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Question 18.5.2:
Traditional Judaism Differences: What other changes to liturgy reflect Reform ideals?


The Reform Movement has repeatedly revised the traditional liturgy, in order to shorten the service by dispensing with some of the repetitions (for example, there is only one reader's Kaddish), and to bring the doctrinal content of the liturgy into accord with Reform thought by omitting or recasting passages expressive of beliefs that are not part of Reform (e.g., a personal Messiah as distinct from a messianic age, ressurection of the dead, restoration of the sacrificial cult, and the existance of angels). [an error occurred while processing the directive]

As an example of this, consider the Shema and Tefillah. Traditionally, the Shema consists of three Scriptural passages: Deut. 6.4-9, Deut. 11.13-21, and Num. 15:37-41. In Reform siddurs, the second paragraph is often omitted because of the doctrine of retribution, and the third because of the commandment regarding fringes. Reform does include Num. 15.40f. With respect to the Tefillah, there are more significant changes. The Tefillah traditionally consists of 18 benedictions, to which, perhaps in the 2nd or 3rd century CE, a 19th was added. It can be broken into three parts: the first three benedictions, an intermediate thirteen benedictions, and a final three benedictions. These are traditionally said three times daily, and appear (in a modified form) in the weekday service in the Reform siddur (although most Reform congregations do not hold weekday services, there are congregations and study groups that do, and hence, a service is provided for them). On Shabbat and on festivals, only the first three and the last three are said; the intermediate benedictions are replaced by ones peculiar to the appropriate day.

First Grouping:


The first benediction, Ancestors/Avot, is retained mostly unchanged, except for referring to our fathers and our mothers. Most Reform siddurs change the text to read "redemption" instead of "a redeemer.". A recent trend has been to include Sarah, Leah, Rachel, and Rebecca in addition to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This goes with the egalitarian nature of Reform.


The second benediction, Powers/Gevurot, is amended to affirm that God is the source of all life, and that God has implanted within us eternal life. Traditionally, the main theme of this benediction was resurrection of the dead, a doctrine not accepted by Reform Judaism. These words were expressed in the traditional siddur as "...and revivest the dead with great mercy..". In the Reform prayerbook, this is changed to "...with great compassion give life to all."


The third benediction, Holiness of God/Kedushat Hashem, has also been changed slightly. The Hebrew that might more literally be rendered as "holy beings" (angels) has been changed to "those who strive to be holy".

Intermediate Benedictions:


The first (Understanding/Binah), second (Repentence/Teshuvah), third (Forgiveness/Selichah), and fourth (Redemption/Ge-u-lah) of the thirteen intermediate benedictions are retained, although they are rendered in a gender-neutral language (that is, God is referred to as a Soverign or a Ruler, as contrasted to a Father or a King).


The fifth intermediate benediction, Healing/Refuah, is changed slightly. The traditional "who heals the sick of His people Israel" is changed to "Healer of the sick", a potentially older version found in J. Ber. 2.4 and Sifrei to Deut. 33.2. The change was made because the older version is more comprehensive.


The sixth intermediate benediction, Blessing of the Years (Abundance)/Birkat Hashanim, is also changed slightly: one phrase ("Bless our year like other years") is omitted.


The seventh intermediate benediction, Ingathering of the Exiles/Kibbuts Galuyot, is rewritten. The Reform version begins the same way as the traditional text, but in place of the petition for the ingathering of the exiles goes on to emphasize the hope for universal freedom. Thus, "...bring our exiles together and assemble us from the four courners of the earth..." becomes "...inspire us to strive for the liberation of the oppressed, and let the song of liberty be heard in the four corners of the earth..."


The eight intermediate benediction, Justice/Birkat Mishpat, is also rewritten. The first half, which traditionally voices the hope for the restoration of Israel's judges, is reworded to express the hope for universal justice (based on passages such as Isa 40.23; Ps. 148.11; Joel 3.1; Zech 12.10, and so on). The second half is almost identical with the traditional.


The ninth intermediate benediction, a malediction against slanderers or informers (originally heretics), is omitted.


The tenth (traditional, ninth in Reform) intermediate benediction, Blessing for the Righteous/Birkat Hatsadikim, is abridged (i.e., "...upon the righteous and faithful of all peoples, and upon all of us.")


The eleventh (traditional, tenth in Reform) intermediate benediction, Builder of Jerusalem/Bonei Yerushalayim, is rewritten. Traditionally, this benediction beseeches God to rebuild Jerusalem and to reestablish the Davidic monarchy. Partly for doctrinal reasons, and partly because the traditional theme is repeated by the subsequent benediction, the Reform version is altered to be a prayer for the present and continuing welfare of the land and people of Israel. The Reform version also contains an allusion to the connection between Zion and the messianic hope, expressed by a reference to Zion and Jerusalem as the source of enlightenment to all humanity.


The twelfth (traditional, eleventh in Reform) intermediate benediction, Blessing concerning David, Birkat David, is also rewritten. In the Reform version, the hope for restoration of the Davidic commonwealth is broadened into a concept of a Messianic Age.


The thirteenth (traditional, twelfth in Reform) intermediate benediction, Who Harkens to Prayer/Shomei-a Tefillah, is abridged.

Final three benedictions:


The first of the last three benedictions, Worship/Avodah, is modified. The traditional references to sacrificial worship are omitted; instead, a throught on the theme of God's nearness to all who seek God with sincerity is used.


The second of the last three benedictions, Thanksgiving/Hoda-ah, uses the complete text, but is rendered in a gender-neutral fashion.


The last of the three benedictions, the Priestly Benediction/Birkat Kohanim, is retained relatively unchanged from the traditional version, although some of the translations are more freely done.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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