Share a Prayer: Hayom Harat Olam; Happy Birthday World!

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is among other, things a celebration of the birthday of the world. Unlike our Birthday, which celebrates our becoming one year older, a reality many of us work very hard to hide, on Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of a brand new, newly born world. That is to say, according to the teaching of one of the foremost scholars and teachers of our time, Rabbi Brad Artson, the world and everything contained within it that existed the day before Rosh Hashanah no longer exists and a brand new replacement world is created in its place. Thus, Rabbi Artson teaches, that the “you” that existed the day before Rosh Hashanah is only a memory; replaced by a “new you” on Rosh Hashanah. It is in this spirit that the prayer, Ha Yom Harat Olam, today the world is born, is inserted into the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

Ha Yom Harat Olam is an ancient prayer that dates back to the time of the Geonim, the great sages of the Talmud (8th to early 11th century) and can already be found in the prayer books of the renowned twelfth century sage Maimonides (1135-1204). It serves as a leitmotif or recurring theme that punctuates the three distinctive blessings – each reflecting an aspect of our relationship with the Blessed Holy One, that are inserted into the body of the Musaph (additional) service of Rosh Hashanah: Malchuyot (Monarchy,) Zichronot (Memories) and Shofar (Moments past, present and future associated with the sounding of the rams horn in the context of divine revelation.)

Although it is one of the shortest poetic insertions in our liturgy, it is also one of the most impactful. Here is the text as translated by the High Holiday Prayer Book of the United Synagogue, Mahzor Lev Shalem:

“Today the world stands as at birth. Today all creation is called to judgment, whether as Your children or as Your servants. If as Your children, be compassionate with us as a parent is compassionate with children. If as Your servants, we look to You expectantly, waiting for You to be gracious to us and, as day emerges from night, to bring forth a favorable judgment on our behalf, awe-inspiring and Holy One.” (Click here for the Hebrew Text)

Even the first phrase of the text is packed with meaning. The Hebrew term “Harat” implies not birth but rather conception. Rosh Hashanah, then, is seen not simply as the birthday of the world but can also be considered as the moment of its conception. The time of conception is a moment fraught with infinite uncertainty and potential; any direction or occurrence is a possibility.

While reminding us that Rosh Hashanah is also known as the day of Judgment, the text goes on to suggest that each of us has our own perception of our personal relationship with The Creator, ranging from those who see themselves as children of the Holy One to those who view themselves as subjects of a celestial monarch. The author, in either case presents God as a wellspring of favor, loving kindness and light who will be with us no matter what may unfold in the year to come.

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of this poem is the last phrase in which the author refers to God as “Ayom Kadosh.” An insightful essay about our prayer linked in the Israeli News publication, Arutz Sheva from the Aleph Society of Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, observes the following:

“We therefore turn to God with the adjectives that are most appropriate to this the day: Ayom, Kadosh; You are above everything, You are the source and holiness to Whom we must all look with awe and also be connected, on all the levels of our existence.”

The placement of Hayom Harat Olam immediately following the rousing tones of the shofar that punctuate the subdivisions of the Rosh Hashanah Musaph, takes advantage of an exquisite moment for the worshipper to contemplate his or her bond with God. In a few short phrases, the poet transports us to the moment of creation; we are present at the nexus of all time, the very conception of the universe.

Hayom Harat Olam reminds us that the future, while uncertain, is marked by infinite possibilities for renewal, growth, change and development. As we sing this meaningful and inspirational prayer on Rosh Hashanah we are invited to examine, strengthen and invigorate our personal relationship with the “Ayom Kadosh” – the “Awe-inspiring Holy One.”

Here is a link to the melody we will sing at Beth El in Omaha. If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend our wonderful Service, feel free to learn this melody in advance so that you will be ready when it comes around. It is taken from a composition by Hazzan Sol Zim.

Here is a link to a setting sung by the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella, Hazzan Joseph Malovany, is the soloist.

