Liturgy of Festivals and Yamim Nora'im, class 1 - 2.11.09

[Simcha Daniel adding the two sentences that Rachel missed]

Objective of Class: Reconceptualizing so that we can do all this holiday stuff.

Liturgy - the word is problematic and ambivalent. In the past, courses would cover the fixed prayers for a specific holiday, but that's all.

[arrived 10 minutes late due to tech woes - sorry, all]

That essentially was the definition of liturgy -- what was written in one or another of a variety of prayer texts.

Lawrence Hoffman was the leading but not the only figure; he's the principal name associated with the idea that the reflective study of liturgy is about more than what's printed on the page of a prayerbook. When I think about liturgy I'm interested much more in the interface that Reb Zalman calls davenology. Very interested in the words on the page, especially for somebody whose mother tongue is not English; he's been extraordinarily not only original in thought but lyrically creative in the quality and caliber of the material he's prepared in English.

The text is not unimportant in any way to Reb Zalman. But when we think about davenology, the very different kinds of things we do in different gatherings...there's an enormous array of things that we do that are in my mind all part of the arena of liturgy. The way in which we set out chairs: rows, a circle, sit on the floor? Are we going to be indoors or outdoors? Are there silences? If there are, how are they going to be guided/structured? Are there non-textual things, herbs or ram's horns or costumes, that are going to be part of a particular ritual? Colors, imagery, texture? All of those things are as much a part of the arena of liturgy as what's printed in the text of a prayerbook that people might or might not be holding in their hands.

The idea of white as an embracing color for R"H or Y"K, or black for 9 Av, is not an invention of tree-hugging hippies in the 20th century. The idea of texturing experience beyond the text is deeply rooted in Jewish practice; it just happens for a long time scholars didn't write about it very much.

Think of the entire liturgical environment, everything Reb Z would count in davenology, including the text.

This is not a class purely for academic reflection. I'm conscious that this cycle of the calendar is something we'll all be working with both personally in our own lives and in communities, congrgations, groups we're called upon to lead or guide. Enormous discretion is invested in the rabbi, rebbe, hazzan, cantor. Some of our communities are very engaged, committed to a partnership model where the group itself prepares what the experience is going to be, so within the Renewal world there are different axes of organizational structure and leadership. It's not our goal to judge which is better or more effective but we should be aware of these differences.

A word about an important distinction. This is one of the reasons we divided the two semesters up this way. My sense is that chol, our daily ritual liturgical prayer expeience, and Shabbat, are intrinsically dfferent in kind from all of the rest of the calendar.

What would you say is the important distinction between Shabbat and chol, as opposed to chagim / festival / yamim nora'im and so on?

- brachot that are in the amidah

- nusach, the music

The brachot between Shabbat and chol are very different. The question I'm asking you is the Talmudic phrase tzad hashaveh -- what is it that they have in common which is different from festivals?

- more people come

- they repeat

- different energy of daily/weekly cycle or rhythm

Chol is modulated a little differently; we might feel differently at 6am in New England in December than in Hawaii sometime in April. But nevertheless there is a sameness. The cycle of daily liturgy and Shabbat, these frequently recur. A piece of what guides our response is that there is a similarity of response. A piece of what gives one's experience of the daily amidah, or reciting shema uvirchotecha, tachanun, lecha dodi, shabbat mincha is that this is a regularly-repeating cycle, a piece of the human condition. Daily and weekly cycles.

OTOH, the annual cycle is a very slowly-recurring cycle. As our lives evolve, we have layers upon layers of imprinted memories of R"H or Purim, but each time they come around they've modulated significantly. A piece of the experience is a singularity relative to everything else experienced in that week or month. Annual cycles impact on human beings & societies differently than daily or weekly ones.

The reason that it makes sense to me that we did Shabbat & chol as one unit is, that's the frequently-recurring cycle. In this course we're doing the annual cycles. The big ones; the lesser ones; however we define those.

