Liturgy class 5.27.09

An email I thought I had sent to everyone seems not to have been received. I need guidance from all of you. Realized over the weekend that in spite of these longer sessions and adding one session, we're still very significantly off-track for covering the material I wanted to. In the past I've always taught yamim nora'im as a full semester course on its own, and I tried when I set the outline for the semester to come up with a structure that clearly worked well on paper, that took the various areas I'd done in a full semester of yamim nora'im and a full semester of festivals/fasts/notable days and pulled them together in one semester; at this point I realize that the effort is less than successful. The work you've done has been wonderful and I've learned significantly from your insights. It could be that I've been less gevurahdik in holding firmly to the schedule and outline for each session. But while there are short moments when we could have had slightly tighter focus I'm not sure there are areas we've spent time on that I regret having spent time on. I welcome email privately, your reflections on whether this much material can or can-and-should be covered in a semester, because I'll have to bring that back to Marsha and the va'ad.

In terms of how to proceed here, from my perspective, my solution would be to add one more session which I'm more than willing to do. But I can already hear -- I understand that this course is embedded in everybody's lives and I know that adding the one session that we did is less than optimum for some of you already. So unless a lot of you email me privately that you would like to do an extra session, I don't think we can do that as a solution. So the next best solution is just to be extremely focused today and next week. There'll be a little less time to discuss some of the things, but I don't want to curtail discussion because I always tend to have the view that you're all well capable of reading material that's in various books that's well-organized and clearly presented. You've noticed that I've spent very little time reviewing the standard analysis of the services which you could find in whichever of the various commentaries to the service you've chosen. I plan to assume that you all can and will read, whether it's Hoffman's commentary or Jeffrey Cohen's or whomever.

I ask you: think like Rashi! Imagine that each word is counted. Don't not express things that you feel strongly about, but I ask even more than usual, for each reflection that you want to share, is it expanding our shared field of knowledge on this material.

Re: presentations - I want to do all of the divrei tefilah you've prepared. I don't want the divrei tefilah or presentations to be written-only. Our conversation about them might be briefer but I want them to be done in realtime.

Presentations: Kol Nidre, Seder ha-Avodah, Vidui (7 minutes), also 5 Megillot

We'll do 5 Megillot the very first thing next session, and Seder ha-Avodah. Today we will do Kol Nidre and Vidui.

[got bumped off the call, called back in]

What I want to cover today is to talk a little about malkhuyot/zichronot/shofarot, the nature of tzom, core poetry (we didn't entirely finish unetaneh tokef), in the context of musaf also to speak about hineni. And also to follow up a tiny bit on the dramatic elements discussion. And the K"N service. And perhaps also yizkor.

Next week I want to talk about the niggunim, nusach, and melody; avodah, martyrology, and wrap up.

Kol Nidre team, ready to go!


[presentation - Cindy]

On K"N evening we are in the synagogue for the holiest night of the Jewish year. Empty and deserted at other times, the synagogue is now packed ... the ark is opened, the scrolls brought forth and the hazzan begins to chant the K"N... you can hear the heartbreak and misery of the Jewish people, the pain and anguish through the centuries. In the translation there is no poetry, only an ancient formula of leglalistic relief. Only then does one understand the power of song.

K"N - one of the most famous passages in our liturgy -- All Vows. Proclaims null and void the promises we make and fail to fulfil in the coming year. Begin Y"K with a recognition that our best intentions can go astray.

[reciting] In the tribunal of heaven and the tribunal of earth... lawful to pray with transgressors. As the sun descends the first of 3 repetitions is chanted. Begin softly, in the manner of a human being entering the palace to ask a favor. Second repetition the volume is raised. Third chant is bravura, triumphant song of those who feel welcome as members of the King's household.

Sefardim - slightly different text, nullifies vows made during the past year rather than the coming year. Joseph Bloch suggested in 1917 that the text goes back to the persecutions in Spain and forced conversion to Christianity.

Slow, deliberate notations would have the effect of impressing upon the Jewish defectors the seriousness of their actions. This theory of a Spanish origin, however plausible, is unsubstantiated. The first references to this prayer come from 8th century Babylonia.

