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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Why a new siddur? Why now?

“The work of the new siddur began truly with a survey, not of theology and clergy, but of laity. In 1994, Rabbi Peter Knobel and Dan Schechter received a grant from the Lilly Foundation to survey worshippers in Reform congregations throughout the United States to determine what they sought from a new prayer book. What were the results? Strongly articulated were the desires for transliteration, translation, and a response to the feminist critique. Based on this project, a proposal was set before the CCAR Board, describing a prayer book with four different services, a la Gates of Prayer . The time to select an editor arrived, and a critical awareness emerged. It would be important for the editor(s) to focus less on personal style and instead be able to respond to the diversity of the Movement’s expectations. Those expectations? Ancecdotally: a prayer book that would help us re-engage our Jews in meaningful worship. How? Offering a balance of creativity and beauty, theology and purpose.” Click here to read the full text of "Entering Mishkan T'filah" by Elyse D. Frishman, reprinted from the CCAR Journal . You will also find insights in the "Introduction to Mishkan T'filah" and in the Reform Judaism magazine articles "The Prayer Book of the People," an interview with Lawrence Hoffman and "The Prayer Books, They are A'Changin" by Elliot Stevens. Another resource is "Recommendations of the Project on Lay Involvement in Worship and Liturgical Development" from the CCAR.

How will MT work in our diverse congregation?

"In any worship setting, people have diverse beliefs. The challenge of a single liturgy is to be not only multi-vocal, but poly-vocal—to invite full participation at once, without conflicting with the keva text. (First, the keva text must be one that is acceptable; hence, the ongoing adaptations of certain prayers, over time, such as the G’vurot.) Jewish prayer invites interpretation; the left hand material was selected both for metaphor and theological diversity. The choices were informed by the themes of Reform Judaism and Life: Social justice, feminism, Zionism, distinctiveness, human challenges." Click here to read the full text of "Introduction to Mishkan T'filah." Also visit "Whither Reform Worship?—Parashat Terumah."

How do we introduce MT?

In short: Carefully! Thoughtfully! Patiently! Many Reform worshipers have not previously seen Mishkan T’filah and, what’s more, its layout is different than previous siddurim. Click on any of the articles on our page "Introducing MT into Your Congregation" for ideas and assistance.

Why are there liturgical changes in the Sh-ma, the Amidah and the Aleinu?

“An excellent example of theological and social debate is the one over the middle paragraphs of the Sh’ma. One group argues that its literal meaning can never be divorced; since it is Deuteronomic, its context is absolutely retributional…Others contend that one must understand the material metaphorically…A second debate was whether or not to include t’chiat hameitim [“Who gives life to the dead”]. The argument is clear: either physical resurrection defies reason…or, the language is metaphor…Two irreconcilable camps.” Click here to read the full text of "Entering Mishkan T'filah" by Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman. Also providing answers are three pieces posted on our Introducing MT into Your Congregation page: Ordering the Matriarchs: The Leah and Rachel (or Rachel and Leah) Debate"; "Have You Noticed?—Changes in Hebrew and English Wording in Mishkan T'filah"; and "The Sh'ma and Her Paragraphs in Mishkan T'filah.

Why are some prayers/blessings on a two-page spread while others are not?

One version of Mishkan T’filah has some pages in linear form and other pages in the two-page spread format. There is also a version of Mishkan T’filah which is entirely in the linear format. In the former version, the linear sections are those in which the material is simply not intended to have alternatives. For example, P’sukei D’zimra is meant to be sung, so no reading alternatives are included. The Torah service also does not lend itself to alternative renderings. Other sections such as the Festival or Holiday inserts simply do not require alternatives. Material in the book that is linear in style is designated with a special blue frame, a simple blue line around the page. This applies both to the linear service and to those pages in the “mixed” version of Mishkan T’filah (such as P’sukei D’zimra) that are linear in style.

What strategies can you suggest for use of MT by bar/bat mitzvah students?
“Hopefully, in a few months time, Reform synagogues will begin using Mishkan T’filah at their Shabbat services which include b’nei mitzvah. In addition to the general issues surrounding using the new siddur, there are concerns special to using the siddur with b’nei mitzvah conducting the service and with b’nei mitzvah guests attending the service. The concerns are not hard to imagine, but are worth spelling out: 1) How can a synagogue best prepare the bar/bat mitzvah to use the siddur as easily as possible? 2) How can the congregation—including perhaps more guests than regulars—use the siddur in a way that will promote participatory worship?” Click here to read the full text of "Suggested Guidelines for Adapting Mishkan T'filah for Shabbat B'nei Mitzvah Services."
Is there new music to fit some of the new wordings and phrasings in MT?

“The publication of Mishkan T’filah presents a wonderful opportunity to examine new and meaningful ways to approach worship. Integrating the spoken word with uplifting musical settings of our liturgy can generate a dramatic worship experience. Music can be a gateway to the spirit; for many congregants searching for meaningful worship, carefully planned and balanced musical choices can provide a pathway that guides their spiritual journey. The following suggestions are offered as a guide for planning the music of worship. No one size fits all. Mishkan T’filah will be one prayer book that has variegated applications in each Synagogue community each in its unique way, according to its minhagim (customs)." To read more, click on "Music in Mishkan T'filah."

What are some of the liturgical and theological differences between Gates of Prayer and MT?

“By the mid-1980s, with Gates of Prayer only ten years old, it was confronted with gender and cultural complaints. But Reform worship was also in conflict. It is possible that Gates of Prayer was being challenged not just because of its content, but because of problems in the worship culture…It used to be argued that a [Movement’s] siddur served two primary purposes: It unified Reform congregations in worship…and articulated a clear Reform theology. The latter became untrue with the publication of Gates of Prayer and its myriad theologies…The integrated theology in Mishkan T’filah suggests that it is the blending of different voices that most accurately reflects God.” Click here to read the full text of "Entering Mishkan T'filah" by Elyse D. Frishman, reprinted from the CCAR Journal. You will also find insights in the Reform Judaism magazine articles "The Prayer Book of the People," an interview with Lawrence Hoffman and "The Prayer Books, They are A'Changin" by Elliot Stevens.

How can I avoid announcing every page number?

Explain to the worshipers that hearing the chatimah, the closing blessing of most prayers, is their cue to turn to the next page. There is no need to announce page numbers unless you are skipping pages. Then, when you begin the next prayer, begin slowly. It takes less than a half-second to find your place—but if the leader introduces the words too quickly, the mind can’t register them properly. Be patient!

How will congregants know when to read without the use of italics and Roman font?

The worship leader(s) need to decide in advance what will be read together and then cue the worshipers accordingly. Cueing can be as simple as saying, “Together,” or “Responsively.” Minimal directions are best.

How do I get more information?
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is the publisher of Mishkan T'filah. As the publisher, the CCAR is responsible for all aspects of content, layout, design, publication, sales and shipping of Mishkan T’filah. For answers to questions about any of these matters, please contact the CCAR directly at 212.972.3636. 

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