Thursday, July 05, 2007

Know Your Jewish Community: Liturgy

As I've already mentioned, I recently spent a weekend at a Jewish camp. It happens to be pluralistic, and Zionist, so although it is Sabbath observant, and entirely kosher, there are some interesting practices. One of which is the removal of all messianic references from the grace after meals. Aside from the issues with changing liturgy (I personally have very few, with a couple exceptions) I found it very hard to follow along with the modified version of the grace.

Treppenwitz also posted about removing pieces of the liturgy, but in that case it was about Catholics removing (then re-instating) a Good Friday mass "that contains language that is somewhat less than flattering towards the Jews." He makes two excellent points, which I will crudely try to summarize:

1) If Catholics believe that Jews are going to Hell (and they do) what difference does it make if they say so in the mass, or not? It is a part of their theology, so saying it, or not, shouldn't really be a big deal, and

2) We have passages of our own that are just as incendiary, as in the prayer Aleinu where we claim that "He has not made us like the nations of the lands and has not emplaced us like the families of the earth; for He has not assigned our portion like theirs nor our lot like all their multitudes. For they bow to vanity and emptiness and pray to a g-d which helps not."

Although, for the record, that last line has been deleted from many prayerbooks, and I didn't know it existed until I went to college. But that just proves Trep's (and my) point, that it is sort of silly to take out lines from prayers that correctly espouse a belief, if that belief is un-PC. Shouldn't we instead wrestle with the issue of how we feel about other nations, instead of just scrubbing our prayerbook?

My second thought on liturgy was also prompted by my stay at camp. During the Saturday morning prayer service, every single camper and counselor knew by heart the words to the prayer for the State of Israel. Terrific, but they didn't even know where to FIND the prayer for the government of the United States. Ari posted about the history of this prayer, which I found fascinating, and mentioned that he attended services in a place where "the gabbai read the names of thirty-seven American soldiers who were killed in action the previous week."

I love that practice. I grew up in a synagogue where the prayer for the State was said right after the prayer for the State of Israel. If we say prayers for the members of the IDF, should we not also say a prayer for those whose lives are on the line for our country of residence? Does George Bush really need wisdom and guidance* any less than Olmert?

*The prayer for our country, differently rendered in different sources, often contains a piece that says "may he deal compassionately with us, and with all Israel..."


The Pedant said...

I like the prayer for the country that is country-specific. The Sim Shalom has a "generic democracy" prayer that would work equally well in the U.S., France, or Canada.

Whereas, as you remember from Hong Kong, the prayer was pretty specific. I like to know what I mean when I pray - shouldn't be "magic words."

Annie said...

May G-d bless the Chief Executive and all the constituted officers of the legislative council.

Anonymous said...

What flags did the camp have? What did they do for national anthems(not sure if it would have come up when you were there). It always bothered me to see Jewish schools/camps only fly and Israeli flag and only sing hatikva. Don't these people know international protocol?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

in my Upstate shul, a few rabbis ago, they used to read the prayer for Israel in Hebrew and the prayer for the USA in English. i thought that made a lot of sense.