With that as introduction let me ask everybody to take 30-52 seconds to say a word of greeting and mention a personal goal for this semester.

Notable days in the annual cycle

What are the different categories of notable days in the annual cycle? e.g., technically: what are chagim?

- pilgrimage / regalim

Why are they called regalim?

- because one went by regel to J'lem

Three times a year, you should show up in Jerusalem, and not empty-handed but rather bringing gifts. And what are the 3 regalim?

- Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot

When we think of Pesach, what are the liturgical items?

- shir hashirim

Hold that one for a moment. In the background is the cycle of the association of the megillot with the festive cycle. That's not unique to shalosh regalim. Thinking intrinsically to Pesach, what else?

- seder

- matzah

- symbols, like dipping twice

(That's part of the seder.) What other observance?

- prayer for dew

- counting the Omer

If you think about it, there's a lot. There's tal, the prayer for dew, and bear in mind its close cousin, the prayer for geshem. The beginning of sefirat ha-omer. The issues only on Pesach and Sukkot of chol hamoed. If we think about festival liturgy, and Pesach is the first one we mentioned, there are considerations around Hallel and how to understand the structure and the place of hallel. What else comes to mind around Pesach?

- disposal of leaven

The various halakhot associated with festivals -- constructing a sukkah, 4 minim, halakhot about hametz u-matzah, these are not particularly within the parameters of this class.

- yizkor

Assigned Torah readings & Haftarot. On any given Shabbos you know what you're going to read: annual or triennial cycle. The cycle of Shabbat Torah reading is superimposed on the calendar. If you think back to antiquity, you read a bit and then picked up the following year; kriat ha-Torah was like the Islamic calendar, it wandered around the Jewish year. What we have now, whether you do the full cycle or like 99.9 % doing the triennial cycle -- it's implemented by reading a third of the full trad kriyah for that Shabbat. Either way, we have a system where the Torah readings have been annualized. We always read Genesis in the fall; Dvarim in the summer; and so on. But remember that in the times of the mishna & gemara there was no such predictability. You could be reading any place in the Torah at any time of the calendar over a 10 or 12 year period.

For the 3 regalim & other Torah reading occasions, chazal had complete freedom to pick any reading for any occasion, both in Torah & Haftarah. It's not a small thing to think about what was chosen & why.

Apart from tal and geshem there are many more piyyutim. Most of them have fallen into abeyance (well-deserved decrepitude would be the value-laden way to put it.) But some are more rewarding than we might imagine. We will look at piyyutim.

What falls within the category of piyyutim?

- acrostic poetry

- anything that's not in the trad matbeah tefilah

So everything that's not in those traditional categories would fall in this category. Is there any terminal date subsequent to which we would not count material as piyyutim?

- an imaginary meeting between Bialik and Graetz

The period of piyyutim has not been closed. Some of the best of contemporary liturgical publications involve creative, broad, diverse engagement between the piyyutim of antiquity (gaonic and pre-gaonic period) and poetic compositions of people up until the day before yesterday. The challenge isn't merely to be modern; the challenge is the depths of engagement and effective juxtaposition of text and context. Some of the best innovations slip very naturally into that context.

What else belongs in a discussion of Pesach?

- The 4 parshiyot prior to Pesach. Each has its own set of piyyutim in diff communities.

Worthy of note is the way in which the approach of Pesach is manifested in the calendar prior to Pesach. That's worth holding in mind for other holidays. How is the approach to a particular day marked in the peturbations that are felt in the daily and Shababt liturgy prior to the onset of that particular date? Pesach and R"H are perhaps the most marked manifestations of that, but they're not the only ones.

- When you get to Rosh Chodesh you can introduce the Pesach nusach at that time

Right. That's the kind of peturbation I'm talking about. We don't interfere with parshat hashavua, but fortunately the institution allows for peturbation in Torah readings. Whether or not we say tachanun on weekdays, e.g., are signs of that.