Here is a link to a performance by Cantor Azi Schwartz and the RIAS Kammerchor, conducted by Ud Joffe.

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Share a Prayer: Sefirat Ha Omer

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our Daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

The 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, are known as the time of Sefirat Ha Omer, the “Counting of the Omer.” In ancient times, on the second day of Pesach the barley harvest was marked by cutting enough sheaves of barley, to make about an Omer of fine flour (about five pounds) which was combined with oil and spices to produce a special wave offering. This inaugurated an agricultural festival that was observed for 49 days until Shavuot, which celebrated the wheat harvest. More significantly, the 49 days of the Omer correspond to the days between Pesach, the holiday of our physical liberation from slavery, to Shavuot, the time of our spiritual liberation stemming from the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It was on Shavuot that we were transformed form a band of escaped slaves to a united nation with common goals and beliefs. Thus, the Omer becomes a period of excitement and expectation; we recall the experience of the children of Israel as they anxiously awaited their close encounter with God – the revelation at Mount Sinai.

For generations this was a joyous period, celebrating both an agricultural event and the anticipation of receiving the Torah. However, following the failed Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman occupation in 135 CE, the Sefirat Ha Omer became a time of mourning and sadness. The Talmud relates that shortly following the Bar Kochba incident, the students of the Great Rabbi Akiva suffered a terrible plague and thousands perished. As a sign of mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest of our sages, it became traditional to refrain from holding weddings and other forms of celebration. Some men do not shave, haircuts are not taken and many people will not attend movies, concerts or other forms of merriment.

Miraculously, on the 33rd day of the Omer, known by its Hebrew numeric equivalent – Lamed (30) Gimel (3) or “Lag Ba Omer, the plague subsided. This gave rise to the festive observance of Lag Ba Omer, including the celebration of weddings and the holding of concerts and other musical events. It is customary to have outdoor activities on Lag Ba Omer such as bon fires, field days and picnics. Because Lag Ba Omer is also the anniversary of the death of the Great Talmudic and Kabbalistic sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai celebrations are often held in his honor, especially at his grave site in the Israeli town of Meiron.

This is a video of the Breslav Hasidim singing the traditional song “Bar Yochai composed in honor of the sage and traditionally sung on Lag Ba Omer.  Click here for the lyrics in Hebrew and transliteration.

Here is video by Rabbi Tovia Singer of Hundreds of Hassidim gathered at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai .

The process of counting the Omer is outlined in most prayer books and in many standalone Omer Counters and apps.  An introductory meditation is first offered, containing the biblical commandment to count the Omer:

“You shall count from the eve of the second day of Pesach, when an Omer of grain is to be brought as an offering, seven complete weeks. The day after the seventh week of your counting will make fifty days, and you shall present a new meal offering to God (Leviticus 23:15-16).”

A blessing thanking God for making us Holy by giving us the commandment to count the Omer is then recited followed by the announcement of the new day. This announcement includes the exact number of weeks and days of the counting, thus, on the 22 day of the Omer one would declare, “ Today is the 22nd day marking three weeks and one day of the Omer.” The Omer must be counted after dark to ensure that a complete day has passed between each counting. Here is the text in Hebrew and English.

Below is a video of extremely talented Cantor Netanel Hershtik together with his choir chanting the Sefirat Ha Omer Prayers.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs writing for my Jewish Learning.Com, express the significance of the counting of the Omer in a clear and precise manner:

“While Pesach celebrates the initial liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, Shavuot marks the culmination of the process of liberation, when the Jews became an autonomous community with their own laws and standards. Counting up to Shavuot reminds us of this process of moving from a slave mentality to a more liberated one.”

