Conservative Jewish liturgy

What is the traditional Siddur?

The text of the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) has not always been fixed. A perusal of Jewish prayer books from the Gaonic era to the present shows that the text of the liturgy varied from one era to another, from one country to another.

A perusal of Rishonic poskim [medieval decisors of Jewish law] shows that most were flexible with regards to the composition of prayers, such as allowing the addition of piyuttim (religious poetry) in the middle of berakhot (blessings), and changes in many berakhot themselves.

The basic prayers of the Talmudic era did not have one single authoritative text. Numerous genizah fragments have shown that the Palestinian liturgy in the Geonic period was not only very different from the Babylonian, but flexible with Palestine itself.

While Geonim attempted to canonize the liturgy in their day, their attempts were only partially successful. Many of the liturgical controversies of the geonic period flared up again among the Rishonim, and many new controversies were added. The siddur remained flexible throughout the Middle Ages. [Adapted from Golinkin]

Even the text of the Shemonah Esrah (Amidah) has gone through considerable development. According to the Talmud it was fixed around the year 100 CE by Simon Hapaqoli under the auspices of Rabbi Gamliel II in Yavneh. But what was “fixed” was only the number eighteen, the ideas to be expressed in the various benediction, and to some extent the order in which the benedictions were to be recited. The wording of the individual benedictions was not fixed. Only much later did the wording begin to crystallize, in both Palestinian and Babylonian versions. The latter actually contained _nineteen_ benedictions, and is the one which forms the basis for the versions of the prayer which is used today. As late as the 14th century, the text of the Amidah still had many local variations. [Petuchowski, 1985]

The relatively static nature of the liturgy for the past few hundred years has little to do with halakha (Jewish law). As Prof. Petuchowski has observed: “The ultimate authority in matters liturgical is the printer.” The printer ‘canonized’ one manuscript while other versions fell by the wayside. The printer canonized scribal errors which were then passed from one edition to the next, and the printer selected certain piyuttim, dooming others to oblivion. [Adapted from Golinkin] Any study of the development of the siddur leads to the conclusion stated by Jakob Petuchowski:

“There is, and there is not such a thing as ‘the’ traditional Jewish prayerbook. There is less of one than some Orthodox Jews would like to believe; and there is more of one than some Reform apologists are willing to admit”

In view of all the evidence available, nobody could insist that Rabbi Saadyah Gaon’s siddur was identical Rav Amram Gaon’s siddur, or that the prayerbook of Maimonides was identical to either of them. Nor can it be claimed that the crystallization of the Ashkenazi rite as we find it in the 12 century Mahzor Vitry is the same as Rabbi Isaac Seligman Baer’s standard siddur (Avodat Yisrael) of the 19th century (1868). Add to that the many fragments which have been discovered of the ancient Palestinian rite, and of other rites no longer in use, and the strength of the argument against something which could be described as “the” traditional Jewish prayer book is increased.

Even within Orthodoxy today there are many distinct rites: South-west Ashkenazi, the Polish rite, the Sephardi rite of London and Amsterdam, the Sephardi rite of North Africa, and the hybrid Ashkenazi-Sepharadi rite developed by Hasidim (confusingly called Nusach Sepharad). There is also the Italian (Romi) rite, the Aleppo rite, the Baghdadi rite and the Yemenite rite. Which represents “the” traditional Jewish prayerbook? They all do!

However, the many different 19th and 20th century Orthodox prayerbooks all have much more in common than they have different. They generally differ only in minor matters. When it comes to all the major rubrics, laid down by the rabbis of the Mishnah and Gemara, all the various rites have them. Each rite generally contains the same prayers, plus or minus a few, with a number of minor variations in order and wording. They also all have the three paragraphs of the “Shema”, and all 19 blessings in the Amidah (although they vary a bit in wording). Last but not least, however different the wording might be between one rite and other, most express the same religious convictions, and they all subscribe to the same theology. From this broader perspective one might be justified in speaking about “the” traditional prayerbook. [Adapted from Petuchowski, 1985]

 
What principles guide Conservative/Masorti Rabbis in their liturgical decisions?