Following Pesach comes Shavuot. What are the items to consider in Shavuot?

- tikkun leyl Shavuot

- sefirat ha-omer

Between Pesach and Shavuot is sefirah. I'll take sefirat ha-omer out of the category of being part of the regalim for this moment, though you're right to note it. But the days themselves don't count as regalim.

- food

- reading Ruth

- Hallel

- extra blessing in the amidah - zman mattan Torateinu

- yizkor, on the second day

For the regalim in general, we'll have some discussion of the whole inyan of a second day in galut.

- akdamut

- Confirmation, in some synagogues, done on shavuot

Good; that's a piece of confluence between annual calendar and lifecycle.

Moving on to Sukkot, the next of the regalim:

- the whole indoor/outdoor thing; the sukkah, service in the sukkah or inside

- building booths

- arba minim, and the waving thereof

- hoshanot

- ushpizin

- tefilat geshem (counterpart to tal)

- some people see the waving of the minim as pagan or Native

- but calling it pagan is a misunderstanding; really it's very human. We have an idea from the 18th century that if we need to use any props that it's somehow less valuable; that's a Kantian kind of understanding!

- Judaism has its roots in traditional folk practices; invoking elements is a natural practice, it's something we integrated into our psyche but there was a lot of effort to repress indigenous practices but this one hasn't gone away

This is interesting and important: Sukkot has retained connections to external naturally-derived props more than most other times during the flow of the year. It's interesting to reflect on why that is the case for Sukkot; and why it is not the case for many other occasions. Though a number of the secular kibbutzim in Israel found ways of returning to greater connections in such ways.

Sukkot has a complexity all its own in reflecting what is the nature of the day we call Shemini Atzeret and whether or not is part of Sukkot. In the amidah you recite a very carefully nuanced Talmudic compromise on whether it is the 8th day of Sukkot or whether it's a chag in its own right. Especially on what has become the observance in much of the Jewish world, the second day of Shemini Atzeret which we know and love as Simchat Torah. Clearly we know that Simchat Torah could not have originated in the time of the gemara or prior; why?

- because of the cycle of Torah

Until the cycle of Torah reading was annualized, the concept of Simchat Torah as part of an annual cycle of observance was literally inconceivable. There was no recorded ritual prior to the initiation of the annual cycle, where you would go directly from Dvarim to Bereshit. We don't know how those once in every three-and-a-quarter years occasions would have been marked.

- Is Sukkot the end of a cycle -- I feel that from 9 Av through Simchat Torah is for me a unit, a cycle that has ebbs and flows

I think that it's an important observance. There are several books and a number of people who reflect in this way. The interesting question as we think about the connections we make in our own mind, some of the cycles that are increasingly clear or increasingly emphasized -- increasingly constructing moments of the calendar -- what's interesting to reflect upon is, are they in some ways original and intrinsic, or are they constructions, reconstructions or renewals innovated at a later point,a nd if so, why or for what purpose?

The 60 days from 9 Av until Hoshana Rabbah is an observed cycle. An important connection. But it's interesting to think about ways in which that was or was not originally the case, because of Simchat Torah.

So: the first big cycle that we reflect on is the 3 regalim. The second is the cyce of Yamim Nora'im. When does that begin?

- 1 Elul

What is the marker that lets you know it's the beginning of that cycle?

- blowing the shofar

- psalm 27

What's the next moment?

- Selichot

We begin to speak about R"H, it's nearly in the category of ain l'dvar sof. So hold in abeyance the particular simanim of R"H and Y"K.

Having spoken about the 3 regalim and R"H and Y"K, now: what are the other days in the calendar that we need to include in the annual cycle? The next category often identified are the y'mei ha-hoda'ah. Purim and Chanukah. In contemporary times what has been added?

- Yom ha-Atzma'ut

- Yom Yerushalayim

- Tu BiShvat?

