did it jolly well. It looks a little bit like the Hertz humash - sort of classical - and nothing at all like the ghastly mess Artscroll make of their pages.

They've obviously done a great deal of piloting in the community. It seems that the new siddur, sparked by a relatively shallow request for gender-neutral language, has become a thoughtful self-assessment, and a systemic response to same, reflecting the idea that liturgy is a tool people use to create prayer, and as such, the liturgy needs in some degree to reflect the people who are using it.

An example is transliteration, whether or not to have it. On the one hand, we have the emotional and ideological value given to praying in Hebrew, and the inclusivity of reading Hebrew aloud in unison; one who cannot read Hebrew cannot do this. On the other hand, one who is using a transliteration probably does not understand what they are saying, and is in danger of relying on the transliteration permanently, and never coming to understand the actual letters.

What I liked was the willingness to see the community in its present state; a generation which grew up during and after the war, when learning Hebrew took a back seat to more pressing matters, and which has suffered from widespread lamentability in the cheder system (religious schooling), but which is becoming able and willing to devote more resources to synagogue skills, and so for whom Hebrew is not an unattainable proposition, merely a rather long-term one. Lacking a formal study and therefore relying on anecdotal evidence, albeit I am sure very comprehensively collected, they are working with the idea that having a transliterated siddur doesn't make a lot of difference to the overall level of Hebrew in an adult community, but that it does affect the overall level of Hebrew among the children in a community. Therefore, he said, they're producing a proper bound book version with transliteration for synagogue use, and a lightweight paperback version without transliteration for use in schools.

[The obvious question is why don't they just print two versions, like Artscroll do, one with and one without transliteration, and the answer is that it's not financially feasible;you'd have to redo the whole layout for one thing, and you'd have to predict how many of each would be wanted. This is a very small community, the initial print run is sixteen thousand copies, so there isn't much margin for error. Artscroll doesn't have that kind of limitation.]

In thirty years' time or so, the makeup of the community will have changed, and then they'll readdress the issue. Again, that consciousness that liturgy changes with the people who are using it. This idea isn't to everyone's taste, but it's entirely appropriate for the Movement for Reform Judaism.

In the same vein, I liked how he spoke of the service makeup. The existing siddur has several different service options and you choose one. The new one has several versions of the various components, and you build a service from them. This means that the service leader has to know how to do that, and he cited an increasing amount of education amongst community leaders alongside this development - similarly, inclusion of various bits of the service that were omitted from the existing version, but people have learned about them and reclaimed some of them.

He said that the existing siddur had a function of giving the movement a point of unification, as previously there hadn't been a proper Reform Movement Siddur. Now the movement has matured and solidified somewhat, the unification can be taken more or less for granted, and the diversity can be accommodated, so the new siddur is to function less as a means of expressing unification and more as a tool which everyone can use, but which can be used in many different ways.
Tags: limmud, shul, uk

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