Although it may seem like a lot of attention is given to counting a period of 49 days that fall between two Jewish Holidays; in a similar fashion to the Pesach Seder, the Sefirat Ha Omer helps create a mutigenerational bond that links us to our biblical ancestors and reminds us of the significance of personal as well as spiritual freedom. Counting the Omer is a ritual  in which the entire family can participate. As we count each day, we are reminded not to take everything in our busy lives too seriously but to focus on what really counts.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at mailto:hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

 

Share a Prayer: Private Prayer in a Public Context

We all know that prayer is both a communal and an individual experience. Our tradition is replete with volumes of prayers that have been composed and codified throughout our history. Psalms and other Biblical sources are thousands of years old, yet they still have the power to sustain our liturgical yearnings and help us to reach out to The Holy One. Interestingly, though most of our prayers are couched in the plural – pertaining to the entire community, baked into our formal liturgy are opportunities for individual, personal prayer.

The first place to look for such private prayer opportunities is the very opening pages of most prayer books that begin with the morning service. Originally intend to be recited at home; these prayers were transferred to the synagogue to serve as private mediations which would help prepare the worshipper for the public worship to come. In October 2010 I wrote:

“Those who are familiar with the Siddur (prayer book) will note that even before the formal service begins there is a collection of personal prayers and reflections that can be offered. ‘Elohai Neshama – My God the soul that You implanted with in me…,’ the passionate prayer dating back to Talmudic Times (Berachot 60b) is a perfect example of such a prayer. The text reflects the notion that at night-timeis that part of God that is inside each and every one of us. Elohai Neshama gives us the opportunity to express gratitude to God and to remind ourselves of our connectedness to our Creator and to each other.”

Here is a stirring setting called Elokai Neshama by one of the greatest and best know Hazzanim of all times; Moshe Koussevitzky. Taken form an album entitled; Moshe Koussevitzky Earliest Recordings; a compilation of material originally recorded in Europe, this record was copyright 1967 by the Collectors Guild. The recording is part of a magnificent collection of Jewish Music Located at Florida Atlantic University, the Judaica Sound Archives.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

Following the recitation of the Amidah, (see below), is a liturgical compilation known as Tachanun. Tachanun is a section of personal petitions and supplications that are inserted in the weekday morning and afternoon service. So intense is the recitation of Tachanun that we rest our heads on our forearms and say part of the Tachanun in a hunched-over submissive posture. Based on biblical president, our sages felt that since we are at a time in the service when we are most focused on our relationship with the Almighty, we should expand this intense period of concentrated prayer and introspection by adding Tachanun.

On Monday and Thursday mornings we extend the Tachanun with additional supplications. However, Tachanun is not recited on happy occasions such as Purim or Hanukah in the presence of a bride or groom or when a Brit Milah  (Bris) is about to take place. Remarkably, this set of supplications is also omitted in the presence of a mourner and on Tisha B’Av, our day to grieve for the fallen Jerusalem Temple, so as to not too greatly increase our sadness.

Personal prayers by such great liturgical sages as Sa’adia Gaon and Rav Amram as well as some poignant psalms are found in this plaintive collection. These prayers ask God to help us personally through whatever difficult times we may be currently experiencing.

We ask that God “assuage our fears, establish the works of our hands, heal our wounds and save us from our tormentors.” Even in our deepest time of despair we appreciate the ability to place ourselves in God’s hands.

Some of the other themes related to in Tachanun include, the value of a good friend, guidance in avoiding evil or temptation. Sephardi congregations often include the confessional as part of Tachanun.
All versions of this supplication include the prayer Shomer Yisrael – guardian of Israel which, as Rabbi Reuven Hammer notes, reflects the trepidation of the medieval European Jewish community. Tachanun concludes with the declaration, “alone we are helpless”; we rely on God for compassion and guidance. Here is a recording, again from the FAU archives, of Hazzan Israel Rand singing a popular setting of Shomer Israel.