Let's be careful in categories. What do Purim and Chanukah have in common?

- Al ha-nisim

What else do they have in common?

- They're post-Biblical. We say asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav and yet that story had not yet happened when the Torah was written.

When do you say those words on Purim?

- Before reading the megillah

So a mitzvah is identified which is post-Torah but nevertheless we say asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, which has similar theological issues to lighting Shabbat candles. Those three are excellent examples of the authority of our tradition to innovate with authority which is not less than the authority of the Torah itself.

What's one textual-liturgical thing different between Chanukah and Purim?

- On Chanukah you say Hallel

And we do not say it on Purim. There's a discussion on that in Gemara, tractate Megillah, and several other places. We'll look at that later.

It's also interesting that Purim has a tractate devoted to it. How much is devoted to Chanukah?

- one page

- one paragraph!

A little less than a page. Very little. That's also of note. Also, both Chanukah and Purim clearly date back to the rabbinic era.

- Chanukah is apocryphal; Maccabbees are not part of our canon! Commonalities: they have to do with religious freedom, "they attacked us, we won, let's eat." But Chanukah wasn't as important until Christmas became important for our gentile neighbors.

- I'm disagreeing that it's about Christians; I don't think the distinction is between Jews and Christians so much as it's between, the rabbis who were trying to figure out what to do about the fact that everybody was lighting candles.

We'll look a little more at the cultural anthropology of winter festivals when we come to look at Chanukah.

- At Purim we read a book of Tanakh out loud; at Chanukah we have no text, other than a paragraph in the amidah. Related themes in the haftarot, but we have no direct text that we read telling the story of Chanukah in the shul.

There are differences and commonalities. So: there is interesting discussion -- thinking about days in the annual cycle that are noted from premodern Jewish tradition. Regalim, HHD, Chanukah and Purim: what's left?

- 9 Av

- fast days

- Rosh Chodesh

- the Three Weeks

- 17 Tammuz

- Tzom Gedaliah

Generally known as the minor fasts. Once we move beyond the cycle of fasts, regalim, HHD, hoda'ah, fasts, what's left?

- Tu BiShvat

What else? Pre-modern. Sefirat ha-Omer and Lag ba-Omer. That pretty much ties up the annual calendar, pre-modern. When we contemplate modernity, what days present themselves?

- Events having to do w/ the modern state of Israel

- Yom Ha-Atzma'ut

- Yom Ha-Zikaron

- Yom Ha-Shoah

- Yom Yerushalayim

Does anybody have any challenge with this list of four days in the context in which they were offered?

- They were all established by the government of the State of Israel.

There are many people who are troubled by including Yom Ha-Shoah in the list of days associated with Israel. Why?

- Especially in the last few years, the UN established a different date for commemoration

- It troubles me if it's being categorized as a holiday that's related to the State of Israel, because it seems to diminish the centuries-long relationship with the land and imply that the Shoah has more of a role than it should or than it does in the establishment of the State

- the theologically troubling idea some people have that God caused or allowed the Shoah in order to bring about the birth of the State of Israel

- another problem brought up by Avram Burg in his recent book -- in Israel it's called Yom Ha-Shoah v'haGevurah, the resistance movement is amplified in comparison to its size or effect; which ties in to the theological problem of how much influence do individual Jews have on God

I just wanted to open that conversation here; when we come to Yom Ha-Shoah (and/or v'ha-Gevurah) we can talk more about that. There are issues in re: how it was established, by whom, with what theological and sociological agenda it was established, and whether it belongs in the category of notable days associated with the land of Israel or whether it belongs in the category of notable days not associated necessarily w/ Israel.

Those 4 days are pretty well identified. There's a qustion of whether Yom Yerushalayim will survive but the others are pretty established. What other days belong within the purview of this class?

- For Americans, Thanksgiving and MLK day

They're an interesting case. Do these two days belong in a study on the annual cycle of Jewish obervance or not?

