After Kol Nidrei chant, when the congregation carried the melody through numerous repetitions and when it was dramatically repeated as the last chant of the evening, one congregant let out a hoot! Kol Nidrei is not a prayer, but an Aramaic legal declaration allowing one to pray with the sinners and the sinless as well. It has become so charged with meaning that the entire service is sometimes dubbed as “Kol Nidrei night.”As one of the founding members of Beth El over 50 years ago, this congregant was entitled to ad lib. This was the only service for which the congregation had not written its own liturgy. The 2012 Yom Kippur service made up for that gap.
When the congregation, decades ago, was originally inspired by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner (http://www.lkushner.com/) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kushner) to write its own gender-friendly prayerbook because of its discontent with the usual Reform Jewish liturgy, it was at the time a radical approach. Imagine the word for God being translated as “The Holy One of Being;” imagine the feminine pronoun used repeatedly for the first time when referring to “The Holy One of Blessing;” imagine an grandfatherly guest arriving for his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah and exclaiming: “Who would have thought to have such a synagogue in the wilderness?” In the 60s and the 70s, an urban dweller could actually mistake the landscape for a forest with fewer houses the farther one traveled.
Times have changed in the meantime. More houses were built in the neighborhood. More synagogues were also built in the neighborhood: one more in Sudbury and two new ones in the neighboring town of Wayland, MA. Some, of course according to tradition, were breakaways. (The tradition does jokingly state that with two Jews on a desert island, that would mean that there were three synagogues.) And of course, there is now a Chabad ministry in almost every suburb in MetroWest Boston. For a location in the Boston area see: http://www.chabad.org/centers/default_cdo/state/Massachusetts/country/USA/jewish/Chabad-Lubavitch.htme
This Kol Nidrei night was entirely new and created by the liturgical team of the rabbi, the cantor with the approval of the Ritual Committee. There were no prayerbooks, only one cardboard handout with the word to Kol Nidre printed for all of us to sing as if we were our own cantors. The service began with everyone singing Kol Nidre, the declaration of having all vows canceled, so that prayer can begin with a clean slate. Congregants by now should have asked everyone in their lives to forgive them for hurts that were afflicted even unintentionally; the year should have been reviewed for “chets,” usually translated as “sins,” but literally meaning “missing the mark.” Children are taught with pictures of archers ready to let arrows fly to the bulls’ eye and missing. Since all souls have a good nature, the act of repentance is described as Tschuvah, or a “return” to one’s source.
This year’s evening service consisted of certain phrases and sentences from the significant parts of the service repeated again and again. The evening built like a whirling dervish ceremony with most of the congregants holding their eyes shut to enter into the meditative state of the moment. The Amidah, or standing silent prayer with its usual seven or 18 blessings, was indeed silent. But there was no script, nothing of the usual nature of the structure of prayer with its praise, petition, and gratitude, none of these. It was a standing meditaiton which ended with a repetititive chant again.
This was when the founding congregant let out her hoot. Everyone chuckled at the sentiment. The hoot occurred after the repetitive chant listing the 13 attributes of God descibed in Exodus 34: 6 − 7.
“Adonai, Adonai, El rachum v’chanun, erech apayim v’rav hesed v’emet, notzer chesed la’alaphim, nosei avon va-fesha v’chata-ah v’nakeh.”
This is translated as:
“Adonai, Adonai, You are compassionate and gracious, endlessly patient, abounding in love and faithfulness, showing mercy to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin – and granting pardon.”
The idea is to embody the 13 attributes through a chant that was sung repeatedly on that evening and on the next day during the fast, as if to clean congregants through fasting, annulling of vows and concentrated prayer. Rabbi Thomas wanted “to do something radical, something really different to allow for a real experiential prayer experience.” This experience could be a standalone event and/or one that would allow congregants to come back to the prayerbook in hand with a more meaningful approach. This seems like a practical approach to the new theology of Rabbi Art Green, Rector of Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School and author of Radical Judaism (Yale University Press 2010.) As one of the world’s preeminent authorities on Jewish thought and spirituality, he absorbs the rabbinical dualistic discussion over the question of divine transcendence verses imminence (Is God above us or within us?) by declaring that the transcendence is in the imminence. He writes:
“If you believe as I do that the presence of God is everywhere, our chief task is that of becoming aware. . . . [We] are too threatened by the oneness of Being to let ourselves be open to it. . . . The spiritual work that each of us has to do consists primarily of letting go, allowing that presence to enter our consciousness and transform us.”
Beth El presented this approach two years prior to this in a service called Shabbat Rinah, an innovative Friday evening service for people of all ages, in which music and personal expression of prayer are interwoven to both inspire and welcome those who participate. Seated in concentric circles, congregants are encouraged to join in joyous and meditative singing accompanied by talented congregant musicians. Led by the Cantor and Rabbi, melodies flow from one to the next, interspersed with poetic readings and personal reflections designed to enhance and inform the prayer experience. Rabbi Thomas describes this as a way to get rid of paper, because many spiritual direction sessions with congregants tell him that “the prayerbook is their biggest obstacle to prayer.” Shabbat Rinah allows one to “come naked with a few words and music to really experience prayer.”
This cutting edge approach is called the “Visual Prayer Tefillah,” and probably one that will increase its presence in years to come. At Beth El the visual images are photographs that Rabbi Thomas has taken in his travels, and are similar to the present paintings by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, who now resides in San Francisco.
Shabbat Rinah occurs approximately every six weeks during the fall, winter and spring. This year’s Shabbat Rinah take place on:
- October 19th at 7 pm with guest speaker Rabbi Jonah Pesner
- November 9th at 8pm
- December 14th at 8 pm
- February 8th at 8pm
- March 15th at 6pm
- April 12th at 8pm
- May 17th at 7:30pm
Congregation Beth El is located at 105 Hudson Road, Sudbury Massachusetts. For more information call (978) 443-9622.
For more information on Jewish Chanting see: http://youtu.be/XSpicYFRho0
For more information on Rabbi Arthur Green see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Green