Culture, Religion

L'chu N'ran'nah–another new bencher

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle
A while ago, I reviewed a new bencher called Yedid Nefesh, by blogger Rabbi Josh Cahan. I’ll be referencing that review in this one. Full disclosure: a regular Jewschool contributor is an associate editor of this bencher.
When I reviewed Yedid Nefesh, I wrote:

You could pretty easily divide the world of benchers into two categories. On the one hand, there are totally perfunctory versions that exist as a mere vehicle for what their editors consider a fixed collection of blessings and prayers and a smattering of songs. On the other hand, there are a few benchers that are not mere vehicles for your embossed name and the date of your wedding, bris, bar mitzvah, or whatever. These are generally more liberal in their attitude toward the content and tend to contain some amount of commentary. Yedid Nefesh, a new bencher from Joshua Cahan, a rabbi coming out of the Conservative tradition, falls into the latter category.

If Yedid Nefesh, with its neither-here-nor-there approach to the imahot, is Conservative, L’chu N’ran’nah is Reform. Which is not to say it has anything to do with the URJ. Rather, it comes out of what I would call a Reform intellectual background; it’s Reform without the movement.
Each page on LN has three columns: translation, Hebrew and transliteration, parallel to each other, in the style of Siddur Eit Ratzon and Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael. The layout is fine and clean on most pages, but lapses into florid title pages.
It’s bigger than many benchers, but not overly so. It is slightly awkward to use because of its longways page orientation, but a certain width is required for the layout, which I like, so I’ll forgive the width.
The songs section is robust, bigger than Yedid Nefesh’s.
I love that Birkat Hamazon is clearly separated into its four constituent sections, showing users of LN that BH is designed and has a coherent order to it, something that is unfortunately lost on most.
Both benchers have abbreviated versions of BH, with LN’s running shorter. Differences in substance are negligible. LN, however, includes a variety of other, very brief BH options, including the tiny Aramaic one from Brachot 40b–a personal favorite of mine. It’s also got a woo-woo one by Shefa Gold that I’m not a huge fan of and a few others.
Over all, it’s nice. The biggest drawback I see is that there is slightly less commentary than I’d like. It looks like a little bit less than YN, but I’m willing to forgive that because of its otherwise good three-column layout.

13 thoughts on “L'chu N'ran'nah–another new bencher

  1. L’chu N’ran’nah is Reform. Which is not to say it has anything to do with the URJ. Rather, it comes out of what I would call a Reform intellectual background; it’s Reform without the movement.
    This seems a little silly. It’s no more reform than it is recon or renewal or conservative. Probably less so.
    This understanding of Reform is so expansive that it probably does include the Recons, Conservative yidden, and the Renewal crowd. As such, it’d be better to just say “liberal”.

  2. That’s probably fair, but consider this:
    If it was Reconstructionist or Renewal it would have played far more significantly with the text and be full of significantly more English poetry. The point that it’s as Reform as it is Conservative might be fair, but remember my “if,” which you excised from the quote in your comment. Reform liturgy tends to deal unflinchingly with imahot, while Conservative liturgy often falls short or makes it optional.

  3. If we are dealing with abstract ideology rather than movements than it’s hard to make the case that renewal, recon, and reform theologies have much nuance in terms of whether changes are accepted.
    If we are talking about how the various movements actually approach liturgy than this work is closer to the Conservative and Recon approaches than the Reform approach which drops much larger chunks of content.

  4. I’m not sure what you mean by “nuance in terms of whether changes are accepted.” Can you clarify?
    And the only extant URJ bencher, Birkon Mikdash M’at, includes two versions of Birkat Hamazon, including a full version. The shorter version isn’t much shorter than the version in L’chu N’ran’nah.

  5. This understanding of Reform is so expansive that it probably does include the Recons, Conservative yidden, and the Renewal crowd. As such, it’d be better to just say “liberal”.
    I’m with ZT. Except I’d re-write his last sentence as “As such, it’d be better to just say “it’s good.” The layout is awesome, the Hebrew text is scholarly, and there are footnotes galore, making it an enormously useful teaching tool.
    Reform liturgy tends to deal unflinchingly with imahot, while Conservative liturgy often falls short or makes it optional.
    It’s a bit of a stretch to say this benscher deals with the imahot “unflinchingly.” Imahot are included in brackets as possible additions to things like ya’aleh v’yavo and the harachman for hosts/guests.
    Also, how movements deal with the imahot may be telling of their other theological and political commitments, but I don’t think it’s a major way to distinguish Conservative from Reform (however defined).

  6. the main reasons I prefer lechu neranena over yedid nefesh:
    1- there is no “al ha’nissim” blessing praising the victory of the “righteous” 1948 Israelis over the “wicked” arabs, nor is ther Yedid Nefesh’s fairly exacerbating paragraph extolling this ridiculous blessing. I find this page of yedid nefesh problematic enough that I would not purchase the bencher for a personal event.
    2- The footnotes are fantastic! the crux of understanding many hebrew liturgical poems is knowing what verses they are referencing, and the context of these verses. Lechu Neranena is the first bencher I have seen that both has such good footnotes and a good english translation.

  7. If Yedid Nefesh, with its neither-here-nor-there approach to the imahot, is Conservative, L’chu N’ran’nah is Reform.
    I’m not sure what you mean by this exactly, since YN and LN do basically the same thing for the imahot — both include them in brackets (and I know you don’t like the brackets, but we already had this argument last time); the difference is just that LN includes “היטיב טובת טוב טוב” too (though still in brackets).
    If by “Reform” you mean “providing many options (including the full* traditional text) and explaining them so that people can make informed choices”, then I would agree. I just hope that people don’t misunderstand “Reform” here to mean “abridged” — the abridged birkat hamazon is there, but only as one of multiple options. “Pluralistic” might be a better descriptor, since it can be used by Jews of any denomination or non-denomination. Culturally, it’s no more or less “Reform” than any other label: it includes many songs that I never heard in my years growing up in Reform settings (e.g. Baruch El Elyon, Menuchah veSimchah), as well as many songs that I heard a lot (e.g. Lo Alecha, Gesher Tzar Me’od).
    * More than full in some cases – raise your hand if you knew about the extra, censored verse of Tzam’ah Nafshi. (It includes a goat.)
    It’s bigger than many benchers, but not overly so.
    There’s also a much smaller “mini version” that includes only birkat hamazon (without all the songs and other material) – good for if you want 100 copies in a more portable form.

  8. @RR I like your reframing.
    My first crack at this was obtuse. What I meant to say was similar to what RR said. That this is a great bencher, has a great selection of songs, and lots to offer.
    This may be a “success has many fathers” situation. Everyone likes to be associated with good outcomes.
    This book offers options based on a variety of problems in traditional texts. It doesn’t directly replace the offensive phrases in most cases. As a result it isn’t in-line with Kaplanian or Reform liturgical practice.
    That the book works for most liberal Jews is a triumph.
    Certainly we can talk about reform Jewish thinking as encompassing all people who want to modernize Jewish practice and thought. “Liberal Judaism” encompasses the same space and is much less confusing since no one talks about the Liberal Jewish movement in the US. Since it means basically the same thing and is less confusing I think it’s worth avoiding using reform as distinct from Reform.

  9. I just think it’s pretty hilarious to list the brilliant Josh Cahan’s primary vocation as “blogger”.

  10. Donkey, I know it’s not his primary vocation, but it’s the way in which I first came to know him. And for most people in the world, the only way they will ever have the chance to interact with him is through his blog.

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