Friday, April 21, 2006

Hilchot Pluralism, Part IV: Microscopic prayer issues

Prerequisites:



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?

Macroscopic structure:

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.

Microscopic changes:

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.

21 comments:

  1. You write sheli(a)ch(at) tzibbur (prayer leader, or literally "representative of the community"),

    I don't know that I would translate it "literally" that way. Ika deAmri ha figuratively veha idiomatically.

    Leima "public (prayer) effector" understanding shlicha as in schlichat yad.

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  2. Again 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").

    Have you read the Red Tent? Ms. Diamant makes the point that the foremothers may have been polytheists.

    I'd rather pray to forebearers and be inclusive and safe. or "kadmoneinu" in Hebrew

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  3. BZ, this is awesome. I really like the way you describe KZ; perhaps unsurprisingly, it sounds strikingly similar to the way weekday services happen at Elat Chayyim (or on other Renewal retreats etc). (For Shabbat we all tend to use the same siddur, perhaps because we have a beautiful one with many added readings and songs, and also perhaps because there's an assumption that newbies may be joining us on Shabbat who may not be familiar with the liturgy.)

    Which brings me to the real question I wish I had an answer to. It seems to me that the modality of prayer you describe is comfortable for "experienced" davveneners. How can we help those who aren't "experienced" in this way -- who don't know the traditional liturgy well, or aren't comfortable navigating this kind of self-motivated service -- to leap that hurdle? (Specifically, how can we do this within liberal congregations?)

    On an unrelated note -- Benjamin, The Red Tent is a work of fiction. It seems strange to me that you would base your prayer preferences on what is essentially a novel-length midrash.

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  4. hey rachel

    I know the The Red Tent is fiction. But I think it makes a valid point that we don't really know much about our foremothers' religious life.

    To clarify, I think that when people include the imahot in their services, they don't do it for the same reasons the avot are included. The avot are included so that we may mention the special relationship God had with our forefathers and that we may attach ourselves to that merit.

    I understand that the imahot are included to add a woman's voice to the prayers, not as a claim that God also made a covenant with them.

    Since the zekhut avot portion of the Tefilla is about attaching ourselves to merit, I am uncertain about using the imahot in the Tefilla.

    I would rather mention "prayer to our forebearers" and include both ideas.

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  5. Benjamin wrote:
    I understand that the imahot are included to add a woman's voice to the prayers, not as a claim that God also made a covenant with them.

    My understanding is that the purpose of including both the avot and imahot is precisely because the covenant includes both women and men.

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  6. Rachel writes:
    How can we help those who aren't "experienced" in this way -- who don't know the traditional liturgy well, or aren't comfortable navigating this kind of self-motivated service -- to leap that hurdle? (Specifically, how can we do this within liberal congregations?)

    I'll respond to the question with a question: Why is it possible (and commonplace) for someone to attend services regularly at the same liberal synagogue for 20 years and end up no more "experienced" than when they started? Why have we allowed this to happen?

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  7. benjamin wrote:

    Since the zekhut avot portion of the Tefilla is about attaching ourselves to merit, I am uncertain about using the imahot in the Tefilla.


    This is an odd argument to make - numerous sources discuss the merit of the imahot. Just to mention a few:

    R. Yohanan said in the name of R. Shimon b. Yohai, "From the day on which the Holy Blessed One created the world, there was no one who praised the Holy Blessed One, until Leah came along and praised [God]. For it is said, 'This time I will praise the Lord' (Gen. 29:35)."
    - Berakhot 7b

    The Maharal says that the 4 cups at the seder allude to the 4 matriarchs, in whose merit their descendants were liberated from Egypt. Seeing as how Yetsiat Mitsrayim (the Exodus) is so important in our self-conception as a people, the merit of the imahot seems very substantial. (Incidentally, Sotah 11b seems to expand this to say that the merit is that of the righteous women of that generation. However, we probably couldn't drink that many cups of wine in one night.)

