Prayer books evolve to meet the times, and anyone can Hebrew with a little transliteration!

By Betsy Frank

Betsy Frank is UHC para-rabbinic fellow and president.

After each High Holy Days season, I hear several comments regarding the amount of Hebrew in the service. Some say, “There was too much Hebrew and I didn’t get much out of the service.” Others observe, “More Hebrew and a more traditional service is what I want.” Obviously, no one service will please all.

We are an eclectic congregation with some members who were raised in Orthodox Jewish families, some Conservative and some, like me, in classical Reform congregations.

So, how did we get to this state of affairs? We are an eclectic congregation with some members who were raised in Orthodox Jewish families, some Conservative and some, like me, in classical Reform congregations. Each of these traditions brings its own unique characteristics.

Those of us in my age group (no comments, please) worshipped with Union Prayer Books I and II. Most of the service was in English, with some Hebrew. The books offered no transliterations and included such terms as “minister” and “choir”, not typically associated with Jewish culture.

Uinion Prayer Books I and II.

The Union Prayer Book outlived its freshness date

The Union Prayer Book originated in 1892, with its last edition published in 1940 — just before America’s involvement in World War II — when assimilation of Jews was the goal.

Gates of Prayer followed in 1975. This book provided more Hebrew, with transliterations in the back of the book.

With Jewish education emphasizing Hebrew in religious school, youth groups and summer camps, no longer is the goal assimilation without claiming our heritage.

In 1978, Gates of Repentance appeared. Our congregation still uses this High Holy Days prayerbook, which offered more Hebrew than many of our members had experienced during a service.

And with Jewish education emphasizing Hebrew in religious school, youth groups and summer camps, no longer is the goal assimilation without claiming our heritage. Our student rabbis have made extensive use of Hebrew during the last 20 years.

Mishkan T’filah came along in 2007 for Shabbat and weekday worship. Mishkan Hanefesh (2015) is a newer High Holy Days prayer book that our congregation has yet to adopt.

These prayer books conveniently provide transliterations beside the Hebrew, along with English translations.

Jerusalem Academy flash mob greets Ben Gurion Airport arrivals with Shalom Aleichem

Hymns return to Hebrew

The older prayer books translated hymns into English, but the newer versions emphasize Hebrew hymns. Sometimes I do long for All the World (Ahavat Olam), but over the years a rousing Adon Olam has grown quite satisfying to me.

Shalom Aleichem and Lecha Dodi are second nature to me now.

Repetition does help!

I have found my niche in making the service meaningful to me as a congregant and, I hope, for others when I lead services.

As I reflect on the trajectory of Hebrew in services, I realize I have grown more comfortable with the language. No, I can’t translate on my own and no, I don’t always read the Hebrew. I read the transliterations, even though I can read Hebrew.

Yet, I have found my niche in making the service meaningful to me as a congregant and, I hope, for others when I lead services. All of our volunteers lead services with the same goal in mind.

Our prayerbook has language to meet the needs of all our congregants — whether they favor English, Hebrew or both, with or without transliterations.

Speaking of leaders, we welcome new fourth-year student rabbi Caitlin Brazner, who led her first service Nov. 6 and will return Dec. 11.

Shalom and be well.

Betsy Frank

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