K"N written in Aramaic, but Seder Rav Amram has a Hebrew version.

A neder is a comprehensive term for any kind of religious obligation that a person takes on himself. Absolution for any of these categories can be secured only for obligations unpaid to God.

Esarei - ties; personal obligations.

Charamei - pledges. The cherem is used in the Bible to denote an object devoted to God or for use in the sanctuary.

Konamei - promises, refers to pledges made by use of the dedicatory promise

Substitute terms - any terms used as people by substitutes for the official formulas are as binding as the official terms

Kinusei, variant terms - also enumerated in mishna as a formula which must be considered as binding

shavuot - oaths. The terms shavua and neder are the most common.

From this Y"K to the next one. A fundamental difference exists between the Ashkenazi and Sefardi versions. Ashkenazi version says any vows in the coming year; Sefardic version is a retrospective one. According to Hoffman we do not know exactly when, where or why the formula began. Originated sometime after Talmudic period, e.g. 6th century CE. Aramaic wording resembles magical formulas used in Babylonia.

Said with increasing fervor and became linked with the haunting melody with which Ashkenazic Jews associate it. It is to that melody that K"N owes its current appeal.

[Leah - presentation]

I've written a small history and will put it on the wiki.

Because of the libels associated with the text the Reform movement abolished the text but kept the melody; it was too engrained in the Jewish experience! It could not be expunged altogether.

The Ashkenazi melody, the music, is probably the most recognized of all Jewish melodies. Haunting, plaintive tune originated in southern Germany -- whether he wrote it or utilized preexisting tunes is not known.

Sefardi Jews continued to use slicha melody.

Askenazi melody is known as a mi-Sinai tune. Similarities in early German Catholic church music, and also some relation to melodic motifs which date back to Charlemagne.

The tune is old. Emotional power, spiritual energy. Conversion stories associated with it. Rosensweig was going to become baptized but attended K"N services and had an epiphany and decided to remain a Jew.

Compilation of musical motifs, some declamatory and some florid. Opening is similar to pneuma, soulbreath in Latin chant. See compilations of Gregorian chant. (First Gregorian mode: d to d with an optional b-flat, and this melody is repeated and embellished in a variety of ways.)

Idelsohn: wrote of someone who "used to sing the K"N text in various tunes, in order to enable the latecomers to hear the text."

Aaron Beer's setting is oldest version in written form, 1765. Other versions contain motifs not found in this setting. All versions rely on the hazzan to supply appropriate melismatic embellishments.

The Reform movement brought in choir, organ, often similar to secular music.

The first 5 bars of the 6th movement of Beethoven's Opus 131 contains a fleeting bit [singing - recognizable K"N] -- experts vary as to whether Beethoven made a quote or whether it was just in the air at the time and he happened to pick it up.

Max Brucht's K"N is the most famous; also a setting for violin. His name is on a lot of the K"N versions that are then sung in synagogues. A Protestant, he had a lifelong fascination with folk music, which he deemed "the source of all true melodies."

(digression about Brucht vs Wagner and whether/how Wagner uses melody and leitmotif which is like nusach for him)

This work is a virtuosic secular concerto which happens to utilize a Jewish melody as one of its themes. He was introduced to Jewish music by a cantor-friend, Lichtenstein. The conductor of his choir was Levandovsky, who based many compositions on Lichtenstein's hazzanut.

180 degrees in the other direction is Schoenberg's K"N. In the 1930s he returned to Judaism and composed K"N during his exile in reaction to Brucht's setting which he found sentimental. He hoped his work would be popular with American congregations, but its elaborateness which rarely allows melody to shine through is not accessible and his text (in English) reveals his ambivalence about the prayer. "Vows...wherewith we pledged ourselves counter to our inherited faith in God."

He recognized that K"N is based on motifs and used them in polyphonic form but to me his work has as little Jewish flavor as Bruchts. I cannot sense the soulbreath here.

Liturgical renditions - my impressions are, very interesting. Recordings abound. Richard Tucker's performance of Shalom Secundus' setting bowled me over as a teenager but now I find it embarrassingly overdone.

My absolute favorite is Moshe Oishe (?) - his setting is a curious mixture of Hasidic melody and opera.

