Atheist siddur: Oxymoron or exciting new way to think about ourselves and the world around us?
According to Dr. Tzemah Yoreh, a 29 year-old Bible scholar living in Jerusalem, it’s the latter option.
He’s quoted this week in the Jewish Chronicle:
“The desire to seek things beyond our power is a universal one, and it’s not restricted to theists or atheists,”… “One mode of expression is prayer, which is an expression of our deepest desires. Prayer is a way of voicing our will, something which only a community can do.”
His atheist-feminist siddur (prayerbook) is, in many ways, quite a radical departure. I know Tzemah and the Kiddush Levanah group of which I took part when I lived in Jerusalem experimented some with his liturgy for the Kiddush Levanah ritual, and I found his writing to be quite beautiful, and mostly comprised of pasokim (Bibilical verses) woven together, and not explicitly non-theistic at all. I personally prefer traditional liturgy in general, though.
Of course, the question remains: to whom does an atheist pray?
The Chronicle notes,
For example, the Shema [in Tzemah’s atheist siddur] is preceded with the following: “May favour be found in the recitation of these verses — a respectful echo of the belief of my ancestresses and ancestors, who devotedly worshipped Adonai. For although I cannot sing odes to a patriarchally imagined deity, as it says in the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:16): ‘Do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure — the likeness of male or female’, the tradition of my parents is carved in my heart in immutable letters.”
Every section (excluding the biblical passages) of the siddur is reworked to represent the author’s sensibilities. In traditional siddurim, the section before Yishtabach reads as follows: “For the Kingship is God’s and He rules over nations. Redeemers shall come from Mount Zion to rule over/judge (the inhabitants of) Mount Esau, and the Kingship shall be God’s. And God shall rule over the land, on that day God shall be one and His name shall be one.”
Yoreh’s version reads: “For human beings were meant to be kings, governors of their environment. Redeemers shall arise, saviours shall come. From Mount Zion and from among all peoples, they shall beat their swords into plowshares. They shall eradicate despotic government. On that day harmonious coexistence shall be realised.”
So what do y’all think: Does it work? Does it not work? Hillul Hashem or a new way to engage kedushah?