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.

E-Hazzan The Sound of the Shofar

A great silence settles over the packed synagogue as a man cloaked in a white robe with a huge black and white striped Tallit over his head slowly raises and old Shofar to his lips. With majestic fanfare the Rabbi calls out in a rising and falling melodic tone, “Tekiah.” After a momentary, breathless hesitation, a piercing, reverberating blast trumpets through the silent sanctuary… One of my most prominent childhood memories is the sounding of the Shofar during the Rosh Hashanah service. Even today, the blast of the Ram’s horn sends a special kind of electric pulse through my spine. In fact, there are few of us who are not moved by the haunting call of the Shofar.

Sounding the Shofar, an ancient instrument made from the horn of a ram or similar animal is a tradition that dates back to biblical times. Most traditions trace the source of the Shofar to the story of the binding of Isaac, which we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Abraham’s faith in God was so rigorous that he was willing to sacrifice his favorite son Isaac. At the last moment, an angel thwarted Abraham’s attempt to kill his son and a ram, caught in thicket of thorns was sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Thus the shofar reminds us not only of the solid faith and devotion of our ancestor but also of our connection through Abraham to God. We are also mindful that God preferred the sacrifice of the ram as opposed to what might have been an overly zealous, heinous act of child sacrifice.

A.Z. Idelsohn, perhaps the most renowned of all Jewish musicologists, points out that to the primeval Israelites, the Shofar was valued for its rhythmic rather than melodic capabilities. To our ancient ancestors, Idelsohn notes, the blowing of the ram’s horn had magical powers; with a blast of the Shofar, God could be awakened from His slumber and summoned to help His People. Furthermore, the Shofar could be used to frighten off evil spirts and lesser deities of neighboring peoples. Even God, remarks Idelsohn, was depicted as blowing His Holy Shofar in order to “frighten His enemies and to gather the remnants of His people…”

Our Machzor (High Holiday prayer book) cites as the biblical commandment to blow the Shofar a passage from Psalm 81, “Tiku Ba Hodesh Shofar… Sound the Shofar on our feast day, on the new moon when it is hidden. For it is Israel’s law, a decree of the God of Jacob.” According to Biblical and Rabbinic tradition, the Shofar was not only used on Rosh Hashanah but also on the first day of the new month, for the coronation of a new king as well as to proclaim the Jubilee year during which all slaves were freed and all land reverted to the clan that was its original owner. Similarly, a great celestial shofar sound was heard at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shofar blasts were also employed to call the Nation of Israel together for battle. Perhaps the best know example of the latter was the story of Joshua (Josh 6) whose famous resounding shofar blast brought down the walls of Jericho. In times when the Great Jerusalem Temple stood, the Shofar was often used in conjunction with a metal Trumpet and other instruments that served to punctuate the ancient sacrificial service.

Here is an audio recording of Tiku Ba Hodesh Shofar presented by Hazzan Moshe Schwimmer and his magnificent choir through the Judaica Sound Archives of Florida Atlantic University.

Shofarot(pl) are constructed using the horn of a Kosher animal. In recollection of the sin of the golden calf, horns made of cows are prohibited. While Ashkenazim (German and eastern European Jews) prefer shorter Ram’s Horns, Jews of other cultures use longer horns such as those from an Ibex or Antelope. Barsheset- Riback, an Israeli purveyor of Shofarot, describes the process of selecting, boiling, cleaning out and finishing the horns to produce a functioning Shofar. According to Jewish law, nothing, such as an external mouth piece may be added to the horn, neither can holes be drilled to produce variable sounds.

A day of Blowing [the Shofar] is one of the ways in which the Torah refers to Rosh Hashanah. As we usher in the New Year, the shofar is literally a wakeup call to our Jewish Soul. In fact, it is customary to begin the daily sounding of the shofar at the beginning of the month of Elul, the last month on the Hebrew Calendar, to awaken the listener to the need for undergoing the process of Heshbon Ha Nefesh, the accounting of the soul.

We are jolted into the reality of the High Holiday season – the need for self-examination and introspection in order that we can enter the New Year with a clean slate and a renewed spirit.

During our Rosh Hashanah liturgy the shofar is sounded in the context of the Shofar service that comes just after the Torah reading as well as to punctuate the three unique sections of the Musaph (additional service.) Please see my post on Rosh Hashanah Musaph for more details.

