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August 29, 2015 | 14th Elul 5775

Especially for Worship Leaders:
General Themes, Innovations and Practical Guidance for
Transitioning to Mishkan T'filah

Prepared by Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman and Revised by Rabbi Kim Geringer

Thank you for your interest in Mishkan T’filah! This new siddur offers many opportunities for diverse usage and worship styles. It is hoped that the following will guide you as you begin to introduce our Movement’s new siddur to your community.


Since this is a new model for everyone, it will take time to acclimate. For several weeks, it might be helpful to begin each service by allowing worshipers to browse through the book for a few minutes on their own. Offer guidance by turning to a typical page (e.g. Ahavat Olam or Yotzeir Or) and explaining the design.

Acclimatization is as much about technique as about the liturgy itself. The two-page spread, multi-voice service allows for greater reflection and, ultimately, participation. Music is a tremendous asset, both in the flow and complement of the liturgy. One challenge is to keep the service from going too long.

Since the design is non-linear, it will take time to adjust. It's not hard, but it is very different. The worship leader will need to be consistent and follow the "game plan." Breaking the pattern will disorient and confuse worshipers, particularly in the early period of usage.


The worship leaders’ preparation is more critical than ever. Selecting prayers from each two-page spread should be considered with a sense of flow from one prayer to the next; musical flow will help it to feel smooth. Be patient with the congregation, and relax! If mistakes are made, it's okay—it's new for us all. Each worshiper needs permission to grow into the siddur.


Initially, the leaders may need to announce certain things, until people find the margin instructions: e.g. V'ahavta, or Sh’ma and commentary. Don't worry about giving instructions; be patient. Use a soft voice and be a minimalist. (e.g. "Page 43" rather than "We turn to page 43 and read in the middle.”)

When you begin any 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! (After three or four weeks, the majority of worshipers will recognize everything on a page spread. The first couple of times, it's a bit dizzying. There's a natural tendency to want to take it all in, and of course, that's not the intent).

How to know if one reads in unison or not? You need to decide in advance, and cue the group. Cueing can be as simple as saying,” Together" or "Responsively." Again, minimalist instructions are best.

Use post-its! This is a great tool for worship leaders and b’nei mitzvah.

Initially, less change is better. Since everyone is getting used to the new format, keep some things familiar. At least in the beginning you might select music that is well-known to your congregation, as well as maintain other familiar worship rituals. This is for your benefit as well as your congregants’. The more comfortable and relaxed the worship leaders are, the smoother the process will be for the congregation.


Mishkan T’filah offers many opportunities for diverse usage and worship styles. Most of the prayers in this siddur are set as a two-page spread with the keva (primary, traditional) liturgy on the right-hand page and alternative prayer choices on the left-hand side. The right-hand Hebrew text is accompanied by a faithful translation and transliteration; the left-hand page contains poetry, prayers and kavanot (meditations) thematically linked to the keva text but reflecting diverse theological points of view. (A linear-style service option is offered in Service II for Friday night and Shabbat morning. The English in these services is linked to the Hebrew prayers, though it is not a direct translation.)

As an example of the new layout in Mishkan T’filah, open to page 150, Shabbat Evening I. This is the two-page spread for Ahavat Olam. Many, but not all, prayers in Mishkan T’filah take a full two-page spread (i.e. two pages). On the right side is Hebrew, transliteration and a faithful translation. On the left side are two readings which are linked thematically to the prayer Ahavat Olam.

Spiritual commentaries, notes on rabbinic practices and source citations span the bottom of the pages, below the liturgical frame. Text sources are abbreviated: M. Shabbat 2:1 is read as Mishnah Shabbat, chapter 2, verse 1. Shabbat 2b-3a refers to the Talmud tractate Shabbat, page 2b to page 3a.

Rubric headings are on the outside margins indicating the current prayer’s place within the service.

Source citations may be found at the back of the book along with indexes to Psalms and to selections from Pirkei Avot (Chapters of the Fathers). Citations for prayers and readings by contemporary authors are found in the back of the book. Citations for all commentators are found in cite.

An extensive selection of musical texts is found at the back of the book.

In worship, choose only one prayer per two-page spread, Hebrew or English. This is a critical aspect of the design. Each of the choices ends in the same chatimah; in this case, Baruch atah, Adonai, ohev amo Yisrael. Hearing the chatimah is the worshipers’ cue to turn the page. Thus pages need only be announced when there will be page skipping. (These simple instructions at the beginning of each service will guide new worshipers.) If you do more than one piece on the full spread, it is not following the pattern, and will be confusing to the worshiper. (Consider each page spread as if it is four services in one; there is tremendous versatility in this design. But the service will be overly long with too many selections.) If the worship leader begins each prayer slowly; it will take less than a second for the worshipers to find the place. Use music or voice tone to guide.

Layouts of the prayers invite different usage. Some passages are set to facilitate responsive readings, though all passages allow for unison offering. It is suggested that the community vary its vocal expression in prayer, with quieter or more exuberant tones at appropriate moments, as guided by the worship leader.

Exceptions to the Standard Layout

Kabbalat Shabbat: The design changes to a linear layout which continues through Shalom Aleichem.

Seder K’riat Hatorah L’Shabbat—Reading the Torah on Shabbat: The design changes to a linear layout which continues through Returning the Torah to the Ark and Prayers of Our Community.

Aleinu: There are two versions included. Aleinu I begins on page 586 and continues on page 588 or 589. Aleinu II begins on page 587 and continues on page 588 or 589.

Meditations before Kaddish: There are several to choose from beginning on page 592 and continuing through page 597. The text of the Kaddish, including transliteration and translation, is on page 598.

…and finally

Initially, less change may be better. Since everyone is getting used to the new format, consider introducing innovations gradually. Select a number of familiar Gates of Prayer readings. Use familiar music.

Sav’lanut! (Have patience!) Have faith!

Elyse D. Frishman is rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, and editor of Mishkan T'filah.

Kim Geringer is the Program Specialist for the Union for Reform Judaism's Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living.

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