Above I made reference to the Amidah the a formal series of 7-19 blessings that form the core of every synagogue service. Certainly an entire Blog post could be devoted to this quintessential prayer. We begin the Amidah with a most extraordinary process. It is customary to take three steps backwards and then three steps forward while reciting the phrase, “Adonai S’fatai Tiftach…Lord open my lips so that my mouth can find the proper words to address You.”(Ps 51:17) According to the great liturgical scholar Ismar Elbogin, this phrase was introduced by the sage Rabbi Yochannan in the 3rd century. The purpose of this ritual is to symbolically separate ourselves from the rest of the congregation enter into a private audience with the Holy One. In essence, at least three times a day we have the opportunity to have individual “face time” with our Creator.

This private conversation with God is guided by the age-old Blessings of the Amidah – some of which date back to the time of the Ancient Jerusalem Temple. Built into the process of reciting the Amidah, however, are specific opportunities for individualized prayer. Chief among these personal prayers is that contained within the eighth Blessing, the Prayer for healing. Our Siddur, contains a formula into which the names of those for whom we pray can be inserted. Moreover, the version found in both the Sim Shalom Siddur for Shabbat and Festivals and the Weekday Sim Shalom contain an extra line asking the Holy One also support the caregivers of those who we mentioned.

Similarly, the sixteenth blessing, “Shomeia Tephila – The One who listens to prayer”, is also a traditional point at which to insert a personal petition. Rabbi Hammer cites the Talmud (Avodah Zara 8a) for the origin of this custom. Not only can any heart-felt supplication be inserted at this point but prayers for comfort on the national days of sorrow are customarily included here as well. Thus prayers for Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Holy Jerusalem Temple and Yom Ha Shoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust are added to the Shomeia Tephila prayer. Interestingly, Hineni, the personal plea of the prayer leader on the High Holidays, ends with the same concluding phrase.

Just as the opening phrase of the Amidah is based on a psalm as instituted by Rabbi Yochanan, the concluding passage also contains a verse from a Psalm (19:15) “may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart …” Preceding this is a moving personal mediation –“Elohai N’tzor L’shoni Me’ra – May God keep my tongue from evil.” This prayer is cited in the Talmud by the sage Mar Ben Ravia.

Although several permutations of this concluding meditation have existed in different liturgical traditions, offering some personal thoughts is an essential part of the process of the individual recitation of the Amida. At the conclusion of the Elohai N’tzor, with the words “Oseh Shalom,” we take three steps backwards and bow to the left and the right symbolizing the conclusion of our formal chat with God. Perhaps our sages felt that since we began by asking Divine guidance for our words, we should conclude our conversation with The Holy One with the hope that our language continues in this sanctified vein.
Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.

The provision of opportunities for individual prayer in the context of public worship reminds us of the nature of our relationship with God. We are connected to The Holy One on a personal level at all times, even when experiencing the power of communal prayer. It is clear that God is at the same time within us and part of the community at large; the more that we seek God, the closer we feel to God and the deeper our connection to our community through the Almighty.

Share a prayer: Techinas (not the Middle Eastern dip)

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our Daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

A pristine white tablecloth decked with the finest of dishes and shinning silverware adorns the dining room table. The iridescent glow of waxy white candles set in two lustrous ancient candlesticks reflects in the eyes of your mother as she waves two strong but gentle hands over the flickering yellow flames. After whispering the traditional blessing, a singular tear rolls down her cheek as she silently recites an age-old private Shabbat prayer.

It is quite likely that the private petition that was just offered comes from a collection of Yiddish Prayers for various occasions known as Techinas .Techinas, from the Hebrew word meaning “supplication”, date back to the early 17th century. They were composed specifically to be offered by women who, in many cases were not given the opportunity to learn the Hebrew Prayers recited by men in the synagogue. Rabbi Julian Sinclair of the Jewish Chronicle.com suggests these prayers stem from Yiddish translations of Tachanun – the selections of supplications that are part of the weekday services.