The Conservative/Masorti movement recognizes that it is no small matter to modify prayers in the siddur. It also accepts the findings of liturgical scholarship; the specific wording and order of the blessings always has had flexibility. The standardized versions used today were not created by any one rabbinical council; rather, as Prof. Jakob Petuchowski has observed, “The ultimate authority in matters liturgical is the printer.” The printer canonized one manuscript while other versions fell by the wayside.

Many in the right-wing Orthodox Jewish community are not aware of, or refuse to accept the validity of, modern critical scholarship on the history of the liturgy; they thus insist that the main elements of the liturgy today are almost identical to their form 2000 years ago. In effect, they deny that the liturgy has a history; they then deny that the liturgy can change.

Many in Modern Orthodoxy accept the validity of this scholarship, but hold the modern text as inviolable; thus their liturgy changes only slightly more than that of the right-wing Orthodox.

On the other extreme, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements do not see halakha (Jewish law) as binding, and thus see no problem in significantly re-editing or rewriting all sections of the siddur.

In between these views lies the historical approach: The siddur can and should be be modified, but only conservatively, as the siddur is the common inheritance of Klal Yisrael. The siddur links past generations to the present, and to the future.

Thus Conservative rabbis follow a historical approach: changes introduced are no greater than those which always have been allowed. Rabbi Simchah Roth notes that the Orthodox view, which fixes the wording of all prayers, itself is not traditional: “It follows that the interdiction of altering the template of the prayers does not affect their literary content. Rashba [Rabbi Shelomo ben-Adret] writes [on Berakhot 11a]: ‘The statement of the sages that we may not increase or decrease [the benedictions] does not refer to increasing or decreasing their verbal content; if that were the case they should have instituted an exact text for each benediction, and that is something that we do not find anywhere … As regards the benedictions, the sages set no particular number of words that the worshiper must say, no more and no less'”.

Where the Conservative movement has validated more than one possible formulation of a prayer a congregation must follow the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d’atra [local halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p’sak [decision].

What was in the early Conservative liturgy (pre 1972)

These were published by the United Synagogue or Rabbinical Assembly, except for Silverman’s “High Holiday Prayer Book” and Bokser’s “The High Holyday Prayer Book”. In addition, a number of Conservative rabbis edited independent siddurim. For a partial list of the most widely used independent prayer books, see the section “What are the non-official Conservative prayerbooks?”

Much of the analysis in this sections is adapted directly from papers written by Jeffrey Rubenstein (see bibliography for sources)

Abbreviations: RA – Rabbinical Assembly; USCJ – United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, formerly the United Synagogue of America

“Festival Prayer Book” Ed. Alexander Marx, 1927, USCJ. This siddur has the same Hebrew text and liturgy as late 19th century and 20th century Orthodox siddurim, such as the Birnbaum siddur. The translation was modern for its time.

“Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book” edited by Morris Silverman with Robert Gordis, 1946. USCJ and RA. The Hebrew text contains a few significant modifications. Rubenstein writes that “the ‘infamous blessing’ is changed in both Hebrew and English from ‘…who has not made me a woman” to ‘…who has made me in His image.” A number of readings are added that give emphasis on freedom, justice and ethics. There are a number of changes in the English translations of prayers; these have been chosen to avoid associating God with destruction or vengeance, and instead work to consistently portray God as a creator of peace, love and justice.

“High Holyday Prayer Book” Ed. Morris Silverman, 1951. Although not published by the RA or USCJ, this mahzor was widely adopted by the majority of Conservative synagogues, and is still in use in many congregations today. Rubenstein notes that it continues the pattern of “Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book”, and goes one step further by not translating a few sections of text that emphasize God’s wrath and vengeance. The translation veers away from the literal in many instances; the philosophy was to maintain the traditional Hebrew text, but to give an English rendering that reflects Conservative theology. Thus, the morning blessings concerning “…who has not made me a women” returns to its original form in Hebrew, but is translated as “…who hast set upon me the obligations of a man”. Readings are given on: moral responsibility, peace, justice, harmony, understanding and mutual helpfulness, the abolition of man’s inhumanity to man, and on violence and war”. A modern interpretation of the Avodah service is given, with passages explaining what the Avodah service should teach us concerning ethics.

