What is the purpose of “Mishkan T’filah” - the newest Reform Jewish Prayerbook?

The Jewish Reform movement published a new prayerbook two years ago. At the time the NY Times reported...
The movement’s leaders hope the new prayer book will help revive a worship experience that many Jews avoid.

Scott A. Shay, the author of “Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry,” said, “Let’s not forget that more than three-quarters of American Jews don’t go to any synagogue on a regular basis.

“Each movement realizes that the real struggle for the future and soul of American Jewry are those who are outside of the synagogue today,” said Mr. Shay, a banking executive who has been active in Jewish organizations.

“Each movement is really struggling with, ‘How do you bring them in?’ ” he said. “This prayer book is an attempt toward that for the Reform movement.”
That conclusion to that article is silly. Prayerbook reform in Reform Judaism has a long and venerated history that has more to it than just "bringing them in" to the Temples.

It reflects a consensus of the real beliefs and thoughtful considerations of the movement.

The editor of the siddur is more authentic and accurate in her description (yes, a woman is the editor):
“It reflects a recognition of diversity within our community,” said Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman, the editor of the prayer book. “We have interfaith families. We have so many visitors at b’nai mitzvah ceremonies that I could have a service on Shabbat morning where a majority of people there aren’t Jewish,” she said, referring to bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies on Saturday mornings.

“There are even those in my community who come to Shabbat worship each week who don’t believe in God,” said Rabbi Frishman, who leads the Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, N.J. “How do we help them resonate with the language of prayer, which is very God-centric and evokes a personal God, a God that talks to you in a sense? There are many, many Jews who do not believe in God that way.”

Unlike the Reform movement’s last prayer book, “Gates of Prayer,” which was published in 1975, the new prayer book has a Hebrew title, “Mishkan T’filah” (which means a sanctuary or dwelling place for prayer). And it reads from back to front, like a traditional Hebrew text, which was only an optional format when “Gates of Prayer” was published.

It was Rabbi Frishman who thought up the innovative layout for the new prayer book, or siddur.

There are four versions of each prayer laid out on a typical two-page spread. (Since the book is read back to front, the right page is read before the left one). On the right page is the prayer in Hebrew, the transliteration of the Hebrew prayer into phonetical English, and a more literal translation. On the left-hand page is a more poetic translation of the prayer, followed by a metaphorical or meditative passage reflecting on the prayer, sometimes by a well-known writer like Langston Hughes or Yehuda Amichai.

Rabbis who prefer to lead a more traditional service can choose a prayer from the right-hand side of the page, while those who prefer a more alternative approach can choose from the left side.

“This is a way of having the best of both worlds,” said Rabbi Peter S. Knobel, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the association of Reform rabbis, which is publishing the book. “You have the possibility of doing, if you want, an entire service in Hebrew, as traditional as you can be within the Reform movement. At the same time, you can do something extremely creative.”
We believe all those who publish prayerbooks deserve a loud Bravo! for the valiant efforts they have put in. You can buy it here.


Anonymous said...

"Prayerbook reform ... reflects a consensus of the real beliefs and thoughtful considerations of the (Reform) movement."

It is open to debate just what sort of consensus is meant:


Anonymous said...

Why was Scott Shay interviewed for this article in the first place?