There are three distinct calls that are made on the shofar; each has its own significance and meaning. Noted authority on Jewish Liturgy Abraham Milgram traces the source of these distinct shofar blasts to the biblical book of Numbers (10:5-7) which defines a “Tekiah” – a solid sound and a “Teruah” – a wavering or broken sound. Because the Rabbis of the Talmud (R.H 34a) could not agree on what constitutes a “broken tone,” they mandated the “Shevrim,” a sound comprised of three medium length notes and the “Teruah” a blast consisting of nine short individual blasts. A “Tekiah Gedolah” or longer Tekiah is also used. The skill of the Ba’al Tekiah (Master Blaster) or one who blows the shofar, determines the quality and duration of each type of sound.

Here is a video of the four types of Shofar sounds:

Deep meaning can be found in each of the types of shofar blasts. The website Mazornet, a traditional site that focuses on resources and explanations for Jewish celebrations, posts an interesting understanding of the shofar blasts: Tekiah, is a regal sound appropriate for Rosh Hashanah which celebrates God’s coronation as Ruler of the Universe. Shevarim is compared to the sound of sobbing; the heart cries out for strengthening the relationship between God and the worshiper. Teruah is an alarm, the challenge to wake up to the call for Teshuvah, or return to a path that leads to a meaningful and fulfilling way of life.

This explanatory reading by Rabbi Milton Steinberg, the great Conservative theologian appears in Machzor Hadash, published by the Prayer Book Press:

For untold generations, on this day, our ancestors listened to the sound of the Shofar. What did they hear in its piercing tones? What solemn truths did they detect in its calls which stirred them so profoundly each year?

And what does the Shofar say to us today, as we stand at the dawn of the New Year, groping for a light to guide us and a faith to sustain us?

Tekiah! Awake! Let not habit dull your minds, nor comfort harden your hearts. Examine your deeds, look well into your soul, mend your ways, turn to God.

As we hear the sharp Tekiah blast, let us rouse ourselves from smugness and self-satisfaction, from callousness and self-righteousness.

Shevarim! The broken refrain! Listen to the staccato cry. Hear the echoes of sighing and weeping. The deprived and the distressed, the neglected and the enslaved, the bruised and the broken-all cry out for relief from their pain, for release from their torment.

As we hear the anguished wail of Shevarim, let us open our ears to the cries of the afflicted and the oppressed, and let our hearts respond with compassion and love.

Teruah! The call to battle is sounded: Join the struggle against evil and suffering. Give of your bread to those who hunger; give of your strength to those who stumble; give of your time to the lonely and forsaken; heal the wounded, comfort the bereaved.

Let us hearken to the Teruah’s call to action.

For in our hands, in our hearts, and in our minds

Are the means for building a better world,

For fulfilling the promise of peace and justice,

And for hastening the day when all will hear

The sound the great Shofar of liberation.

Hopefully, the blast of the Ram’s horn will send a special kind of electric pulse through your spine and reverberate in your soul this Rosh Hashanah so that you too will moved by the haunting call of the Shofar. May you be inspired by the sounds of the Shofar to strive for a Shanna Tova, a year of Blessing and Goodness.

I hope you enjoy this brief look at part of our prayer service. If you have a suggestion, comment or question, please fee free to leave a comment below or to email me at michaelkrausman@gmail.com.