- It depends; for a lot of secular Jews, Thanksgiving became the chag around which family felt good about connecting & gathering

- a lot of folks have taken to observing Heschel's yahrzeit, which is around MLK today, and observing them together

- Thanksgiving as a popular holiday -- in that season it's become a time for interfaith services, which is an important connection to make in this era

- we might have a teaching opportunity; how important Thanksgiving is for ex-pats. The idea that we might be missing is, could we use one of our own regalim which has something to do with harvest as a focal point for more reflection on harvest and thanks? Shavuot, e.g. -- mattan Torah.

Hold that question also. We'll look at it.

So: that's the cycle of the calendar we'll look at. The way we'll approach it is: 3 regalim first. Then all of the other days: the fast days, the ymei ha-hoda'ah, and contemporary observances. And we'll do Yamim Nora'im as the last major unit of the semester.


I'd like to talk a bit about books. Kohelet has well-known reflections about how when you start talking about books, there's no end to it! There's really no end to all of this. Within that, at least a modest beginning.

In front of you for every class, have a Tanakh, with translation into whatever language is most helpful for you. Have a trad machzor or siddur, because the liturgical texts for Chanukah and Purim are in the siddur. Whatever is the appropriate liturgical text for the day we're looking at, have the Ashkenazic traditional version in front of you.

When we move into times of modernity I'll have specific recommendations.

I specifically recommend the machzorim published by Koren. For several reasons. Most of all, they do the best job of arranging poetry so that it looks like poetry.

(NB: You can buy the 3-volume set online here:

I'd like it if you have one with Hebrew only, but have a machzor with translations somewhere nearby if you need it. Artscroll has many commendable features as long as you understand that the distinction between pshat and drash, and between history and fantasy, is marginal at best. What they do really well is bring together an amazing array of sources; what they do less well...when you use a tool know what it's useful for and what it's not.

There's a series of machzorim by Goldschmidt. Everything you want to know about the piyyutim -- this is annotated and footnoted in more detail than you want to know! They're not cheap; it's not a requirement. But if you can get ahold of them, it would be useful. Also useful, though now a little dated, is the scholarly introduction "The Structure of the Services" that Goldschmidt wrote in each of the machzorim.

There's a 5-volume series by Jacobsen, Netiv Binah; the first 3 vols have been translated into English, about the daily and Shabbat siddur. The other two volumes, Yamim Nora'im and Shalosh Regalim, are not translated. It would be a huge mitzvah if someone would translate them. They are in clear, modern Hebrew. Whoever has the ability to work with relatively simple texts in modern Hebrew, I can't commend them enough.

There is a partial translation of the Yamim Nora'im volume, called "Yamim Nora'im, Days of Awe, a Program of Study." Published 1978 by Sinai and is almost unobtainable. I will send excerpts to Daniel to post on the wiki when relevant.

Some words about secondary literature, and then I want to speak about contemporary liturgical publications.

I hope everybody has a copy of "Jewish Liturgy" by Ismar Elbogen. The English translation is the only way to go; even if you have the German original, it was updated into the Hebrew translation by Goldschmidt, and the Hebrew translation was updated by Scheindlin, so this is one case where the English translation is superior in every way to the German.

It is also very important that you have Lawrence Hoffman's book "The Canonization of the Synagogue Service," Notre Dame Press 1979. It's the best single-volume discussion of the transition from relatively chaotic material into something close to uniformity through the gaonic period. The book doesn't deal with the middle ages or talmudic period but it's very good at precisely what the title says, e.g. the period of canonization. We won't read huge extracts from it. I'll scan the sections we'll be using in pdf format.

Collections of non-scholarly but nevertheless quite serious books which are accompaniments to one or another of the holidays or to the calendar cycle as a whole: one very recently-published book on the calendar cycle is called "The Eternal Journey: Meditations on the Jewish Year," Jonathan Wittenberg. Not rquired but I want to recommend it strongly. Creative, spiritually-sensitive approach.