    Even if you can posit intriguing alternative ways to explain the gaps in the text in ways that are not flattering to the imahot, there are no shortage of critiques of the Avot, who are willing to sacrifice a son, encourage sibling rivalry, etc., but that doesn't stop us from invoking their merit. Our ancestors were not perfect, and the Torah doesn't shy away from their faults - we're not perfect either, but we still need their merit to make up for our own shortcomings. If anything, I would argue that in our times we need the additional merit of the imahot more than our ancestors did.

    Whether you invoke that merit by explicitly adding in their names, or by considering the word "avoteinu" to include all our illustrious ancestors of both genders, is a matter of personal choice, and it's useful to conceive of a community that encompasses people who make that choice in different ways.

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  8. 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!)

    Do those really still apply? Because I really wanted to lead davening barefoot a few weeks ago but wasn't allowed to [even though it was psukei d'zimrah so there wasn't a shmoneh esrei.] I also could theoretically lead davening in all-white.

    Aren't there people who only wear black and white and thus refuse to wear color? Aren't they praised for this? [I'm not saying that they should be, but that it's interesting that things seem to have reversed themselves.]

    So by 70CE Qumran was abandoned, so the Essenes wouldn't have been around [assuming we can actually link the Essenes to Qumran...] by the time the mishnah was redacted. I'd say they were dealing with the Judeo-Christians. That's also what the 19th blessing in the shmoneh esrei is for.

    I'd be very afraid of a yechi kippah. That's a kippah I would never make for someone, unless it was for a Purim costume or something.

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  9. Knitter of shiny things wrote:
    Do those really still apply? Because I really wanted to lead davening barefoot a few weeks ago but wasn't allowed to [even though it was psukei d'zimrah so there wasn't a shmoneh esrei.] I also could theoretically lead davening in all-white.

    This mishnah doesn't say that you can't lead davening barefoot or wearing all-white; it just says that if someone refuses to lead when they're wearing shoes or wearing colors, then they shouldn't be allowed to lead even if they're barefoot or wearing white.

    However, another mishnah in the same chapter says that a pocheiach (Rashi cites Masechet Soferim, saying that this includes a barefoot person) may lead some things and not others. Now I understand why Hadar makes me put on shoes when I read Torah on Yom Kippur. But this raises the question as to how anyone read Torah on Yom Kippur during the centuries between the origin of this halacha and the invention of non-leather shoes! (Back in the day, not wearing shoes on Yom Kippur actually meant not wearing shoes.)

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  10. BTW, the mishnah about the pocheiach shouldn't apply to leading pesukei d'zimrah, given that "leading" pesukei d'zimrah is not a halachic category.

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  11. Kehuna Rabba wrote: ..."From the day on which the Holy Blessed One created the world, there was no one who praised the Holy Blessed One, until Leah came along and praised [God]....

    Certainly a nice quote, but I wouldn't pray to the "God of Leah" just because she was the first person recorded in the Torah to praise God. Moreover, you still need prooftexts for Sara, Rivka, and Rahel. We know that Rivka sought out God. "22 But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, "If so, why do I exist?" She went to inquire of the Lord," but that's not zekhut, just talking.

    The Maharal says that the 4 cups at the seder allude to the 4 matriarchs, in whose merit their descendants were liberated from Egypt.

    That doesn't refer to the zekhut imahot that we are discussing, unless you want to expand zekhut avot to include all ancestors, not just the ones of the covenants, which is an entirely different discussion.

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  12. I think the clothes issue is a matter of respect for the community and the synagogue, as a public institution, not God (becuase God is everywhere, right?).
    So the rule should be like in supermarkets or workplaces that are normal for this public (in a civil sense) - i.e. where people wear ties to work, they should wear them as shlichei tzibbur. where people wear shorts and sandals, they should be allowed to wear them as shlichei tzibbur. It is a question of propriety in the most secular sense possible.
    "no shirt no shoes no service" seems to be normal for both the supermarket and the synagogue.

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  13. about barefoot shlichei tzibbur: someone once told me that a son or grandson (can't remember which) of rambam said that you should pray barefoot, wash your hands and feet before praying and that you do a full prostration in aleinu (always not just yom kippur). (presumably he liked the way the muslims were doing it...) does anyone know anything about this?