From its origins somewhere in medieval Germany all the way to Schoenberg and the Electric Prunes, the haunting stirrings of K"N have lodged themselves deep in our Ashkenazi souls, the soulbreath of Jewish identity.



I just posted on our chat window an out of print book called "Kol Nidre: Its Origins, Development and Significance." Great analysis. The author is a graduate of HUC and close student of Lawrence Hoffman. He gives a measured, balanced discussion of the issues involved in identifying K"N as a magical incantation. FWIW, I am not persuaded that it is a magical incantation that's been retained in some vestigial form. Very interesting note that he comes up with, very close to the end of the book, pp 138-139.

"In every era the Jews were drawn to K"N because of something other than its intellectual content..."

He notes that Hoffman identifies the limits game, truth game, and meaning game, and K"N addresses all 3. Find that essay in the journal Conservative Judaism, No. 38, p. 36, 1985.

My question to all of you: why do people come for K"N?

- anything from: hearing the hazzan, going to a good concert, getting touched by that, it may be the only thing they ever recognize; it's so inculcated with us, strikes a chord that other things may not do even if we don't understand it

- it varies from the Jew who knows he's a Jew but hasn't been to shul in a long time, to the one who's been preparing since before slichot to have this connection

- some kind of heart-feeling happening

- it's the one occasion where every Jew is transcended past ego, past affiliation, past whether you come to shul or not; there's something about that prayer and the feeling that it evokes that's transcendent and brings us together as a people in a way that no other prayer does

- I've heard people say, they come just to be on the safe side

Do you believe them when they say that?

- I think the collective unconscious motive or impulse that they are responding to, even if they're saying it half-laughingly, there's part of it that's true

I don't have a deep insight to this one. I'm drawn to what some of you have said. I think it's a collective rhythm of the Jewish people.

Many people will come to rabbis, as many of you know, and say, you know, I don't come to shul because the services are too this or that. It's a 'yes, but' game because if you fix why they say they don't come, they still don't come. Why they say they don't come may not really be why; and here too, why they say they come may not really by why they come.

In terms of leadership crafting there are issues that come up. The choreography of the moments of K"N itself are really important. How do you craft the context of the presentation of the text, the rendering of the text? What do you do with it? If you open a trad machzor, what do you find?

- you start right away

How many of you think that's the thing to do?

- I have mixed feelings about it. I like the idea that you start right away without any explanation. Maybe a niggun beforehand; the text gives you or zarua, which there are many musical settings of, which can give you time to get everybody together; but there's a kind of magic that happens when everybody's intent and they've just rushed in and everybody's all of a sudden there. OTOH, people don't always have the information, and there's something to be said for information and explanations.

Truly it's a problem. One of the issues is when do you start. What is the halakhic constraint?

- before sundown


- it's a legal pronunciation that has to be done during the day.

If you take seriously that this is recited before a beit din, it must be recited before Y"K begins.

People trickle in. And what will they do with themselves before the service starts?

Look at your care packages which I prepared and sent to you. In the English machzor there are meditative reflections before every service. That gives people material to read quietly. I haven't reproduced all of it, but interestingly, they have a kind of private hatarat nedarim.

This can also be a good time for an opening niggun. And this reflection of Leo Baeck's, "In this hour, all Israel stands before God," if you can find someone to read it who has facility with reading in English. Then move into yeshiva shel mala, etc.

I concur that this is not the moment for explanations; but I see these texts as all primary texts themselves, which can stand without excessive commentary or overlay. These additional texts can create a compelling context for K"N.

- 3 things. One, done at Pnai Or in Philly: arriving before K"N people arrive they fill out slips of paper which become the al chet the community uses over and over. It's not a prelude, per se, but it answers the question of what you do when people trickle in. The other thing is, I think doing a collective meditation that's not read or based on text but based on shifting people's consciousness is a possibility. And the third thing is, an opportunity for ritual -- never seen anything like this -- the idea is that there's a beit din, 3 sifrei Torah, and the image that came to me is, like the birkat kohanim, all the attorneys and judges could come up to serve as a beit din. I haven't thought it through, but the idea of people coming to face the congregation as the incantation is recited feels powerful to me.