Arthur Waskow's "Seasons of Our Joy," is very good in its survey of history and looking for contemporary understandings.

There are single volumes on the Jewish calendar by Nina Purden (?), Yitz Greenberg, by Michael Strassfeld; they're all good. Useful for recommending to members of our communities but you'll find interesting material.

For the HHD in particular: Agnon's "Days of Awe." In English it's done by Shocken; that anthology is very important. There's a good commentary to the HHD liturgy in English by Max Artz z"l; it's almost unobtainable, we'll put scans of the important pages on the wiki. "Justice and Mercy" is its name.

Gates of Understanding Vol. 2 -- CCAR Press -- a piece of it is just a guide to Gates of Repentance, which is the Reform liturgy and is interesting to those using it. The historical material is done by Hoffman and it's his commentary to the entire HHD liturgy, so it's useful beyond the context of simply understanding the Reform liturgy.

A great book translated from Hebrew, Sefer ha-Hoda'ah, in English it's "The Book of Our Heritage." It's a great collection of trad practices associated with the calendar in order.

There's an almost unlimited number of contemporary machzors out there. I can't ask all of you to buy all of them though all of you should have the machzor or siddur associated with the communities you know and love the most. And I've asked you to get hold of the "traditional text." To the extent that you can, it's good to have one of the Israeli publications. It's important to understand how America, Europe and Israel have discernible distinctions.

It's a number of weeks beforehand, so I want to say now: for the Yamim Nora'im, the work done in selecting compelling texts from the modern and premodern periods, poetic and prose, done by my rebbes, published by the Reform synagogues of Great Britain, is incomparable. I'll post information for anyone who's interested.


The question is: whether we're looking at Purim, or Y"K mincha, or 9 Av, or Yom ha-Shoah, what is it that makes liturgical texts effective and supportive guides to the annual cycle? That will be a recurring question.

One thing we didn't speak about, but will speak about, is the arena of musical experience. Light, texture, foods melodies, as well as songs and piyyutim.

For each section that we meet, the identifying of one or two texts (Simcha Daniel will put them on the wiki), we'll do 2-3 minute little divrei tefilah on these texts as we select them. To the extent that you find a wonderful performance or rendering of these texts, please use the wiki to put up YouTube or mp3 references to renderings of any of these texts that you think are compelling or interesting for any particular reason. Annotate to tell us your reasons.

I'll also ask each of you individually or in hevruta pairs, as we go through the cycle, to choose one of these holidays or one facet of one holiday on which to do a little historical research and to present a bit on history or development from early stages to later stages to the present. I'll be glad to help you with bibliography and research ideas.

In the sessions that we have together I don't want to simply deliver lectures to you on material which is easily accessible in books. I will not be spending a lot of time lecturing on the history of development of Sukkot, and so on. I'll try to get out the best bibliographic information I can so that you can easily access that, but I hope we can use our time together closely studying some of the exemplar texts which I hope by the end of the semester, studying these texts in depth will open up historical context and meaning.


- presentation regarding a specific holiday: will you ask us to sign up in any way?

I'll put a sign up with the dates of sessions on the wiki. If anybody in the group has a particularly profound wish that you do not find to be reflected in the wiki, please email me privately.

There are little points of discussion that we open up; we should find a way to keep a page on the wiki to keep track of the reflections we open up in class, and the 2 hrs we have each week is limiting. If we find something that's tangential, or a discussion that's interesting but flowing beyond a reasonable allocation of time, we'll bring it to a close in our live session but have it flow into the wiki where that continuing dialogue can unfold easily.

- Assignment for next week?

It will be posted on the wiki by tonight. We're starting with 3 regalim: studying the texts of kiddush, the inserts for the regalim that appear in the amidah (ya'aleh v'yavo and hevienu), and the recitations of musaf. These are core to the 3 regalim together with kiddush and will be our starting point.