“The High Holyday Prayer Book” Ed. Ben Zion Bokser, 1959, Hebrew Publishing Company, NY. Although not published by the Conservative movement, it was reviewed and revised by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Joint Prayerbook Commission, who gave it their official endorsement. The only reason that it was not officially accepted as an RA publication was because R. Bokser had already entered into agreement with the Hebrew Publishing Company. It contains a Hebrew text that is mostly Orthodox, yet has an English translation that presents a Conservative ideology.

“Weekday Prayer Book” Ed. Gershon Hadas with Jules Harlow, 1961, RA. The Hebrew text is given a new translation; This siddur rejects the tendency of “Sabbath and Festival” and “High Holiday” to gloss over prayers dealing with Divine wrath or retribution. Such verses reappear in this work. Archaic bible-speak terms like “Thy” and “Thou” are replaced with the more accurate translations “Your” and “You”. This siddur resurrects the innovation of positive formulations for the morning blessing. The prayer on behalf of the congregation (recited after the Torah reading on Shabbat) has been emended to reflect the fact that women as well as men are members of the congregation.

“Mahzor for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kipur” Ed. Jules Harlow, 1972, RA.

The translation plays down God’s connections to war or violence. The Avinu Malkeinu has ten lines edited out, in both Hebrew and English, which imputed harsh qualities to God. It continues the policy of positive formulations for the morning berakhot, and prayers have been changed to reflect the fact that women are no longer wives of the members, but full members of the congregations themselves. This mahzor is discussed in “What changes have been made in the Conservative Mahzor?” (Adapted from Jeffrey Rubenstein’s papers.)

What are the modern Conservative prayerbooks?

“Siddur Sim Shalom” Ed. Jules Harlow. 1985, 980 pages, RA and USCJ. This is the first siddur in which the beliefs and theology of Conservative Judaism were made explicit; while traditional when compared to Reform prayerbooks, this siddur does contain a number of notable departures from the Orthodox text. It contains services for weekdays, Shabbat and Festivals; in accord with Conservative theology is contains prayers and services for Israel Independence Day and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day).

“Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals” Ed. Lawrence Cahan, 1998, 816 pages. RA and USCJ. This is a new edition of Sim Shalom just for Shabbat and Festivals (no weekday services). Most of the translations are nearly identical to Harlow’s 1985 edition, but this siddur uses gender-sensitive translations of the names of God, and presents the option to use the Imahot (matriarchs) in the Amidah (Shemonah Esrah). It also restores a few traditional Ashkenazic prayers that were not in the 1985 version, including Rabbi Ishamel’s 13 principles of biblical interpretation, the B’rah Dodi poems for Pesach, Ana B’kho-ah at the end of Psalm 29 in Kabbalat Shabbat, and Ushpizin for Sukkot, included in a new, egalitarian version. The Y’hi Ratzon meditation following the Musaf Amidah is restored

It includes new translations of a number of prayers and poems that were not translated at all in the previous edition, including Akdamut and the Hoshanot (only summaries of these prayers had been given previously.) It offers an easier to follow layout and table of contents; many pages have notes explaining the background and meanings of the prayers; guidelines and instructions on the content, choreography and continuity of the service. There is an increased use of transliteration. It contains a comprehensive section of Shabbat and Holiday home rituals.

“Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays” Ed. Avram Israel Reisner, 2003, 576 pages. RA and USCJ. This siddur is the companion to “Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals.” The editor writes: “We began with the text of the original Siddur Sim Shalom published in 1985 under the…skillful editorship of Rabbi Jules Harlow whose eloquent and poetic translations inspire this text….Many of the innovations and approaches of the ‘Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals’ have been adopted here. Whenever possible, pages were reproduced intact, or with minor changes [for continuity].”

This weekday siddur contains Torah reading, inspirational messages, services for the home and includes new materials for special occasions and commemorations.

