Jewish Liturgy

It's not just what you do in synagogue.

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Compare Jewish liturgy to producing music. Different musicians can play identical notes off of the same sheet music, but produce startlingly different musical experiences. Alternatively, some musicians would not consider a piece of music "their own" without adding their own embellishments. And some musicians can take a short melody and produce an entire performance. Similarly, some Jews can personalize the traditional texts of the liturgy simply by focusing their own associations and emphases differently, while others need to modify the prayers in different ways in order to "own" the experience.

Making Liturgy Relevant Today

How does one make an ancient liturgical text "new and relevant"? Until modern times, each generation would supplement the traditional text; occasionally, materials would drop out, but the overall works grew. In modern times, editors subtract, add, and substitute, sometimes creating new materials and sometimes restoring materials "lost" to tradition. Prayer texts have changed as a result of differing theological concerns, especially as regards the relationship of the Jewish people to other peoples. The use of gender-specific language, both for God and for referring to people, is an issue that has informed the editing of some contemporary siddurim. Finally, new liturgical texts have been published that include modern commentaries or different aesthetic changes that make the texts more user-friendly.

Learning about Jewish liturgy can provide tremendous insight into how Judaism thinks about all kinds of issues, but liturgy is really about engaging God. Learning about the texts is only the first step.

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