The Conservative Mahzor

The “Mahzor for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kipur” was published by the Rabbinical Assembly in 1972, with Rabbi Jules Harlow serving as Editor.

Harlow Mahzor

In the Amidah, the standard Conservative changes regarding sacrifices are made: It changes the phrase na’ase ve’nakriv (we will present and sacrifice) to asu ve’hikrivu (they presented and sacrificed).

The petition to accept the “fire offerings of Israel” is removed from all versions of the Amidah. Additional passages are inserted into the Musaf which reflect the reality of the State of Israel, and ask that God be merciful to all of the House of Israel who suffer. In the morning prayers, it offers a choice between a standard or abbreviated Pesukei Dezimra (verses of praise).

The Yom Kipur service has always featured a recollection of the sacrificial service (Seder Ha’Avodah)of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), which was carried out on Yom Kipur in the Temple in Jerusalem. The conventional text used by Orthodox Jews presents at least three problems for many modern congregants: (a) It is presented as a medieval liturgical poem (b) It does not present in a clear and simple way the themes and structure of the Service which it commemorates, and (C) it does not deal adequately with the problem of religious life without the Temple. To present the re-enactment of the Service of the Kohen Gadol it was thus decided to present, in Hebrew and English, an abridged adaptation of Mishnah Yoma, the rabbinic work which describes the duties of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kipur in a straightforward manner. The liturgical additions to the descriptions were retained.

How do we gain ritual atonement for sin today, in a world without the Temple? This is not a new question; the rabbis of the Talmud asked this question, and the Conservative machzor adds their insights to the text. It notes that we can only read of and imagine the splendor and glory of the Service of the Kohen Gadol in the Temple, and states “Blessed were those who shared the joy and delight of our people, blessed were those who saw the splendor of the Kohen Gadol at the Temple. They were cleansed and renewed through atonement in that service. We are diminished by its loss.” The Mahzor then continues with a passage from Avot D’Rabbi Nathan:

The Temple is destroyed. We never witnessed its glory. But Rabbi Joshua did. And when he looked at the Temple ruins one day, he burst into tears. ‘Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of all the people Israel lies in ruins!’ Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: ‘Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness.’

This section is followed by similar readings from rabbinic and prophetic literature, presenting examples of deeds of loving-kindness through which me must now gain atonement for sin. Another change is that the medieval poetic description of the Kohen Gadol is replaced by the description in the book of Ben Sira upon which the later descriptions were based.

Compared to most 18th century Ashkenazi Machzorim, there are fewer piyuttim (religious poems) in the Conservative Mahzor. The traditional martyrology (Eileh Ezkerah) which recalls the memory of rabbis martyred in talmudic times, has been adapted to include prose and poetry which form a liturgical response to the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

Thf Mahzor offers an optional Torah reading (Lev. 19) for the minhah service on Yom Kipur. New readings, including poetry and prose of modern and contemporary writers, rabbis and scholars are incorporated into the services or presented in separate sections, arranged for responsive reading or for reflection and study. Ancient and medieval rabbinic sources not usually included in prayerbooks have been added.

Adapted from the writing of Rabbi Jules Harlow.

Advertisements

One thought on “The Conservative Mahzor

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s