“We felt keenly that while the miraculous events of the founding of the State of Israel had found fitting expression [in the other Conservative siddurim] the more difficult experience of the Holocaust had yet to find an appropriate place in our prayers, Therefore, we composed a Nahum prayer for Yom Ha-shoah, inspired by that which appeared in Siddur Va-ani Tefillati of the Masorti Movement in 1998. In an insert into the Amidah, similar to that used traditionally on Tish B’Av, we seek God’s comfort in light of our people’s losses in Europe during the Holocaust. We felt the need, beyond that, to acknowledge on a daily basis the enormous effect that the Holocaust has had upon our people. At the end of Tahanun papers, in a prayer which reflects our suffering, we added reference to the anguish we still feel.”
“Va’ani Tefilati” Ed. Simcha Roth, 1997, The Masorti movement. The new siddur of the Masorti movement (movement for Conservative Judaism in Israel. Quotes are excerpted from the introduction to the Siddur:

This siddur recognizes the existence and validity of the State of Israel, and emphasizes that the worshiper is an Israeli citizen who actually lives in the land of Israel. “If someone was born in Israel or made Aliyah and has made Israel their permanent home, how can they beg ‘And bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth upright to our own land’? The worshiper is already in the land! …The Israeli nature and Zionist approach of the siddur are emphasized by recognition of the IDF and military service as an important factor in the life of the state and the citizen; I have even included one complete section…dedicated to the experience of holiness demonstrably connected with the Land of Israel – Holocaust Day, Independence Day, and so forth.”

Whenever the Avot [patriarchs] are mentioned, the Imahot [matriarchs] are added in brackets. There is an option to use the Imahot in the first bracha of the Amidah. Other innovations include a prayer for “difficult times” in Eretz-Israel and an addition to the Amidah” on Yom Ha’Shoah [Holocaust memorial Day]. Regarding the rebuilding of the Temple, two approaches are taken. One approach recollects the sacrificial cult that was observed in the Second Temple, and the other evinces a belief that in the Third Temple there will be no sacrificial cult.

What changes have been made in modern Conservative siddurim?
Birkhot HaShakhar – Morning Blessings

Three of the early morning berakhot were modified to praise God for having created each individual in God’s image, a free person and a Jew, rather than the conventional version which express gratitude for not having been created a woman, a slave or a non-Jew. [Harlow]

David Golinkin writes “The acknowledged expert in comparative Jewish liturgy today is Professor Naftali Wieder. For over forty years he has excelled in examining a specific prayer or liturgical phrase in dozens of different siddurim – manuscripts, genizah fragments, and printed editions – as well as in the works of scores of poskim from all lands and periods. The results show that change, correction and improvement were not the exception to the rule: They were the rule. One example of his findings, they very topic (shelo asani ishah) dealt with by Rabbis Yuter and Novak will suffice. Rabbi Meir rules in [Talmud Bavli] Menahot 43b (and parallels) that one is required to recite three blessings every day: shelo asani goi, shelo asani ishah, shelo asani bur. The Talmud then relates that Rabbi Aha bar Ya’akov heard his son recite shelo asani bur and told him to say shelo asani aved instead. Nevertheless, shelo asani bur was so popular that many poskim continually had to demand its removal from the siddur. On the other hand, the Italian poskim and siddurim _added_ shelo asani behemah, or bilti m’daber to birkhot hashhar though it is mentioned nowhere in either Talmud. Others added mal v’lo arel. Furthermore, there is tremendous variation in the way these blessings were presented and the Talmudic formulation was frequently ignored. Lastly, some siddurim erased shelo asani aved from the siddur, and at least three mediveal manuscripts eliminated shelo asani ishah from birkhot hashahar. Thus it is no surprise that Professor Joseph Heinemann, one of the century’s foremost experts on Jewish litugy, found no fault with Birkhot Hashahar as printed in the Rabbinical Assembly Mahzor back in 1972.” [“Siddur Sim Shalom – A Halakhic Analysis”, Conservative Judaism, Vol.41(1) Fall 1988]

Conventionally Birkhot HaShakhar contains a number of passages describing sacrifices and offerings in ancient times which can only be recalled, not carried out. Most of these passages are deleted from the Silverman Siddur, and even more from Siddur Sim Shalom. The sacrificial ritual in ancient times was construed as means by which a Jew gained atonement for sin. After the destruction of the Temple and the consequential end of sacrifices there, the Jewish people were deprived of this means. To replace the readings on sacrifices, modern Conservative prayerbooks cite the talmudic teaching that deeds of loving-kindness now atone for sin; they draw upon rabbinic tradition to emphasize teachings about atonement and necessary behavior. [Harlow] Texts that have been added to this part of the service include Leviticus 19:2, 14-18, Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 11a and Tractate Sukkah 49b.