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  14. for future discussions:
    -what to do when there are community members who object to hearing kol isha, a woman singing?
    -a discussion of when it might not be the best idea for everyone to be davening in the same room?
    -do differences in liturgy matter, especially if the shaliach tzibbur/ shlichat tzibbut and many in the community differ over whether to say say mechayey hameytim, include imahot, or include sections of amida that detail sacrifices?

    -sarah m

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  15. Thanks Sarah M!

    1) I'm not sure there is a way to accommodate this at the Stage 3 level. If some members of the community are literally silencing others (against their will), then there's no way to have a community where everyone's identity is respected.

    2) Good call. Maybe Part V could focus on when it's not desirable to put everyone together (not just for davening, but for other things too).

    3) I thought I addressed this issue in this post (let everyone say what they want), but maybe I'm misunderstanding your suggestion.

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  16. Good post. BTW, knitter of shiny things, scholars now believe that the 19th blessing in the Amida was not added for Judeo-Christians. I forget why, but was fascinated when I heard this.

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  17. Just in case you read this, I'll add that I have been to a reform service (in the congregation I grew up in) and stood while everyone else is sitting. It was awkward to say the least, but no one questioned me about it.

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  18. One aspect of what people wear on their heads when they lead, is what I like to call Educational egalitarianism. Whatever your standard for leading services, or having an aliyah ( which I would like to see as kippah and tallit- don't care about what kind of clothes or shoes), if what ends up happening is all men do it and only some women do it, then this is not egalitarian and the reason I feel I can't be 'pluralistic" about this and respect others' views is that I don't want my daughter coming to shul every week to absorb that message- men must and women may. As it is subtle but real message.

    You might want to address the educational, what our kids see and learn aspect of all of this.I love this series and would love to hear your take on the issue. It seems that some of the ideas about being able to be tolerant and pluralistic of others' views because we are comfortable in our own views and practices might be more difficult when we are talking about kids, who by their very nature are not secure yet in theirs.

    And kids are a part of the community as well.

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  19. Whatever your standard for leading services, or having an aliyah ( which I would like to see as kippah and tallit- don't care about what kind of clothes or shoes), if what ends up happening is all men do it and only some women do it, then this is not egalitarian and the reason I feel I can't be 'pluralistic" about this and respect others' views is that I don't want my daughter coming to shul every week to absorb that message- men must and women may. As it is subtle but real message.

    Ok, but another way to avoid sending the message of "men must and women may" is to eliminate the "men must" half of the equation. As I mentioned in the post, there are plenty of supposedly egalitarian communities that maintain the norm (either from above, or from self-appointed vigilante kipah police) that kipot are mandatory for men (but only men). What if they didn't?

    You might want to address the educational, what our kids see and learn aspect of all of this.I love this series and would love to hear your take on the issue. It seems that some of the ideas about being able to be tolerant and pluralistic of others' views because we are comfortable in our own views and practices might be more difficult when we are talking about kids, who by their very nature are not secure yet in theirs.

    For sure. I've discussed this in Part VI.

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  20. "Worry about yourself, and let other people wear what they want, as long as they're not naked."

    But wait a second -- the last phrase of your sentence contradicts the first two. You are establishing a baseline of dress, according to the value that you are assuming we all adhere to, that of nakedness being inappropriate in public. But not everyone shares that value -- a nudist's identity would not be accommodated by your suggested standard. And what about those who define nakedness differently? Many people's definitions of nakedness include exposure of arms above the elbow, legs above the knee, and a married woman's hair.

    A community might say that people can wear whatever they want, including nakedness. Or a community might decide on the standard of dress you suggest. Or, it might decide on a more frum level of dress, provided that all members of the community agree on it. All three would be examples of pluralism.

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  21. The purpose of the shaliach tzibur is not only to provide an organized way for the community to daven together. They also serve as a proxy for those who don't know how to daven on their own, enabling those people to be yotzei. So, let's say Alana is davening in Plonit and Reuven's minyan, and she doesn't know how to daven the amidah. According to Reuven, Alana isn't yotzei, and this concerns him. We could say that's Alana's business, but what if she's never heard of the concept of yotzei, so she can't make a decision about it yet?

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