So, what’s going to be in the new Siddur?

Rabbis Lea Mühlstein and Elli Tikvah Sarah
27 June 2019

So, what’s going to be in the new Liberal Judaism Siddur? Since the draft Shabbat morning service was first circulated more than a year ago, we – that is, the editors – have been asked that question many times.

After giving the question a lot of thought, discussing it with the editorial group and inviting our rabbinic colleagues to a meeting on that specific topic, we have begun to firm up our ideas.

Our current Siddur Lev Chadash is much more than a prayer book. It is a wonderful comprehensive anthology that includes not only Shabbat services, but all the festivals with the exception of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, life-cycle ceremonies, except those associated with death, blessings and prayers for different occasions, themed readings on each of the 54 Torah portions, a collection of early rabbinic aphorisms gleaned from two second century texts, Pirkei Avot and Avot d’Rabbi Natan, and a selection of Psalms and songs.

By contrast the new Siddur Shirah Chadashah will fulfil more closely the traditional concept of a siddur, that is a prayer book for Shabbat, the three daily services and for home ceremonies.

One reason for this is practical. Having decided to include a transliteration alongside each blessing and prayer, as well as additional readings and reflections on each double page spread, the text of the services will take up more space. Equally important, it is intended that the main focus of Siddur Shirah Chadashah will be on accompanying congregants, families and individuals on the weekly cycle of their lives in the synagogue and in the home.

And so, only those festivals and special commemorative days that are marked on Shabbat and/or in the home will be included – for example, Shabbat Chol-Ha-Mo’eid (during Pesach and Sukkot), Tu Bishvat, Shabbat Atzma’ut, Shabbat Shuvah, Human Rights Shabbat and Chanukah.

Equally, Siddur Shirah Chadashah will only include those life cycle ceremonies that are celebrated on Shabbat and/or in the home – for example, those associated with birth, Bar/Bat/B’Mitzvah, Kabbalat Torah, the calling up of a couple to mark their forthcoming wedding, special birthdays and anniversaries.

It will also include those ceremonies that are specifically connected to our home lives, such as Chanukkat Ha-Bayit, the fixing of mezuzah/ot to dedicate a new home, candle-lighting, kiddush and havdalah to mark Shabbat and the festivals, morning and bedtime prayers, blessings for various occasions, prayers for hearing bad news, illness and recovery and for travelling, and the lighting of a yahrzeit candle. Siddur Shirah Chadashah will also include Psalms and songs and special readings.

Another question we have been asked concerns whether or not Siddur Shirah Chadashah will, like Siddur Lev Chadash, include a range of service options for Shabbat evening and morning. The answer to that question is ‘yes’ – but the options will be presented rather differently. At the moment, we are considering that rather than provide a range of different introductory sections prior to the Bar’chu, the call to prayer, Siddur Shirah Chadashah will include between three and five complete services for evening and morning distinguished by their emphasis on different sections of the service.

So, taking the example of the Shabbat morning service: In addition to one ‘regular’ service that gives equal weight to all sections of the service (like the current draft), the others might focus in turn, on the introductory and concluding prayers, the Shema and its blessings, the Amidah, and the reading of the Torah.

In those services that focus on a particular section, the prayers and blessings associated with the other sections will be shortened. Making these options available, will give people the opportunity to explore the liturgy in more depth and to engage more fully with the spirit and the content of the different segments of the service.

Having received feedback on the draft Shabbat morning service, we shall now turn our attention to Erev Shabbat, with a specific focus at this point on Kabbalat Shabbat, the introductory Psalms songs and prayers. The constructive comments we have received will be incorporated into our treatment of Erev Shabbat and will also be incorporated into a future draft of the Shabbat morning service.

To return to the present: the first draft of the Shabbat morning service is being used regularly in only a handful of congregations. Judging by the feedback, congregations that are using it on a regular basis have found it to be a very positive experience and have been in a position to provide the most helpful suggestions for improvement. We urge those congregations that have not yet become familiar with the service to make arrangements to use it at least once a month.

Finally: watch this space – or an article in LJ Today – for a further update after the autumn festivals.

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