Is this kind of change halakhically valid? Yes. Rabbi David Golinkin points out that Maimonides rules in Hilkhot Tefilah 7:11 “Every day one is required to recite these three berakhot [over learning Torah] and afterwards he reads some words of Torah. And the people are accustomed to read Birkat Kohanim – and in some places they read “zav et beni yisrael” – and in some places they recite both, and one reads chapters or halakhot from the Mishnah and from the braitot.” Maimonides’ siddur mentions the custom of reciting parshat zav and birkat kohanim – but does not include any of the other korbanot passages. Thus, Sim Shalom fulfills the dictum of Rabbi Joshua in Kiddushin 30a. Also, Rav Amram Gaon [who made the first modern style siddur] explains that R. Joshua’s comments in Kiddushin 30A are the reason that he included those selections of korbanot, but as the Talmud doesn’t explicitly require them, and as Maimonides make no such requirements either, we find that the particular selections here are more flexible than one might originally have supposed.
Al HaNissim and the State of Israel

An innovation in Conservative prayer books is a liturgical response to the creation of the modern State of Israel. It was felt that this should be made in a manner which is integral to the fabric of the service; Such a liturgical model already existed: Al HaNissim, which is added to the service on Purim on Chanukah. Thus a new, third Al HaNissim was composed, adapting the language and style of the standard Hebrew text to produce a text that is used on Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. A Torah and Haftarah reading for this day is also indicated.

In the Al Hanissim prayers, Siddur Sim Shalom follows the text of Rav Amram Gaon, emending the text which expressed gratitude for miracles “in other times, at this season” to now read “in other times, and in our day”. This adds a basic theological dimension that miracles are not confined to a remote and unavailable past. [Jules Harlow]
Bameh Madlikin

Rav Amram Gaon says that this chapter of Mishnah Shabbat is recited in shul on Friday night after kiddush, but gives no reason for the custom. Today this chapter is recited in many shuls at breakneck speed without any comprehension, or is simply skipped. Rabbi Harlow developed a modern compromise: The original chapter deals with which oils are suitable for use on Shabbat, and is no longer as relevant for weekly congregational study; thus it is replaced with selected mishnayot from Tractate Shabbat. By doing so he has breathed new life into an old minhag which has lost its meaning, while giving our laymen a regular opportunity to study some basic Shabbat laws from the Mishnah. [Adapted from David Golinkin]
Sacrifices in the Amidah

“Siddur Sim Shalom” presents multiple alternatives for the Shabbat Musaf. All versions change 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 the Amidah. There are similar modifications in the Rosh Hodesh Amidah.

“Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals” does not present multiple services; it presents one musaf for Shabbat, for festivals, and for Rosh Hodesh. Within each service, the reader is offered a traditional text, as well as an alternative text which eliminates mention of sacrifices. The traditional Y’hi Ratzon meditation (“May it be your will, Adonai our God, and God of our Ancestors, that the Temple be restored in our day…”) following the Musaf Amidah is restored. This is also restored in Va’Ani Tefilati.
Other changes in Musaf

Following a modification found in the siddur of Rav Saadiah Gaon, the Hebrew word ba-olam (in the world) is added to the daily prayer for peace at the end of the Amidah, making explicit the traditional Jewish concern for universal peace. A prayer for the welfare of the community, recited following the Torah service on Shabbat, was modified to include a phrase commending those who are devoted to helping rebuild the Land of Israel. [Jules Harlow]
Tahanun – supplications following the weekday morning Amidah

The earliest sources about saying Tahanun is from the Tosefta in Berakhot; The Geonim viewed this section as optional, the contents were flexible as well. In his Siddur Maimonides also makes it clear that there are various customs and he is merely citing his own custom. [Golinkin] Originally this point in the service was considered appropriate for the personal supplications of each individual, and it still is. Over the years, however, certain stylized passages were printed as the fixed text; these contain references to the physical desolation of Jerusalem and statements of extreme self-abasement. To reflect present reality, such statements have been deleted, other passages have adapted or abridged, and brief portions of supplications by Rav Amram and Rav Saadiah Gaon have been added. These are closer to us in spirit than many passages of later origin which were canonized by the printing press. One’s own prayers are appropriate, and traditional. [David Golinkin] “Sim Shalom for Weekdays” maintains the additions added in R. Harlow’s edition, while also restoring parts of the traditional Tahanun text.

