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Testing a New Machzor (High Holy Days Prayer Book)

Next month, Apple will unveil the iPhone 6 and many of us will end up getting it. Some will hold the anticipated device in their trembling hands on the first day it becomes available and the less enthusiastic will wait until their upgrade is due. Yet it is safe to predict that almost everyone will agree that the new phone is better than its predecessor, and very few will express sincere longing for their old gizmo.

Next year, the Reform Movement will unveil its new Machzor, High Holy Days Prayer Book, Mishkan HaNefesh. Some congregations will use it right away and some may wait awhile.  But I have little doubt that among the people who will be using it next fall, some may not like it. It is not because of our people’s natural propensity for complaining, but because a prayer book is not a cell phone where newer means better. Our current Machzor, Gates of Repentance, has been around for almost four decades and for many, not only its liturgy, but even its red cover and its smell remind us of the High Holy Days and make us feel Jewish.   

In the past year, Brett, Jessica and I have been examining the draft of the new prayer book, trying to decide if TBA should be among the early adopters or wait. Before we started, I expected it to be an easy conclusion as I learned to recognize throughout the years the limitations of Gates of Repentance, but that has not been the case. On one hand, the new book has so much to offer and it meshes with our mission of making Judaism accessible. For example, like Mishkan Tefilah, our prayer book, all the Hebrew prayers have a transliteration and alongside the traditional prayers there are modern poems and readings. But on the other hand, it didn’t feel comfortable. We went back and forth until we asked ourselves if what we didn’t like about the book was its content or the fact that it was different from what we were used to. We humbly admitted that most of it was a result of the latter. But we didn’t stop there.  

We chose to join a number of congregations around the country that volunteered to pilot some parts of the new Machzor these coming High Holy Days. We did it for two reasons: First, we wanted to help the dedicated Machzor’s Editorial Committee by providing them with our feedback, and second, we wanted to get your comments and advice on how to best use it in the future. This year we will be using a draft of Mishkan HaNefesh for Rosh Hashanah Eve, Yom Kippur Afternoon, Yizkor and Neilah.   

At the conclusion of the High Holy Days we will have a meeting with those of you who would like to participate in a study group of the new Machzor. We encourage all of you to give us constructive feedback on this new book and the direction that it offers.  

 B’Shalom,  
Rabbi Alon Levkovitz 

Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781