Spiritually, these personal petitions are connected to biblical women who are credited with the most sincere and selfless supplications in the Bible. Hagar, the alienated concubine of Abraham besought God to protect her son Ishmael after they were cast into the dessert. Similarly, Hannah, in the book of Samuel, is recorded to have offered a tearful, silent supplication to the Holy One asking for a child. Incidentally, both were rewarded for their passionate pleas, Hanna became the mother of Samuel the first of the prophets while Hagar was shown a well which sustained her and her young son Ismael.

Rivka Zakutinsky, a noted author and educator living in Brooklyn NY, is the editor of an excellent new collection of Techinas entitled, Techinas A Voice from The Heart. She relates that while numerous collections of Techinas were published, the earliest known book of Techinas entitled, Techinas U’Bakashos (Supplications and Appeals) was printed in Basel Switzerland in 1609. Zakutinsky also notes that the best known author of Techinas was the elusive Sara Bas Tovim who was born sometime in the later part of the 17th Century. A collection of Techinas referencing the weekday prayers, fast days and the High Holydays entitled Sheker Ha Chen, (Charm is Deceitful), a reference to the Eishet Chayil ( a woman of valor) passage from the book of proverbs which is read by a traditional husband to his wife on Friday eve, is attributed to Sara Bas Tovim. Sara also is credited with a collection of these personal supplications relating to commandments specifically directed to women such as lighting candles, separating challah and attending the Mikvah. This work is called Shalosh She’arim (three gates.)

Shas Teḥine Rav Peninim  published in New York in 1916, is another  popular gathering of Techinas. Like many of the collections of Techinas, it contains Techinas to be recited while “the men are at synagogue,” following child birth, for the welfare of family and, over the kindling of Sabbath candles.

A high tech compilation of Techinas, assembled by The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College can be found onlineTechina Prior to Immersion in the Mikveh, is an excellent example of these.

Techinas are so powerful that even our modern-day siddur includes the Techina, Got Fun Avrum (God of Abraham) a soulful supplication said at the immediately following Havdalah  (separation), the prayer that marks the conclusion of Shabbat. There is tradition which attributes this prayer to the great Hassidic Master, Levi Yizchak of Berdichev.Here is the English translation of this text from Siddur Sim Shalom:

“God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, protect Your people Israel in their need, as the holy beloved Shabbes takes its leave. May the good week come to us with health and life, good fortune and blessing, prosperity and dignity, graciousness and loving-kindness, sustenance and success, with all good blessings and with forgiveness of sin.  Omein.”

Here is the Yiddish Text:

gotfunavrum

Got Fun Avrum is so well know that it became the theme of a popular Yiddish Song in titled Zol Noch Zein Shabbis (May it still be Shabbat) by the great composer and arranger of Jewish Music, Sholom Secunda  Here is a video of this melody sung by the one of the greatest and best known Hazzim, Moishe Oysher. The song also contains the text of the prayer as cited above.

Techinas are a rich, meaningful and potent source for personal prayer.  Rivka Zakutinsky best sums up the power of these sacred Yiddish texts:

“[Techinas are] the voice which women have used to approach God and to Serve Him…For God to be present in our most intimate daily experience –to commune with Him in the most private, unstructured moment, and to know that HE is there and ready to answer – therein lies the Blessing.”

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at mailto:hazzan@e-hazzan.com or leave a comment below.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Birchot Ha Shachar – The Preliminary Morning Blessings

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

The public part of each morning prayer service begins with a series of Brachot (Blessings) that reflect our first thoughts and actions of the day. As I have often said, the purpose of a blessing is to connect an action, event, state of being or feeling with God. Thus, just as saying the Motzi prayer connects the act of eating bread with God, the Birchot Ha Shachar enable us to begin each day with an affirmation of the deep connection every aspect of our existence has with the Creator. The additional benefit of reciting this series of Brachot is that it helps the worshipper avoid taking that with which we are blessed for granted.  Joni Mitchell, the popular ’70’s recording artist sang a perfect song to illustrate the danger of this feeling of entitlement or ingratitude, ” don’t it always seem to go they never no what they’ve got ’till it’s gone..” Just as someone who temporarily loses his vision appreciates the gift of slight, any one who has suffered an injury will confirm that the ability to stand and move around freely is certainly something for which to be thankful each day.