Egalitarian Hebrew formulations

The language of liturgical formulas in Siddur Sim Shalom reflects the reality that in many congregations both men and women participate in the service. Some prayers include references to both the patriarchs and the matriarchs. Passages designed for use on Simchat Torah include texts appropriate for formally designating women as well as men as honorees on that occasion.

The prayer on behalf of the congregation (recited after the Torah reading on Shabbat) has been emended to reflect the fact that women as well as men are members of the congregation. The Mi Sheberakh prayers contain forms for both male and female readers. The meditations prior to putting on the tallit and tefillin provide masculine and feminine forms. [Harlow and Rubenstein]
Nahum, on Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av commemorates the days on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. The conventional text (Nahum) speaks of Jerusalem as “a desolate and vacant city”, laid waste and deserted. These lines no longer bear any relation to reality. As such the new text recalls the tragedy of ancient times, over which we mourn, and recalls the desolation of Jerusalem in the past. It also speaks of a “Jerusalem rebuilt from destruction and restored from desolation”. It asks that all who mourn Jerusalem of old rejoice with her now, and it prays for the peace of that city. [Jules Harlow]
Shoah (Holocaust) Remembrance

The Jewish people have accepted a new Jewish day of mourning, Yom HaShoah, held each year on Nissan 27. On this day the Jewish community formally remembers the Jews who were tortured and murdered during the Holocaust. Harlow’s “Siddur Sim Shalom” (original version) adds many passages which can be added to any weekday service, as well as a formal reading. Several pages of readings are included in the supplementary section for addition to any of the services held on that day, and are followed by a formal reading arranged for responsive use. The section concludes with a Mourner’s Kaddish similar in structure to the one on Yom Kipur. [Harlow]
Mysticism and Hasidism

A surprising mystical and Hasidic influence appears in Siddur Sim Shalom, as is illustrated by the numerous additions to the prayer book which originated in these movements. The blessing for the new moon (kiddush levanah) appears at the end of the Sabbath liturgy. Another mystical element is the Raza DeShabbat, the “Vision of Shabbat”, which precedes the Sabbath evening service. Taken from the Zohar, this passage depicts the enthronement of the Shekhinah. [Raza DeShabbat is not in the new edition of Sim Shalom.]

Several of the alternative meditations which follow the amidot stress joy, and request freedom from atzvit (sorrow) in classic Hasidic fashion. In fact, a number of these passages are based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Some benedictions for mitzvot are preceded by kavanot (meditations) which were introduced into the liturgy by the Kabbalists. [From the papers by Jeffrey Rubenstein]

May the Matriarchs be added to the Amidah?
Two positions have been accepted by the Conservative movement. One position states that, for a variety of reasons, it is wrong to add the names of the Matriarchs to the Amidah. A second position advances a halakhic argument that such changes are permissible. When the law committee has validated more than one possible position, a congregation follows the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d’atra [local halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p’sak [decision].

An argument against the inclusion of the Matriarchs can be found in an article by Rabbi Jules Harlow. He writes “No sensible person denies the importance of the matriarchs. The problem with the liturgical change in this blessing is at least twofold. It violates the liturgical and literary integrity of the classic text of the blessing, and it breaks the close link between the language of the Bible and the language of the prayerbook….In the book of Exodus (3:15) God reveals to Moses that one of His names is ‘the Lord, God of your fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.’ The verse then continues ‘This is my name forever, this is how I am to be recalled for generation after generation.’ To add the matriarchs, or indeed, any other words to this phrase from Exodus is to change God’s name as revealed to Moses. To change God’s name here is to change the story. To change God’s name by adding other words is to break the link that binds the language of the prayerbook to the language of the Bible. When we recite the words with which this paragraph begins we are quoting Scripture; nothing more and nothing less.” [Jules Harlow “Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy” published in “Conservative Judaism” Vol. XLIX, Number 2, Winter 1997, pages 3-25.

