Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do Reform Jews own Siddurim?

In my wanderings around the web searching for tefilla news and updates, I came across AllExperts.com - an online resource to get answers to questions.  One jump article on the bottom of the page was "ask the rabbi" about "Does Judaism have a prayer that requests success in sports?"  I was looking for something on tefilla and I came across the following question:
I am a prospective convert, and recently obtained a copy of the Reform prayer book (Gates of Prayer.)  I find that the prayer book would be relatively difficult to use on a daily basis compared to a more traditional siddur (the Artscroll, for example.)  Do most Reform Jews daven Sacharit, Minchah, and Maariv?  If so, are they using more traditional siddurim?  Will the new Mishkan Tefillah be more conducive to daily prayers?   
My rabbi mentioned that most of his congregants likely do not own a siddur.  Is this common throughout the reform movement?
I found Rabbi Sue Levy's response fascinating (check out her expert profile) and intriguing.  At first she offers a practical answer about the siddur differences between Shabbat and the weekday.  She adds the following caveat :
I think your rabbi is absolutely right that most Reform Jews do not own a siddur. It is a sad commentary, but for many Reform Jews spirituality is something that they find in synagogue once a week or not at all.  
I think there are many people who call themselves Christians who compartmentalize in pretty much the same way, although the church with which they are affiliated might wish otherwise.
This has not been my experience or impression (as well I am not one to generalize about large groups of people and Jews specifically).  Whether this siddurim are dusty on a top shelf or strangely unfamiliar is probably a fact for most unaffiliated Jews regardless of their denominational affiliation - but what's with the thesis about compartmentalizing of spiritual life for Reform Jews?  (tangential recommended article, Is Prayer for Activists?).

What are your thoughts? 

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as a Reform Jew, first of all it should be noted that Gates of Prayer was replaced in the mid 2000s with the newest Reform siddur, Mishkan T'filah. MT includes far more Hebrew and transliteration as well returning a lot of elements of the traditional liturgy that were jettisoned by the movement in the 1800s. The new siddur came about because the movement has changed a lot in the past few decades, taking a deliberate turn back towards tradition and ritual.

    As with any Jewish movement, you usually end up with the wrong end of the lulav when you generalize. Absolutely, some Reform Jews resent the move towards more Hebrew in services and greater openness to tradition, but the fact is that the children and grandchildren of longtime RJs seem to connect with tradition in ways that older RJs either don't or have no interest in exploring.

    And even those older Reform Jews likely have a shelf or shelves full of Jewish books and Judaica, including siddurim, machzorim, and haggadot. I can't tell you whether the siddurim ever got used beyond Friday night or Saturday morning. But I can tell you that I and some other Reform Jews feel deeply connected to our collective Jewish traditions and, indeed, commanded in terms of mitzvot.

    For example,I lay tefillin, daven three times a day, wear tzitzit, recite brachot, and do all of this from a sense of kavanah (not merely by rote.) Mind you, I'm in a small Reform minority in doing all of these things. But the problem as it exists today is that the institutional powers-that-be of the Reform movement haven't caught up yet to the traditionalizing trend in the movement. So if you want to explore the mitzvot, you'll be doing it largely on Conservative or, more likely, Orthodox websites.

    That's a shame--and the state of the movement's web presence might lead you to think all RJs care about is b'nei mitzvah, campfire songs, and the Friday night oneg. Meanwhile, I daven in a Reform shul that observes a silent Amidah and a worship service that liturgically is almost entirely in Hebrew, where we regularly discuss our relationship to tradition, ritual, and mitzvot observance--even if the answers we share vary according to the conscience of the individual Jew sharing them.

    Most of all, though, to suggest that Reform Jews only practice or experience the spiritual aspects of their Judaism once a week in shul is mind-boggling to me. How many Jews do you know, of any denomination, affiliated or not, who are not pungently aware every moment of their lives that they are Jews? Especially if they are affiliated, how do you leave shul on Shabbat and carry nothing of it with you throughout the week? Most Reform Jews may not swim in the deeper end of the mitzvah pool like I do, but I don't know any who are able--or who would choose--to ignore every single chance that arises throughout the day to connect with the holy in some way. After all, even we Reform Jews write our Judaism on the doorposts of our homes.