Ben Keil author and freelance journalist points out that these Brachot come for two Talmudic  sources; fifteen, mainly expressing gratitude, coming from Tractate Brachot (60b) and three being listed in Tractate Menachot (43b.) At their inception, each of these blessings was intended to be recited by the individual in order of relevance early in the morning. Thus, for example, the blessing for restoring vision to the blind was recited when first opening one’s eyes, while the blessing for clothing the naked was recited prior to getting dressed. Even though some debate ensued, the sages who framed our formal liturgy decided to include these blessings communally in the synagogue service so that people of all comfort levels with the prayers would have an opportunity to express their gratitude together.

Not surprisingly, there is a marked difference in the way in which Conservative and Orthodox Siddurim articulate some of these Brachot. So, while the Orthodox version of the blessing thanking the Lord for not creating the worshipper as a woman, the Conservative version of the prayer thanks God for creating us in God’s image. Similar differences can be found in the Blessings thanking God for not making one a Gentile or a slave. According to some Orthodox commentators, the reason for the negative connotation of the above blessings is that Gentiles, woman and slaves do not have the same opportunities to fulfill Mitzvot (biblical commandments) as Jewish men have.  Rabbi Reuven Hammer , celebrated  scholar in the field of Jewish Liturgy and author of Or Hadash the authoritative commentary on the Sim Shalom Siddur explains that the process by which the changes in the Brachot were derived by the Conservative Rabbis involved consultation of classic Rabbinic texts as well as historic documents found in the Cairo Genizah, an ancient repository of sacred texts. Rabbi Hammer describes the approach of the Conservative Prayer Book in the following manner:

 Siddurim of the Conservative movement, taking their cue from the Tosefta and from the Genizah, use a positive formulation in order to express our feelings of gratitude, while showing sensitivity to others and demonstrating an appreciation of the status of women. We are indeed proud to be Jews, to be free and, above all, to be human beings made in the divine image.

As with almost all blessings, the Birchot Ha Shachar are each introduced by an  ancient formula which has roots dating back to the biblical Book of Chronicles; “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha Olam – Praised are You Adonai our God, who rules the universe.” This formula serves to underscore the personal nature of our relationship with God as we begin our morning and throughout each day.  Rabbi Meir, one of our greatest sages, taught that we should endeavor to recite 100 blessings every day. Reciting Brachot  enables us to connect every moment of our existence – from the mundane to the miraculous, to the Holy Presence of our Creator.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion, question or request, email me at hazzan@e-hazzan.com.

 Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: The Tradition of The Siddur–the Jewish Prayer Book

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

A wise teacher once quipped: “In the days when all the Jews went to the Synagogue, everyone used the same Siddur [Prayer Book], now, when hardly anyone attends services, there are many different types of Siddurim from which to choose. ”

Indeed, a trip to a Jewish bookstore or library will reveal an array of Prayer Books published by different groups with a variety of agendas. In fact, by examining a Siddur, one can learn a great deal about its editor and publisher in terms of their philosophy of prayer. Thus, while choosing a Siddur for yourself may be a difficult task, by understanding the History of Siddurim as well as some of the underlying concepts that are involved in compiling a Siddur, one may not only make the choice much simpler, but also come to terms with ones own philosophy of prayer.

