- Taxonomy of Jewish pluralism
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part I
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part II
- Hilchot Pluralism, Part III
Please read the series in order, so that the terminology will make sense. Thanks!
This ongoing series documents and analyzes the pluralistic practices that independent Jewish communities are developing. Part III addressed some macroscopic issues related to prayer (egalitarianism, musical instruments, separate vs. mixed seating), the types of issues that come up more often in the one-sentence (or even one-word) descriptions of minyanim, and that people use more often for advance screening of which minyan they attend. Part IV will zoom in on microscopic issues, focusing on the minute-by-minute experience of prayer.
Again, we'll start with the low-hanging fruit.
First up: the question of what people (whether civilian participants or prayer leaders) are wearing during prayer. Kipah? Black hat? Snood? Sombrero? Nothing on their heads? Tallit? Tefillin? And does the person's gender affect the answers to these questions?
The answer: WHO THE **** CARES? Worry about yourself, and let other people wear what they want, as long as they're not naked.
Peshita, mahu d'teima? (Aramaic for "Well duh, that's obvious, why did you have to bring it up in the first place?")
I think it's a generation gap. Previous generations saw more of a need for uniformity and making sure that everyone is doing the same thing, while our generation has more of a sense of e pluribus unum, recognizing that our differences make the community what it is, and are not a threat.
Thus, in the older generations, there were Classical Reform synagogues that insisted that people not cover their heads, and on the flip side, there are other synagogues (including some that claim to be egalitarian) that ask men to wear kipot, and even have a kipah patrol to enforce this. I hear that at Camps Ramah, there are separate minyanim that define their differences primarily based on whether girls (over age 13) are wearing tallit and tefillin. In our generation, these are much more likely to be non-issues; we don't understand why there should be any problem at all with praying with people who are wearing different things.
Ka mashma lan. (Aramaic for "That's why you might have thought otherwise. But no.")
One might think that the standards should be more stringent for the sheli(a)ch(at) tzibbur (prayer leader, or literally "representative of the community"), because s/he is a, well, representative of the community. To that I respond, what is the community? And I refer back to the axioms in Part II that define a Stage-3 pluralistic community. If the community in question is a Stage-3 community that includes both Reuven and Shimon, then both Reuven's and Shimon's practices are representative of (a slice of) the community, and therefore either Reuven and Shimon, when serving as sheliach tzibbur, can follow his own practices and still be faithfully representing the community. If Reuven wears a bowtie and Shimon doesn't, then when Reuven is sha"tz, his bowtie-wearing doesn't interfere with Shimon's prayer, except insofar as Shimon feels that he can't be in a community with bowtie-wearers. But if Shimon really does feel that way, then (by the definitions in Part II) Reuven and Shimon can't be in a community together that is Stage-3 pluralistic on this issue. Divisions happen (though in my opinion, this is a rather stupid thing to divide on, and it would be better for Shimon to rethink the issue).
Perhaps some exceptions should be made, where it is reasonable for a community to establish boundaries for what the sheliach tzibbur is wearing. Mishnah Megillah chapter 4 (also known as chapter 3 in the Gemara - don't ask) establishes some 2nd-century guidelines for this: if someone insists on wearing all white (refusing to lead prayers in colored clothes), or insists on being barefoot, then they shouldn't be allowed to be sha"tz. The reason for this is explicit -- it's to screen out members of some heretical sect. (Essenes? Jewish-Christians? Historians, help!) What are the 21st-century equivalents? Wearing a cross? A Yechi kipah? Perhaps. So I can see putting restraint on this type of speech. In that case, the Stage-3 boundaries of the community don't extend to include people with Christian or Meshichist beliefs, but that's a common place to draw a line anyway.
Even in this case, the restraint should only apply to the sha"tz and not to civilians. See axiom #3 in Part II. If you disagree with what someone is doing, tell them why and have a conversation about it; don't legislate it.
Next slam-dunk issue: Choreography of prayer. Some people have minhagim about when to stand and sit during the service. Others don't, and just follow what the people around them are doing. Among those who have personal minhagim, there are differences among these (Artscroll's attempts at homogenization notwithstanding).
The solution seems obvious: Don't tell people what to do! Abolish "Please rise" and "You may be seated", as well as the visual versions of these directions. "But then how will people know when to sit and stand?" You just have to have enough trust that people (if not everyone, then at least a critical mass) are sufficiently educated and intrinsically motivated that they'll make appropriate choices without instructions. This, in turn, requires that people actually be sufficiently educated and intrinsically motivated to make those choices. This is what I meant when I wrote (way back in "Taxonomy of Jewish pluralism"):
In order to make this kind of pluralism [Stage 3] possible, it is necessary for the various Jewish identities to be robust and confident. The insecurity and ignorance in some parts of the Jewish world would make those parts be swallowed alive under this model, which is one reason that this stage is not so widespread yet.
There is an irony in the fact that this particular type of pluralism (regarding prayer choreography) is more common in Orthodox congregations (which are supposed to be, um, orthodox) than in Reform congregations (which are supposed to be pluralistic). If you go into an Orthodox synagogue and stand when other people are sitting, or vice versa, then no one will look askance at you; they'll be too absorbed in their own prayers. I double-dog-dare you to attempt the same thing in a Reform synagogue. The source of the difference is that Orthodox communities can assume that people are intrinsically motivated, whereas Reform communities assume that people are only going to do what they're told to do. Liberal Jews need to find intrinsic motivations, so that this assumption will cease to be accurate. It's a chicken-and-egg problem: the leaders assume that the participants are dependent on directions (so that they provide directions), and the participants assume that the leaders will provide directions (so that they remain dependent). In case you haven't guessed, standing and sitting during prayer is only a microcosm of a larger issue. I challenge the Reform movement to come up with a vision of what Reform prayer services would look like, and what Reform communities would look like, if all participants were self-sufficient.
