May the Matriarchs be added to the Amidah? Can we halakhically change the text of ancient prayers in the siddur? If so, why? If not, why not?
If you think that the answer is “No, we can’t add the martriarchs”, then here’s an interesting couple of questions: Were prayers supposed to be fixed for all time to begin with? Do the original siddurim from the pre-1400s all have uniformity? 🙂
Two positions have been accepted by the Conservative/Masorti movement.
One position states that, for a variety of reasons, it is wrong to add the names of the Matriarchs to the Amidah. Yet a second position advances a halakhic argument that shows that such changes are permissible.
In all cases where 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 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 anme 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; this has demonstrated not only the flexible nature of the liturgy in general,
including the Amidah. Suggested references:
“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