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: Praying in the Vernacular

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.
In my last post I extolled the vital importance of praying in Hebrew. While it is true that, “for thousands of years Hebrew prayers, such as those drawn from the book of psalms and others, have resonated in our Jewish DNA providing comfort, compassion and inspiration” there is also room in our liturgical service for prayers written in the vernacular. In fact, codified in our Siddur, are prayers, such as the Kaddish that are written in Aramaic, an ancient language that, a one time, was the lingua franca of our people. Similarly, in some traditions, the standard prayers are interleaved with or translated into Ladino or Judeo Espanol – a language spoken by Jews who stem from locations such as the Balkan countries, parts of the Middle East and sections of Europe such as Spain and Portugal. Similarly, there are wonderful very old and brand new prayers written in English and other modern languages, created to supplement and enrich our services.
Aramaic is an archaic  cousin of Hebrew that stems from the ancient Near East. Texts written in Aramaic such as the biblical books of Ezra and Daniel, have been found dating back to the 5th Century B.C.E.  The Talmud, one of the primary texts of Rabbinic law as well as Biblical Translations and the mystical Kabbalistic text known as the Zohar also written in this ancient language, are still studied in their original form today. In our Siddur, the most significant prayer written in Aramaic, is the Kaddish.
Constructed around an ancient Aramaic translation of a passage from the Biblical book of Daniel, “Y’hei Shmei Rabbah m’vorach l’olam ol’olmei al maya….May His Great Name be blessed for ever and ever in to the world to come,” the Kaddish is one of the best know elements of our liturgy. Ismar Elbogen the great scholar of Jewish Liturgy, notes that the great sages of the early rabbinic period attached deep meaning to this biblical phrase and  invoked it at the mention of the Holy Name. Soon this expression began to be used in the context of a formal expression of faith in God’s eternal Kingdom that was customarily uttered at the end of a rabbinic discourse. Although at first, these expressions were improvised by each orator, the formula eventually became the standardized in the form of the Kaddish.
Elbogen notes that the earliest reference to the Kaddish appearing as part of the synagogue liturgy can be found in a Palestinian source dating back to the seventh century. Phrases like, “L‘eila minkol birchata … beyond all blessings, hymns and praises …,” make the Kaddish an ideal vehicle for expressing the greatness and holiness of God.  Similarly, the passage found in the full Kaddish beginning with, “Tikabel Tzlothon … accept our supplications and petitions …” is most meaningful in the context of the service. In the synagogue, the Kaddish serves to separate various  major and minor sections of the service. Thus we find a Half or “HatziKaddish as well as a full Kaddish. There is also a Kaddish D’Rabbanan or “scholar’s Kaddish” which is recited after a selection from rabbinic literature. The mourner’s Kaddish, which is also included at various points during the service, differs from the full Kaddish in that it omits the section asking that our prayers and supplications be acceptable. It is interesting to note that the last stanza of the Kaddish, Oseh Shalom, a petition for peace, is written in Hebrew.
Brich Shemei – “Blessed is the Name,” a prayer said before the ark when the Torah is removed, is another popular prayer written in Aramaic. Taken from the Kabalistic text known as the Zohar (see above) Brich Shemei praises God as master of the universe and asks for Devine favor in granting our prayers and petitions. Rabbi Reuven Hammer, author of Or Hadash, a Comentary on Siddur Sim Shalom points out that the Kabbalistic Mystics maintained that the gates of heaven were opened whenever the Torah was read so they saw  this is as an opportune moment to seek God’s favor.
The conclusion of Brich Shemei begins with the statement, “ Ana Avda D’Kudsha Brich Hu, I am the servant of the Holy One.” We affirm that we place our hope not in any mortal but only in God and the revelation of the Torah.  Bei Ana Racheitz,  “in God we  trust”  the last part of the prayer, is often sung together by the congregation. Here is a wonderful rendition of the Ana Avda D’Kudsha Brich Hu by master Hazzan Aaron Bensoussan taken from his CD, Joyus Chants, recorded with members of the Israeli Philharmonic.

Brich Shemei  is also an example as a prayer expressed in Ladino by many members of the Sephardi tradition in the form of “Bendicho Su Nombre.”  Ladino, like Yiddish its Ashkenazi counterpart, is enhanced by Hebrew expressions as well as by local phrases and idioms. There is a rich culture of music and poetry written in Judeo Espanol which still can be heard in many countries throughout the world. This is a link to the text of Bendicho Su Nombrei in Ladino and English published by the Eitz Chaim Sephardic Congregation of Indianapolis. Here is a video of this prayer performed by Hazzan Sylvain Elzam.


Ein Keloheinu, an extremely popular hymn sung at the end of the Shabbat morning service, is often sung in Hebrew with an instantaneous translation into Ladino by many Sephardi congregations. The text of this hymn which according to the Machzor Lev Shalem published by the Rabbinical assembly, dates back to the first millennium expounds on three different ways by which we refer to The Holy One; Our God, Our Lord, Our Sovereign and Our Savior. The mantra like repetition of phrases is typical of prayers of mystical origin. This is a setting of Ein Keloheinu sung by a delightful Turkish group called Los Pasharos Sepharadis.

Many Siddurim (prayer books) contain beautiful and inspirational poetry that, following the ancient tradition of the framers of our liturgy, expounds on the themes and motives of our sacred liturgy. Some of the most noteworthy writers and thinkers and poets of the past few generations have works published within  Siddurim  or in individual volumes  of contemporary prayer. Perhaps one of the most sensitive, compassionate, inspirational and enlightened modern American composers of Jewish Prayer is Rabbi Naomi Levy. One of the first women to be ordained as a Conservative Rabbi, Naomi Levy has written several books including a volume of English  prayers for various occasions called Talking to God .  Here is a heart rending prayer she wrote in response to  the tragedy of 9/11.

The Hebrew core of our traditional liturgy has sustained us throughout history, and around the globe. Yet in each generation, gifted, inspired poets have given voice to their connection with God and the liturgy through the medium of their native tongue. Whether through translating and interpreting the traditional text or by composing new elements of liturgy that speak to their contemporaries, these talented artists have contributed to the ever evolving and growing opus of our sacred liturgy; providing for the worshipper new pathways on which to seek a closer relationship with the Divine.
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.comor 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.