Saturday, October 15, 2005

Random, incoherent thoughts from the Yom Kippur liturgy (updated)

There are plenty of other blogs discussing the meaning of Yom Kippur, so, I think I'll focus on the liturgical minutiae. The Yom Kippur liturgy is long and complicated, and, there is a lot on which to comment, but, I'll limit myself to only a few issues.

In general, I like the Yom Kippur liturgy. All of the services are centered around the selichot (penitential prayers) that combine elements meant to invoke an emotional response. They start with confessions of sin and pleas for Divine mercy that inspire fear of retribution, and end in hope (and even assurance!) of forgiveness. Similar themes continue throughout the rest of the service.

If you hadn't figured it out already from my comments elsewhere, I don't particularly like straightforward tit-for-tat reward and punishment theology from a philosophical perspective, and the liturgy is full of it. I would even propose that if the martyrology were written today, its addition to the service would be opposed by many traditional Jews as being too reminiscent of a certain other religion (ten great rabbis were killed by the Romans, and they died for our sins!?). But, I think that if the simplified idea does have any place, it is Yom Kippur, when we are asked to perform as difficult a task as teshuva (literally, return). Perhaps suspended disbelief can take us away from the larger philosophical issues of just what bad effects will result from bad acts (and vice versa) and force us to confront the sins themselves.

And, now back to our regularly scheduled program of liturgical minutiae...

There are a number of textual variants, even within a given nusach (rite). Most of the variation has to do with the choices of piyyutim (liturgical poems) made by both the congregation and the compilers of the machzorim (High holiday prayer books).

Our minyan used the Silverman machzor, a reasonably complete product of the Conservative movement, first published in the late 1930's, and revised through the 1950's.

Anyone who has a Silverman machzor, or any other that uses the Israel Zangwill translation of the poem in Ma'ariv, סלחתי , (Adler also uses the same translation) can be entertained by the deliberate archaism:
Ay, 'tis thus    evil us        hath in bond
By Thy grace guilt efface and respond
Cast scorn o'er and abhor th'informer's word
Dear God, deign this refrain to make heard

and so on...
Strangely enough, it's not a bad translation, and, it has the same meter as the original, so you can sing it. In that way, it's reminiscent of the Sim Shalom translation of An'im Zemirot.
A few of us were wondering whether the Hebrew liturgy sounds like this to native Israeli Hebrew speakers.

I led Yom Kippur mincha for our minyan. We had 2.5 hours scheduled for mincha, a d'var Torah, and ne'ila. At first, I was wondering how long I should take. After all, mincha is short. How could we possibly fill up that amount of time? The haftarah is the key. The Torah service plus the haftarah took a half hour. Ne'ila took about an one hour and five minutes. The remainder of mincha took about 45 minutes. We ended on time. Speaking of mincha, the Silverman (and, I think the Harlow) machzor begins the k'dusha like this:
‏ככתוב על יד נביאיך, וקרא זה אל זה ואמר:‎
“As it is written by Your prophets, 'And one will call to another and say:'”
The obvious question: to what is the "as" referring?
This introduction, is, of course, the end of the standard formula that begins the k'dusha:
‏נעריצך ונקדישך כסוד שיח שרפי קודש המקדישים שמך בקודש.‎
“Let us proclaim Your holiness in the same manner as the holy fire-angels who proclaim the holiness of Your name.” (very loose translation). It's referring to the prophetic vision (or acid trip, depending on your perspective) in Isaiah 6:3. The repetition of the word “קדוש”,“holy”, is probably an aural clue to our forbears (who did not have machzorim) that the upcoming congregational response will be:
‏קדוש קדוש קדוש ה' צבאות מלא כל הארץ כבודו‎
“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole land fills will His glory”
Other machzorim include a piyyut leading into the k'dusha that includes some variant on the verbs “נעריצך ונקדישך”. Others begin with:
‏ ובכן ולך תעלה קדושה כי אתה אלקינו מלך מוחל וסולח‎
“And so we will raise up the proclamation of holiness to You, because You, God, are our forgiving king.”
That is a variant on the formula that separates between the piyyutim on the High Holidays. But, at least it makes the following line make some sense. I decided to add in the full introduction. I'm in favor of our prayers making sense (more to come on this subject later?).

Just one more set of holidays to go this month. Chag Sameach!

Technorati tags: , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link