There are gates of possibility.

There's many places through the structuring of the HHD, the journey through the HHD, that I think lend themselves to that creative exertion. The flow in that kind of collective subconscious -- to my mind has a historical, deep powerful historica flow to them. I think that inserting into that is a more than usually challenging task. Not that it can't be done, but it wouldn't be easily done.

In terms of the choreography, the experience of inviting current officers or leaders (some shuls ask literally the zkenim) to carry the sifrei Torah in a choreographed procession -- the way in which sacred space is circumscribed does create an intensity of feeling within the area being circumscribed. So if you have sifrei Torah in the back and they walk in and surround the room before coming up to the amud, that sets sacred time and space. You don't have to say, "By now carrying in the Torah scrolls we are creating sacred space." I cringe! That's the most ineffective and undermining kind of thing to say. It implies that people won't see it for themselves, and they will.

- it has to get out of doing into briyah and atzilut to make the body language work

Let's move on from this K"N reflection. The next significant item that presents: let's speak about the vidui / al chets and so on.

[Yafa's presentation on vidui]


I'm not aware of anything which maps the korbanot to the terms for sin

Are any/all of you aware of the work of Dr. Mayer Tamari? He's a very interesting person; his PhD is in economics, chief economist at Bank of Israel for quite a while. His first book is called "With All Your Possessions," masterful study of Jewish business ethics.

Yafa, your contextualization of it in contrast with the final confesion, and the analysis of long vs. short confession, is very good. Hoffman reminds us that the ne'ilah service which we'll speak about a little later does not include so extensively the long vidui.

I'd like to talk just a little bit -- we can all look at Yafa's references in a little while -- the issue of contemporary formulations of the vidui is a great exemplar for looking at -- this is very hard! This is the place where I'm going to be the most opinionated.

Do you remember "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"? The character ultimately goes on into a long excursis on quality.

The challenge in composition of liturgical texts is in some way quality of writing. It's one of those things -- I've been reading extensively in literary criticism and analysis, and have found very little that offers a rigorous structure against which to evaluate quality of composed writing. One of my problems, and I don't want to refer to any individual because these are people we all know and love. But one of my problems with many contemporary versions of vidui is that they say the sort of things we'd want to say but they are lacking in poetry or existential quality.

I want us to turn to a few versions that I have found. If you have that handout of mine, pp 56-57.

(page 57)


- it works

- this text distills the vidui; modern context but feels timeless

- language/metaphors that we understand in this paradigm

- the ancients would have understood this equally

- the triplet groupings helps it resonate for me in a way that a paragraph wouldn't

What did you mean, 'it worked?'

- the line "making a god of this world"

Almost all the material in what I sent you is written my by teacher, Lionel Bloom. I've tried to think about what's powerful in his writing. He has a gift to write material which is modern but would not have been inconceivable to our sages writing several paradigms ago.

God's perspective differs from ours. As you go through a year you don't know which are the great moments and which are the terrible ones. Martin Buber -- someone came to him for guidance and he wasn't unkind, unprofessional, but he didn't hear what was on the student's mind, who then took his life. That's an extreme example. But you never know which are the great moments and which the lesser ones.

I find that Lionel has an extraordinary gift to re-present the metaphors and inner message of very ancient classical texts in languge that resonates deeply for many contemporary communities.

[Yafa d'var tefilah on al chet]

Because of the imagery this prayer tends to be gevurahdik and din rather than rachamim. There are a lot of people, as we know, who are deeply alienated by the rigid modalities which are so prevalent even in the ways we slightly recast these texts in Renewal. To the extent that we can do as Yafa has done and emphasize chesed -- even in vidui, to find an exercise in love and connection that restores a kind of balance.

It begins, as you noted, with el melech yoshev al kise ram v'nisa. Arthur Green speak of this, the old theology of distance and elevation, and he urges us to change the metaphor and to speak of God as the deepest rather than the highest. You did that precisely.