In ancient times, when the writing down of sacred texts was frowned upon, there was no such thing as a prayer book. Prayers were recited by memory or improvised by those who could do so and the rest of the congregation responded with “Amen”. The Talmud contains only outlines for the structure of the liturgy, especially regarding the Matbayah or essential core of the prayer service. Not until the ninth century do we find any thing resembling a prayer book. Compiled at the request of the Jews of Spain, the Seder Rav Amram, is a listing of the order of prayers for the year. A similar work including Arabic explanations of the laws pertaining to worship, is the Siddur of the great sage Rav Sa’adia Gaon produced in the Tenth Century. Sa’adia’s Siddur reflects Babylonian as well as Egyptian traditions. One of the first prayer books to be produced in a format similar to the Siddurim we are familiar with is the Machzor Vitry assembled by Simcha ben Samuel of Vitry, a follower of the great biblical and Talmudic commentator, Rashi. Machzor Vitry, not only contains the order of prayers for the entire year, but also the text of the Hagadah for Pesach and much legal material regarding the liturgy.

Printed prayer books as we know them can be found dating back as far as the Fifteenth Century with editions reflecting a variety of regional rites and traditions. Today, volumes of prayers reflecting traditions from Reform to Conservative to Reconstructionist to Hasidic, including various Mizrachi (Eastern) and Sephardi rites, can be found. Added to the mix are interpretive or creative Prayer Books that are independent of any particular group or formal denomination.

The first Conservative prayer book was a Siddur for the Pilgrimage festivals published in 1927. This was followed by the  Silverman Shabbat and Festival Siddur which was first published in 1946 with a revision in 1973. The Siddur Sim Shalom, first published in 1985 in compete form followed by separate versions for Shabbat and weekday in 1998 and 2002 respectively, is widely used in Conservative synagogues today.

There are many Orthodox Prayer Books available but perhaps the most popular is the Art Scroll Siddur –  first published in 1984 as a complete Siddur with an extensive commentary and now available in a variety of styles and Orthodox traditions. Other Orthodox Siddurim include the Siddur Tehillat Ha Shem published in 1945 by the Chabad Hassidic movement. This Siddur follows the Nusach Ari tradition based on the teachings of the great Kabbalist Rabbi Issac Luria. Also popular is Rinat Yisrael, an all Hebrew Siddur first appearing in Israel in 1970.

Kol Haneshama is the title of a popular series of  Prayer Books published by the Reconstructionist moment. These include weekday as well as Shabbat and Festival books. This Siddur features gender neutral English translation and a variety of transliterated prayers designed to make the service more widely accessible.

The Reform Movement is in the interesting process of introducing a new Siddur entitled Mishkan Tephila.  Currently, the Gates of Prayer published in 1975 is widely used in Reform Congregations. Unlike traditional Siddurim, the Gates of Prayer offers a variety of alternative services for each occasion.

Philosophical issues that define a prayer book include: attitude to the sacrificial cult, universalism vs. particularism and the role of women in the Synagogue. Before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, (70 C. E. ) Hebrew worship mainly involved the sacrificing of animals. While these sacrifices were replaced by prayers, many Orthodox Siddurim not only list exhaustive descriptions of the various sacrifices, but also express a longing for a return to the sacrificial cult. On the other hand, while some prayer books ignore it altogether, others speak of the practice of sacrificing animals in historical terms. Many Siddurim seek to foster the notion that prayers such as that for peace, are meant to refer not only to Israel, but to the human community at large. Such Siddurim also tend to substitute the prayer thanking the lord for making one an Israelite for a negative version found in other editions. Similarly, the prayer thanking God for not having been a woman is replaced in most non-Orthodox Siddurim with a blessing thanking the Lord for making us in God’s image.

Consideration of the role of women in the service is seen in some Siddurim which include such prayers as that to be said for a woman who is called to the Torah. Furthermore, some Liberal Siddurim adjust the Hebrew and English text of traditional prayers to include the names of our matriarchs along with those of the patriarchs. Similarly, the style and content of the translation and any commentary also reflects philosophical considerations vis–a–vis the Siddur.

Besides the above information, the format of the Prayer book is an important factor in selection of a Siddur. A Machzor (cycle), is a prayer book specifically for the Holy Days–Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah or the Pilgrimage Festivals. At one time “Machzor”referred specifically to a more complete edition of a prayer book meant for the Prayer Leader.

