Regurgitating the Litigurgical

The Conservative movement has introduced a new piece of liturgy for Yom HaShoah—Megillat HaShoah (“The Shoah Scroll”), which was read for the first time during last month’s Yom HaShoah observances at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue in Toronto, and which will potentially become ritualized among Conservative worshippers throughout the world.

The new Conservative liturgy, unveiled last year in Israel, represents the first attempt by a major Jewish religious movement to address the void [in communal ritual commemorating the Shoah]. “Having one central text, shared by Jews wherever they live, will unite us and make possible the perpetuation of the story,” Rabbi Reuven Hammer, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, wrote in one of three introductions to the Megillah. “It will help us to fill what has become the new imperative of Jewish life: We must all view ourselves as if we had personally experienced the Shoah.”

The incorporation of such a ritual may do a great deal for the Conservative community, but what about other Jewish denominations? What potential does Megillat HaShoah have to be incorporated into ritual & tradition across denominational lines?

Apparently, there are no guidelines for the adoption of liturgy or new rituals, even in Orthodoxy. A tradition kept long enough eventually becomes halakha: “Minhag yisroel torah hee,” the custom becomes part of the Torah. But how this rule is applied is a hotly debated topic itself. The last time new liturgy was adopted by the Orthodox, it was the “Prayer for Israel” and blessings on Yom Ha’atzmaut, in the 1950s, and even so, they were not universally adopted. According to one Lubavitch rabbi I spoke with, only a very small minority of Orthodox people say these blessings.

Furthermore, though Megillat HaShoah was authored by a man, it was translated by a woman. And while I don’t see this posing much of a problem, with the consistently growing number of female rabbis, one must expect the question will arise soon enough, what the likelihood is that a piece of liturgy written by a woman will be adopted by mainstream Orthodoxy at all. While, for example, Shmoneh Esrei, one of the central pieces of Jewish liturgy, was inspired by the silent prayer* of the prophet Samuel’s mother, Hannah, modern women rabbis tend to get very little respect, if any at all, from the Orthodox world.

In response, Rabbi Jill Hammer of Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project, author of Sisters at Sinai, and a co-worker/friend of mine, says that, regardless of whether or not a piece of liturgy was authored by a woman, “If it’s good, it will spread. Perhaps slowly, but it will spread.” Rabbi Hammer reports mild success in the Orthodox world with the advent of Ma’yan-sponsored rituals such as the Passover Miriam’s Cup ceremony and the Esther & Vashti Purim flags, which celebrate great Jewish women who are often overlooked in a paternalistic Jewish world. The group has recently gained the support of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance who themselves distrubted hundreds of flags to Orthodox women this Purim.

While these traditions are not quite widespread just yet, it does show promise for a more progressive evolution of Jewish practice, and one that is inspiringly more participatory than that which has been projected in recent history. As for Megillat HaShoah, I suppose only time will tell what will be of its fate…

*Clarified thanks to commentary offered by our resident rav, Grubmastahflex.

12 thoughts on “Regurgitating the Litigurgical

  1. First off, Chanah (shmuels mother) was the first to pray silently, by herself. The ideas and in some cases the vocabulary of the Amidah can be traced back to the patriarchs. Psalm 103 verses 1-6 provide an interesting sequential parallel to some of the berachot. However, it was the Men of the Great Assembly (Anshei Knesset Hagedolah) after the Babylonian Exile who standardised Jewish prayer and laid down a fixed daily form which could unite Jews all over the world, whatever their spoken language. It was this prayer that the Anshei Knesset Haggadolah ( the big hitters like Mordechai of purim fame, Shimon Hatzadik etc..) modeled the current shmoneh essrei after. They created the current liturgy without change since. Most of it was gleaned from Psalms, actual chapters of the torah, or desciptions of the daily offerings.
    To add something to this as an official cannoized part of the liturgy is not simple and quite frankly there isnt a group of rabbi’s alive , or since the Anshei Knesset Haggadolah that can do anything of the sort.
    The Mishiberach that some say over the torah for Israeli Soldiers is not part of the liturgy. It is a request that is said while the torah is on the bimah, much a like the prayer for sick people etc.. It is a collection of references to different battles in the tanach mainly coming from Dueteronomy 20:4

  2. “We must all view ourselves as if we had personally experienced the Shoah”
    Isn’t honoring those lost, and uniting those who are here enough of a reason to read this?
    Why would you have to feel as if you’ve personally experienced it, isnt that a bit extreme?
    Nobody (in their right mind, that is) would ever try to downplay the importance of this document, but is this the menality you want to go into the future with, or is this the kind of fervor that it would take to have this implemented globally?
    Can these questions even be answered or is this a moot point?

  3. I will insist that we, as Jews, do not have to provide our enemies with ammunition—we need not foster others’ hatred for us. Regardless of whether we recognize people as individuals, most people still see an individual as a representative of their culture and faith. And if one acts knowing that there may be repercussions on the overall impression others have of his people, then he is acting selfishly and unjustly.
    I think your missing the bigger picture here. It’s not about what Jews do or don’t do its about a problem that the human race has, namely hatred. In why should Jews be the only ones conscious of their actions? Why not make it a universal expectation and insist that human race stop generalizing based on one persons actions? This is the real problem here not that we fuel hatred but that anti-Semitism (like all forms of racism) is the product of a people who have yet to understand that individuals represent individuals and not a group at large…

  4. Sorry the previous comment was ment for I Didn’t Expect This Sort of Spanish Inquisition I will go post it there…

  5. The Shoah is not something that should be ritualized. The bases have all already been covered. The speech I made on Yom Hashoah, which is short for Yom HaShoah ve Hagevurah — the day of the Holocaust and also our might — asks us that whenever we remember, we remember to choose life. You can read what I said in much more detail on the website in a speech I made. You speak to survivors who never thought they would make it into the 21st century. They can’t stand it when they hear American Jews talk about the total destruction of a people. I ain’t chopped liver, my old man ain’t a figment of my imagination, and neither is my mother.

  6. if the shoah shouldn’t be ritualized, why should other tragedies or narrowly averted tragedies that have their own megillah readings, such as tish b’av and purim?

  7. the orthodox will never take into themselves this liturgy. we need the reabbanim or the gedolai hador in order to do that. to correct what you have written, most orthodox shuls dont say extra tifelos on yom haatzmaut and only a few say the tifella on shabbos. this is bec. no gadol hador gave it their haaskama.

  8. tisha baav actually stands for the genereal concept of tragedy for the jewish people. Currently most people do something then to commemorate the Shoah…

  9. If women want to influence Judaism, they should do it with their man in the kitchen and the bedroom as God intended. Otherwise, for women to inject themselves into the public sphere is immodest. The glory of the king’s daughter is within.

  10. I was reading your article on the Megillat Hashoah
    and thought you would be interested in the latest development in this are, the authorised creation of the scroll itself (rather than a booklet) and the Tikkun for it. See http://www.lulu.com/content/871367
    which I recently published at with the authorisation of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Schechter Institute.
    There are now six scrolls in use in various congregations and it is very much an attempt to retain the impetus of this and try to widen its usage.
    Marc Michaels/Mordechai Pinchas
    Sofer STaM

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