May 29, 2008
Week 237, Day 4
24 Iyar 5768

Introduction to the 10 Minutes of Torah devoted to liturgy
Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber

10 Minutes of Torah: Delving into T’filah has been in development for several years as the Reform Movement prepared for the publication of Mishkan T’filah by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. When many congregations piloted Mishkan T’filah, they included discussions of liturgy and prayer in the process. Questions continue to be raised regarding the role of prayer, both communal and private, the meaning of specific prayers, the relationship between liturgy and modern theological  concepts and the connection between the written liturgy and how it is articulated in communal worship. Delving into T’filah is designed to open the world of Jewish liturgy to the readers of 10 Minutes of Torah.

Throughout our history, Jewish liturgy has expanded and developed based upon the needs of the Jewish people. While the Temple was in existence the kohein, the priest, was the conduit of the people’s prayers through his performance of ritual sacrifice. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the rabbis of the rabbinic period began to develop the framework of our communal worship. This framework is what eventually became the siddur, the order in which the liturgy is recited or prayerbook. Since that time, the contents of Jewish prayerbooks have become codified so that, in theory, an individual can open any siddur and find the same basic prayers and prayer order.  The least variation, from siddur to siddur, is found in the Hebrew texts. The greatest distinctions between various siddurim are found in the English translations and interpretative texts which reflect each movement’s history, philosophy and theology.

As Rabbis Elyse Frishman and Peter Knobel explain in the Introduction to Mishkan T’filah:

In any worship setting, people have diverse beliefs. The challenge of a single liturgy is to be not only multi-vocal, but poly-vocal—to invite full participation at once, without conflicting with the keva text. (First, the keva text must be one that is acceptable; hence, the ongoing adaptations of certain prayers, over time, such as the G’vurot). Jewish prayer invites interpretation; the left hand material was selected both for metaphor and theological diversity. The choices were informed by the themes of Reform Judaism and Life: Social justice, feminism, Zionism, distinctiveness, human challenges. The heritage of Reform brings gems from the Union Prayer Book and from Gates of Prayer, as well as from Reform’s great literary figures over the last century and more.

Theologically, the liturgy needs to include many perceptions of God: the transcendent, the naturalist, the mysterious, the partner, the evolving God. In any given module of prayer, e.g., the Sh’ma and Blessings, we should sense all of these ways. The distinction of an integrated theology is not that one looks to each page to find one’s particular voice, but that over the course of praying, many voices are heard, and ultimately come together as one. The ethic of inclusivity means awareness of and obligation to others rather than mere self-fulfillment.

An integrated theology communicates that the community is greater than the sum of its parts. While individuals matter deeply, particularly in the sense of our emotional and spiritual needs and in the certainty that we are not invisible, that security should be a stepping stone to the higher value of community, privilege and obligation. We join together in prayer because together, we are stronger and more apt to commit to the values of our heritage. Abraham knew that just ten people make a difference. In worship, all should be reminded of the social imperatives of community.

Prayer must move us beyond ourselves. Prayer should not reflect “me”; prayer should reflect our values and ideals. God is not in our image; we are in God’s. It is critical that Reform Jews understand what is expected of them. The diverse theologies of the new siddur reflect religious naturalism, the theology of human adequacy, process theology, and the balance of particularism and universalism. But the essence of Reform liturgy continues to be what God demands of us, with heavy emphasis on ethical action and social justice.

10 Minutes of Torah: Delving into T’filah will initially focus on the liturgy of the Shabbat Shacharit (morning) service; prayers will be explored in the order of the service. Each prayer will be examined over a three week period; each of these three weeks will focus on a different aspect of the prayer.

Week 1 - An explanation of the historical and literal meaning of the Hebrew text written by Rabbi Richard Sarason

Week 2 - A personal reflection on the same prayer but with a focus on the interpretative material on the left-hand page of Mishkan T’filah written by various Reform Jews.

Week 3 - An understanding of the Hebrew prayer text through a specific musical setting chosen by the writer, written by members of the American Conference of Cantors  

The development of 10 Minutes of Torah: Delving into T’filah has brought together scholars, clergy and lay leaders from our Movement to explore the potential of prayer and its meaning for us today. This series is a combined project of the Joint Commission on Worship, Music and Religious Living, the Union’s Adult Learning Department and the American Conference of Cantors. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has granted permission for the links to Mishkan T’filah –for which we are grateful. News and Views of Reform Jews. Join the conversation on the new Reform blog at

Adult Study Retreat 2008
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