- a few years ago did a retreat w/ R' Malka during Elul to prepare for the yamim nora'im and it was great to do that reflective work. And again to do the different cards -- I learned it from R' Marcia but might be R' Phyllis' idea: how have I missed the mark in terms of myself, my relationships, my community, my world, to really do that work before we walk in the door on R"H. Because if I haven't done my own work, then I'm only at the surface during this whole process. Whereas if I've gone through and done the evaluation beforehand, then I can really go with what the prayers have intended to bring us to/through.

What you say now is so important to hear in this moment. We are compelled to have our feet firmly in 2 different camps. For each of us in different ways, this is a long journey that in some deep way begins at the beginning of Elul if not at the end of 9 Av as we begin to count those 60 days. We all know the reality that for many people the journey kinda begins when they walk in the door at Kol Nidre, maybe with R"H as a preface to it.

So the challenge for us is how to parallel-track our own inner deep journey with the track of people walking to a different rhythm. It's an abiding challenge.

The ways that we look at outside sources is important. Turn back in this collection again to pp 18-19 -- I crafted this but am deeply ambivalent about it.

K"N could last 30 minutes, but usually it lasts 2.5 hours or so, if you figure that it's not uncommon for people to have things to say, the K"N appeal and donation cards and so on.

There is a strong tendency: once you take out the nigguns, drash, dvar Torah, kavanot, and everything else, that most of what's left is matbeah tefilah. For many people, matbeah tefilah does not speak with any particularly great resonance. I have found it important, and my particular judgement is somewhere just before the silent amidah -- in a sense that silent amidah is that individual person's journey -- to offer texts which are an alternative to the matbeah tefilah but which I chose to give people a springboard into the private time of the amidah.

I want to say a word about the texts that I chose. 4 texts. One of them is a Kafka story, his parable of the journey away from here. [reading texts]

Doubt, disbelief, alienation, anger, and weakness. Many people bring these qualities to HHD services in particular. People respond that these texts say things they didn't think anyone would dare to say aloud. Things like this open the gate. I would much rather cut short any of the lengthy piyyutim and give place to voices like these to speak.

- would you read these aloud?

I ask 4 different people to read them aloud, after hashkivenu and before we do the traditional launch into the amidah. This is a safe space to make a break, so these texts are always read aloud.


On grounds of time, because I wanted to speak also about a couple items of R"H. I just want to look at one of the traditional piyyutim of kol nidre, and that's ya'aleh.

Presumably we all have familiarity with this text. What function does it serve?

- nightfall / morning / dusk: ties the whole day together, links K"N with neilah

- ratzo v'shov, the movement of our prayers and God's forgiveness; there's a mutuality

- I like the way it builds

- ya'aleh, yavo, y'raeh -- rise up, come, and see

Look at the constant refrain of those 3 words. What's the drash that's being presented by the grammar and the binyanim? What's the binyan of y'raeh? In what way is y'raeh different from ya'aleh and yavo?

- yavo is straight future tense

And what's y'raeh?

- nifal

The first two are simple imperfect: let something ascend, let something come. Whoever said this is a bridging to ne'ilah is correct. This is a poem at nightfall anticipating the next nightfall.

It seems to me: if this goes right, if (in each of the stanzas) the tachanunim really ascend, if our shavateinu ascend, then it's almost y'raeh: this joy will appear. What we do this night and during the day tomorrow will bring into appearance whatever comes up in the third line of each stanza. The result of this work will become apparent in the passive nifal voice by evening.

Look at the last one, the great triple aleph. How would you translate enkateinu?

- our cry

How is it different from tza'akateinu?

- it's more of a groan

- Birnbaum says our contrite sigh

It's nice, but lacks poetry. In some way, the essence of who we are can journey upwards toward you in the morning. Then we will simply appear to you. It's not our kapparah, it's not our redemption or even our joy; this poem takes you from "if we let these things come up to You from tonight, then we ourselves - what we are - is going to be apparent, will be seen by You by tomorrow night."


Malkhuyot, zichronot, shofarot

The issue of whether to do the shofar blasts then or not; if people aren't used to it, it can be a little jarring.

In the silent amidah, the M/Z/Sh themes come a little differently.