An argument for the inclusion of the Matriarchs is Rabbi Joel Rembaum’s CJLS approved teshuvah. Some excerpts from this teshuvah follow:

“A survey of various versions of the Amidah reveals that in the early post-Talmudic period the wording of a number of the blessings of the Amidah was considerably different from the language that eventually became standardized in the Geonic period….Regarding the matter of deviating from the authorized wording of the blessings, the reader is referred to Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Berakhot 1:6, where Rambam indicates that should the worshiper deviate from the fixed language of a blessing (the matbeah) the religious obligation associated with the blessing has been fulfilled as long as the blessing includes reference to God’s ineffable name and his kingship, and its wording remains consistent with the established theme of the prayer….Admittedly, Rambam is ambiguous with regard to the matter of changing the established liturgy…in the preceding paragraph he states that one should not deviate from the versions of the blessings established by Ezra and his court…He expresses an even stronger negative opinion in Hilkhot Kri’at Shema, where he concludes that one who deviates from the matbeah must repeat the prayer.”

“The Kesef Mishneh on Hilkhot Berakhot 1:5-6 offers the following resolution of these inconsistencies in Rambam’s thinking. The Kesef Mishneh (henceforth KM) distinguishes among four kinds of deviations to which Rambam alludes:
1) The clause in 1:5…refers to a change which _fulfills_ the religious obligation associated with prayer, but which is not recommended because it still is an unwarranted change.
2) When one changes a blessing to the degree that a specific reference to a divine act is replaced by a general reference to God’s creation, and no reference to God’s name and kingship are included in the blessing, the religious obligation has not been fulfilled.
3) When a general reference has replaced a specific reference, but reference to God’s name and kingship is included, though this can be considered an error, the religious obligation is, nevertheless, fulfilled.
4) The statement in Hilkhot Kri’at Shema 1:7 refers to a case where one deviated from the established rules regarding when a petichah or a chatimah is used with a given blessing. In such a case the religious obligation has not been fulfilled, and the blessing must be repeated.

KM concludes his comment…by emphasizing that the permissive statement of the Rambam in that paragraph is in a case where one has changed the wording of the blessing while retaining the basic theme not altering the petichah/chatimah structure. [The hagahot Maymoniot, ad loc, also allows for the possibility of changing the wording of the blessings. This opinion is based on the discussion in the Yerushalmi, berakhot 6:2]

“One can conclude that the notion of liturgical variation is not rejected by Talmudic tradition. The Rambam and his commentators are tolerant of liturgical change as long as it takes place within certain normative parameters. The change that is being proposed is within these parameters.”
[“Regarding the Inclusion of the names of the Matriarchs in the First Blessing of the Amidah” by Joel Rembaum, in “Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards 1986-1990”, p.485-490.]

When presenting the Matriarchs in the opening passage of the Amidah, Conservative/Masorti siddurim do not add the word “Imoteynu” (our Matriarchs), as the word “Avoteynu” is held to be correctly understood as “our Ancestors”, and not as “our Patriarchs”.

To better understand Conservative teshuvot and siddurim one should be familiar with the findings of modern liturgical scholarship. Suggested references:

The “Liturgy” entry in the “Encyclopaedia Judaica”

Ismar Elbogen and Raymond P. Scheindlin. “Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History”, JPS, 1993.

Louis Finklestein’s article on the Amidah in the “Jewish Quarterly Review” (new series) volume 16, (1925-1926), p.1-43

Joseph Heinemann “‘Iyyunei Tefilla” Magnes, Jerusalem, 1981

Seth Kadish “Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer” Jason Aronson Inc., 1997

Jakob J. Petuchowski “Contributions to the Scientific Study of Jewish Liturgy” Ktav, NY, 1970

“Who knows four? The Imahot in Rabbinic Judaism” Alvin Kaunfer. Judaism Vol 44. Winter 1995, p. 94-103

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2 thoughts on “Conservative Jewish liturgy

  1. Ian Silver

    The comprehensive and fascinating article omitted one siddur, “Siddour de Chabat, et des 3 Fêtes de Pèlerinage”, published by the Masorti Community of Paris. Very interesting combination of Ashkenazi and Sephardic practices.

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