The Republic: New voices speak in the Jewish prayer book

Reform Jews are working on a new Machzor (prayer book) for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
...The new machzor replaces the widely used “Gates of Repentance,” written in 1978 and to some, stale, stilted, and only marginally relevant to 21st-century life and consciousness.

Count Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg among them. Spiritual leader of Temple Judea in Coral Gables, he replaced Gates of Repentance with a machzor of his own creation in 2004: “Renew Our Days.” When the Central Conference went looking for someone to captain a writer-editor team, Goldberg 48, was the logical choice. A writer of four books, Goldberg, considers himself “an iconoclast (who) wasn’t happy with the status quo. … It turns out that the rabbinate hasn’t put (a machzor) together from scratch since 1894, just revisions.”

But the rabbis acknowledge that a fresh approach to the machzor can be risky — indeed, any liturgical change in a 5,772-year-old religion can’t come about without consternation, if not resistance.

Eddie Ginsburg, a member of Temple Judea’s worship committee, said the editing team had an extremely difficult task melding the ancient and the modern.

For instance, take the traditional notion that a Jew’s fate for the coming year is determined on Rosh Hashanah then sealed on Yom Kippur, when the Book of Life is closed.

“That concept is difficult for me to accept,” said Ginsburg. “I believe in God, but I also believe in free will, that we have choices. How are they going to deal with that in the new prayer book? Or are they even going to touch it? It’s such an embedded tradition.”

The text seeks to connect with worshippers at various stages of life with contemporary language, music and imagery. It follows a spiritual arc that begins with humility, soul searching and doubt, and ends with renewal, hope, and determination to help repair the world.

Each page offers a variety of options on a common theme, so that the worshipper has choices in prayer and meditation.

There are different versions of each prayer in a two-page spread. The right-hand page shows the prayer in Hebrew as well as a transliteration and English translation. The left-hand page offers poems or meditative passages, and commentary that provides additional context about the text or its author.

It’s gender neutral, and replaces the arcane verbiage of some old prayers with progressive, more accessible language...more...

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