Malhuyot is inserted in a sense into kedushat hayom. 10 psukim are recited, extracted from Tanakh, finally a pasuk from Torah. The first is mkadesh Yisrael v'yom hazikaron; then the bracha zichronot. This one has the chatimah which is entirely novel to the idea of any amida, "zocher habrit." Where does that chatimah appear in ritual-liturgical contexts?

- brit milah?

No. It's when you see a rainbow. Remember? So it's very interesting. (Digression into the bracha one says for seeing a monarch and whether one should say it when seeing a president.)

So what's the link between R"H and the brit of the rainbow? Of all things to insert into the R"H liturgy, why this one?

- after the flood

It's an interesting inclusio. Look over the text. The theme of zichronot begins atah zocher, you remember. All of the ideas of what R"H stands for: anniversary of creation. A lot of people miss this, but remember the thing we did on Unetaneh Tokef, on mi ba cherev and mi ba mayim. Even nations are judged, and so on. Zocher habrit ties R"H into the universalist world in addition to our own journey.

How do you understand shofarot? What's shofarot about?

- hearkening forward to redemption and back to revelation

Rosensweig has it covering both ways. Exodus 19 is one of the most profound narratives in Torah. The sound of the shofar grew stronger and stronger; that sound was the introduction to the imperceptible sound of the aleph which killed everybody.

What does kolecha refer to?

- your voice

Is it kol shofar? There's an ambiguity. Doesn't say it was God's shofar, but doesn't say it was anybody else's either.

What was the call?

- not clear; but it strikes the people and they don't want to hear

And the synaesthesia. The people saw the voice.

The phrase in unetaneh tokef comes back. Whoever's a good baal tefilah should be able to have planted a musical idea in unetaneh tokef which can then be picked up in M/Z/Sh.

The bracha here is entirely unique.

So remember these 3 insertions, these 3 brachot, take the place of what's usually one bracha. The first one is the normal kedushat hayom. Then the two novel ones. The first one, zocher habrit, isn't entirely novel because it's the remembrance of the rainbow. But this one, "shomea kol tvuat amo Yisrael b'rachamim," is entirely unique novel chatimah used only this one time each year.

- I think the shofar blasts here are not entirely halakhic...? In machzor chadash they only have 3 sets of 3 blasts after each one of these, but in the trad service there's 12.

When you're looking at machzor chadash you're looking, e.g. at page 310. That's one of the things I don't like about it.

There's a trad to have 100 soundings. It's not halakhically mandatory; if you go to hospital or to visit people you don't have to blow 100 times!

For those who do 2 days of R"H, I see much less creativity in terms of M/Z/Sh than I think is warranted. To go through and rehearse the same thing twice strikes me as missing a liturgical-ritual opportunity. So I composed my own alternatives for Malkhuyot, Zichronot, Shofarot. Look again in my care package.

Use a 3-part shema, get everyone to stand and sing -- gives a joyous feeling to malkhuyot.

Zichronot offers an opportunity to introduce meditation to places which are less accustomed. Zichronot as a time to open your own book of memories, invoking the metaphor of the book of life which is opened at R"H. Niggun - solo voice of person or instrument. And the shofar is sounded w/o calling the notes. It makes for a reflective moment.

We have 2 minutes! Would anyone care to improvise a dvar tefilah on Hayom?


Friends, we've journeyed together into thinking of malkhuyot, the powers over us and within us. We've opened the trad sources of memory and our own personal books of memories in zichronot. And we've encountered the visceral inchoate sounds expressed in shofarot, the revelation that comes in things other than sensible words. We've reflected carefully and deeply, and experienced different parts of the journey, some very quiet and some louder, some expected and some unexpected for all of us, even those who planned and led. Some takes us into the past; some into the future. There are moments to be here now, to just affirm what we have done together. The journey we have almost completed as our community on this one day. This is the moment to set solemnity, dignity, and rectitude aside and to be really joyful, to look at the sources of our inspiration, the sifrei Torah, as we say: what is it that we've done today? And we say these 7x, the word hayom, and we say what it is that we've done this day and what is it that we want from God. If we say it loudly and clearly, and clap our hands and stomp our feet and the kids come and dance up front, that will help guide us into what we want this to be.


And it's 12:01! We're out of time.