Monday, July 25, 2011

Reflections On Daily Kaddish - part 2

For the past few days I have been saying kaddish at Toronto's largest Reform temple, Holy Blossom. It is quite a different experience than both my own Reconstructionist synagogue and the Conservative shul, Beth Tzedec, that I had attended the week before.

First off, the service is short. It takes them approximately 23 minutes to do the full 25 page service. At Beth Tzedec it takes them about 35 minutes to cover approximately 90 pages – so while one could say that Beth Tzedec is more “efficient” – i.e. they get more pages done per minute because they "speed daven" - the conservative service takes what seems an awful lot longer than the Reform one. Additionally, because the text of the service at Holy Blossom is shorter, it can be recited at a slower pace, and about half of it is in English, so you can get more kavanah (intentionality) – if you want to.

A far as content is concerned, the reform service has been shortened partly by removing most of the more “objectionable’ prayers about asking God to bring punishment on evil doers - particularly those who have “oppressed your people Israel.” They also removed all of the psalms of praise (which – lets face it – get kind of repetitive in the traditional service.) But it would have been nice, in my opinion at least, to keep one two of the more uplifting ones. It also would have been nice to keep in the Birkhot Hashchar (morning blessing) which enumerate many of God’s better attributes and – and for those of us who believe in predicate theology, point the way for our own behaviour.

… Blessed are you All Seeing One, who makes the blind to see.
Blessed are you Merciful One, who clothes the naked.
Blessed are you Champion of Freedom, who frees the prisoner.
Blessed are you Source of our Pride, who raises up the humble.
Blessed are you Our Strength, who makes firm a person’s steps. ....
It is one of my favourite prayers. Too bad they cut it.

One would have thought that with all the cutting they might have done a bit of adding or modifying in order to avoid some of the problems with the traditional prayers. But there is – as with the Conservative service – no mention of the matriarchs – or any women at all – to accompany references to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses in the pantheon of ancestors and role models. And while they did see fit to remove explicit reference to resurrection of the dead, the Reform service apparently sees no problem with proclaiming Jewish chosenness or that Torah was revealed to Moses - whole and as is - at Mount Sinai. (How this can be, since Reform doesn’t even pretend to treat Torah as binding, is beyond me.)

As with the conservative service, I find myself adding words under my breath or skipping passages I cannot condone.

An additional weirdness for me is that I am one of the few people wearing a tallit; and except for one person in one service, so far I have been the only person to wear tephilin. (Today the prayer leader came up to me after services and said he was glad to see someone wearing tephilin: that they encourage it. He himself had not been wearing tephilin, so how exactly they encourage it, I am not sure.)

But the weirdest part of the experience for me is how few people attend the morning service. On the first day I attended, there were exactly 10 people. If I had not been there, they would not have had a minyan. And I am not sure what they would have done in that case. The next day there were 12 people. To be fair, on Sunday there were 30 people, and today there was a baby naming and substantial crowd, and I have not seen what kind of attendance there is at their Minchah services. But how it is a that one of the largest congregations in the world – with approximately 6000 adult members – can barely get a morning minyan, is mystery to me, and says something significant about their state of affairs – more so perhaps than the details of the prayer service itself.


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