Liturgy (the words).
First of all, each individual can say whatever words s/he wants in his/her personal prayers. This is not a normative statement of how I think things should be; it's a statement of fact, since this is masur lalev (entrusted to the heart) and any rules would be impossible to enforce (whether by policies or by social norms). In a future blog post (outside of the Hilchot Pluralism series), I'll post about my own choices in what I say and don't say, in order to open up a conversation about the content, pursuant to axiom #3 of Part II.
So the pluralism question here is about what the sha"tz (leader) does. I'll discuss Kol Zimrah's practice as one example of a pluralistic approach to liturgy, but there are other approaches out there too.
Kol Zimrah's policy is that the service adheres macroscopically to the traditional structure of the liturgy, but the leader may make microscopic changes to the traditional text (at the word or phrase level).
What does this mean?
KZ has no "official" siddur. Any participant is free to bring whichever siddur s/he wants, or no siddur at all. Our community includes people who say every word of the liturgy, people who sing along with the parts that are being sung together but reflect silently during the non-sung parts, and people who don't say any of the words but hum along with the music. Maintaining the full macroscopic structure of the liturgy provides maximal freedom for all these people to participate, as long as everyone understands that they can individually opt out of any prayer. If Plonit (a participant) is opposed to saying Psalm 96, then while the community is singing Psalm 96, she can substitute another prayer in its place, or meditate silently. If Plonit is leading the service, then she doesn't have to sing Psalm 96 out loud, but she should still leave time between Psalms 95 and 97, so that those who want to say Psalm 96 can still do so. If the leader had the option of skipping straight from Psalm 95 to 97, then (a) someone who wanted to say Psalm 96 would be asymmetrically inconvenienced (compared to Plonit's inconvenience of waiting while others are saying Psalm 96), and (b) the macroscopic variations from one time to the next would make the participants much more dependent on paying attention to what the leader is doing, and would make it more difficult for them to find their own groove. KZ's rule of thumb is that a person familiar with the liturgy should be able to follow the service without directions, and the requirement to follow the macroscopic structure without deletions is for the purposes of inclusivity and clarity, not to make a unified communal statement that all of these prayers are required.
Plonit may not skip Psalm 96, but she may say "mechayei hakol" or "mechayei hameitim" or "mechayei kol chai" as she chooses, or may include or exclude "v'al kol yoshevei teiveil" as she chooses. This may be more contentious than the other issues discussed above, but the principles underlying this practice have already been laid out in this post.
As discussed above, it is assumed that each participant is intrinsically motivated in his/her prayer. Therefore, if Plonit (leader) says one version of a prayer, this does not preclude Reuven (participant) from saying another version at the same time. With one exception, the leader never has exclusive responsibility for ensuring that participants fulfill their individual obligations.
[The exception is the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Individual participants aren't blowing their own shofarot, so the only way they can fulfill the mitzvah of shofar is by hearing the communal blasts. Therefore, our current practice is about covering all the bases.]
Anyone who believes in an individual obligation for prayer can fulfill that obligation on his/her own, even when praying with a community. Rather, the leader's role is to ensure that the community fulfills its communal obligation (in whatever way we understand that obligation). If Reuven believes that Plonit's version of the prayer is invalid, then the result is (according to Reuven) that Reuven is yotzei (= "has fulfilled his obligation") and Plonit is not yotzeit. (Meanwhile, according to Plonit, either Plonit is yotzeit or she doesn't have the concept of "yotzei(t)" in her system. And Plonit has no opinion on whether Reuven is yotzei, because he hasn't done anything in public, so she has no way of knowing.) However, according to axiom #2 of Part II, Reuven has no basis to object to this, because it's not his business whether or not Plonit is yotzeit.
Therefore, Reuven's only possible basis for objection is if he believes that the community is not yotzei. To address this, we'll ask again: What is the community? If the community includes both Reuven and Plonit in a Stage-3 way, then both Reuven's prayer and Plonit's prayer are valid expressions of prayer coming from the community (albeit not necessarily valid for each individual in the community). There just needs to be an explicit understanding that the prayer leader is praying on behalf of him/herself as a representative of the community, but does not necessarily represent every individual in the community. (This is no different from an individual giving a d'var torah that some people disagree with.) Afterwards, Reuven and Plonit can argue freely about why they disagree. If Reuven can't be in a community where Plonit's version of the prayer can be expressed, then he doesn't actually want to be in a Stage-3 community with Plonit (once again, not that there's anything wrong with that).
That said, perhaps a line can be drawn for prayers that are actually idolatrous. But I can't think of any practical examples of this that have come up (with the possible exception of Yechi, depending on one's view). In almost all cases, the variations that come up just represent different ways of praying to the One. We may disagree on whether it is permissible to include the phrase "Elohei Sarah" in the Amidah, or on (if it is permissible) whether it is desirable, but I don't think anyone disagrees that God was in fact the God of Sarah (whatever we mean by "God" and whatever we mean by "Sarah").
Coming in Part V: ???
What other problems and solutions should be documented? The line is open for requests.