A prayer book which contains prayers for the entire year is referred to as a “Siddur Shalem”, or complete prayer book. Finally there are Siddurim specifically for week days, or solely for Shabbat and Festivals; Siddurim with or with out commentaries; Siddurim with or with out the weekday Torah readings; Siddurim with prayers regarding “modern” events such as the creation of Israel or the Holocaust and Siddurim specifically for Israel or the Diaspora.

Perhaps it was a trip to the bookstore to purchase a Siddur that motivated my teacher’s lament for simpler times. Certainly the multiplicity of Siddurim reflects the wonderful diversity among the Jewish People and shows that prayer is a vitally important issue to which much care, reflection and consideration must be paid by each of us. Whatever Siddur you choose, the goal of the prayers contained therein is to serve as a vehicle to help the worshipper feel the presence of God in his/her daily life.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Share a Prayer: Ochila La El

Hi

Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holyday Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look.

Unique to the High Holiday liturgy are personal prayers designated to be recited solely by the Hazzan as Shaliach Tzibur (Prayer emissary of the congregation) to the Almighty. While the best know of these personal petitions is Hineni, the prayer during which the Hazzan, with great trepidation and awe approaches the Bima from the midst of the sanctuary, other such prayers can be found in the Shacharit (morning) and Musaph (additional) services.

It is during the Musaph service that we find the brief but moving personal petition known as “Ochila La El, I shall put my hope in God.” Ismar Elbogen, the unparalleled scholar of Jewish Liturgy, places the origin of this anonymous prayer in the time of the Amoraim, (approx. 210-500 C.E.) the magnificent scholars of the Talmud. Elbogen characterizes this time as a period of great liturgical creativity.

Through the text Ochila La El, and its ancient plaintive melody, the Hazzan passionately expresses a yearning for the ability to communicate the feeling of being in the presence of the Divine Countenance through the Hazzan’s chanting of liturgy. The Hazzan prays for the gift of “Manei Lashon – Eloquence of speech.” As Rabbi Nosson Scherman, the editor of the Artscroll Machzor, points out, the text of the prayers are prescribed by the Machzor but the Hazzan must use the eloquent language of Jewish Music resonating from the depths of the Hazzan’s soul to express the innermost meaning of the words.

I have often said that my mission as a Hazzan is not only to be the representative of the congregation in prayer to the Almighty but also to be the representative of the prayers to the congregational family. Ochila La El, provides insight into how the Hazzan approaches this task; “Ma’archei Lev” (the function of the Heart) – a deep and abiding love for our Jewish Musical and Liturgical Heritage and for the members of the congregational family the Hazzan serves.

It is this mission, this resonance of the soul that guides the Hazzan on and off the Bima. Whether teaching a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student or sitting on the floor with religious school students and sharing thoughts together about our prayers or opening up an adult’s eyes to the beautiful world of Torah reading, or writing articles about liturgy, or comforting an ill or bereaved individual or family or even singing the “Dinosaur Song” on a Friday morning with the Early Childhood Center students, it is with “Ma’archei Lev,” this deep and abiding love that the Hazzan approaches every facet of his role in the community.

The bottom line of Ochila La El  is “Y’hiyu L’Ratzon Imrei Phi… May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable unto You my Rock and my Redeemer.”  As your Hazzan, “Ochila La El”; I pray to God that I May succeed in transmitting the true Ma’archei Lev – the meditation of my heart, the Nesahma (soul) of our sacred heritage through my chanting of the liturgy and through all that I do. May God hear the supplications of all that approach the Almighty with sincerity and grant all of us a year of blessing.

I wish all a G’mar Hatima Tova – may you be sealed in the book of life for a year of health, peace and prosperity.

Take care,

Hazzan Michael Krausman

Here is a link to the text in Hebrew and English.