Plasticine prayers

So, I mentioned at some point on the blog that I’m a rabbinical student here. The current rabbinical seminar centers on the Jewish calendar, holidays, liturgy, etc. Among the items discussed last week was Shalom Auslander’s short story, “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Supremey.” In it, the protagonist creates two golems using instructions in Kabbalah for Dummies, and chaos ensues. Interspersed throughout the story are excerpts (translated into English) from various traditional Jewish prayers, with “Epstein” (the protagonist in the story) taking the place of the name of God.

It’s a hoot, though not for the religiously faint of heart (that’s true for a lot of Auslander’s writing). We used it in class as a way of leveraging into thinking about what prayers say and what, as Humanistic Jews, we should say in liturgical texts, because integrity of thought and speech is central to the movement’s self-definition.

This, plus reading for the next class session, brought me back around to thinking about the language of liturgy. I’m still unsure about how I think we should approach dealing with traditional texts and melodies from a humanistic perspective. One thing I liked seeing was a few texts from HJ services that recognized past practice and prayer, then turned to what we now say. But I’m a history buff (ask Mrs. Secular Jew in Indy about that), so that would appeal to me. And, of course, you can’t stick a “this is what we used to say” prefix onto everything–it’s not as though the reasons for the musaf service in traditional practice are persuasive for a humanistic Jew. (Heck, it’s not even persuasive for plenty of folks in the Conservative movement!)

Nevertheless, after seeing a number of HJ liturgical texts, I still think I would like to see a bit more in the way of adopting traditional forms into HJ liturgical practice. I’m not sure what that would look like–I actually rather like the adaptation of Shalom Aleichem that I’ve seen in HJ texts–but I’m sure I’ll continue to ponder this as time goes on and as I have more reason to communicate with other Jews about what I’m up to.

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