Mark’s Remarks: The Mahzors are Here! May 2010
If you’ve stopped by the Temple office recently, you probably saw a pile of cardboard boxes filled with books sitting on the counter on the cabinet near the back wall. As I wrote in the bulletin last fall, the Religious Committee made the decision to shift from the Orthodox Birnbaum Mahzor (High Holiday Prayerbook) that the synagogue has been using for about sixty years, to the new Mahzor Lev Shalem.
Lev Shalem means “A Full Heart.” The editors chose this name because they “would like contemporary Jews to prayer with full hearts.” Their goal for Mahzor Lev Shalem was to make Jewish liturgy accessible and joyful to all who enter the synagogue. The book is visually appealing, the translations are in modern English, and each page is bordered by commentary and interpretations in the margins. The book was ten years in the making. While the Rabbinical Assembly had planned a first run of 30,000 copies, the demand was such that over 100,000 were ordered, but that so many congregations had ordered copies at the pre-publication deadline that they increased the number printed to 130,000. A second printing is underway.
What does a new Mahzor mean for us?
For our community, a new Mahzor is an opportunity to meet the High Holidays as if we are celebrating them again for the first time, savoring the familiar words and melodies, but also learning from the explanations, and allowing the kavanot to help inspire the prayers we are offering with new intentions.
A new Mahzor means we may see some new language, in both Hebrew and English, during services. There are some new “new” poems, and some new “old” poems, as the Mahzor contains both contemporary and early prayers that were not included in earlier Conservative Mahzorim, and possibly not in ours as well. There are also many choices, to reflect the diversity of practices found in different congregations.
A new Mahzor means some things we’re used to are omitted. (People who like shorter services should be happy about this!) As we study Mahzor Lev Shalem in closer detail over the summer, the Religious Committee will determine if there are any specific selections that we customarily include from the Birnbaum Mahzor that did not make their way into Mahzor Lev Shalem. Then we’ll decide whether to truly omit them, or chant the verses anyway if they are part of our synagogue’s custom. Duchening, the blessing of the congregation by the Kohanim, is included in the Mahzor. Carl Goldstein would be proud to see that the tradition that involves his whole family will continue.
One new section of the Mahzor, entitled “Prayers of Brokenness and Wholeness”, is named for the notes of the shofar whose names mean broken (“shvarim”) and whole (“tkiah”). It contains new prayers and poems from contemporary rabbis, liturgists, poets, and theologians. Selections include a variety of “mi sheberachs” for the community, its leaders, those who are ill, our families, and prayers for healing in a community. These selections are intended to be recited before the sounding of the Shofar.
We are grateful for donations from funds set up by the Gordon family and the Goldstein family which subsidized this major purchase. If you would like to donate a Mahzor to the synagogue in honor or in memory of a family member or friend, please contact Andrea in the Temple office. For a donation of $44, we will place a book plate noting your contribution. Israel Bookshop and Kol Bo have the Mahzor Lev Shalem available for sale for members who wish to purchase their own copies, at $44 each.
Our old Mahzorim are going to a good home. Temple Beth Shalom of Cambridge, the “Tremont Street Shul” will inherit many of our Birnbaum Mahzorim that are in good condition. We are glad to see these books will still be used in another congregation in the Boston area.
Like a new pair of shoes, this Rosh Hashanah we’ll be trying a new Mahzor on for size. It may pinch in some places, or feel awkward in others. But after walking around for a while, we’ll get used to it. And for many years to come, we will return to it as its pages become worn, its words become familiar, and and our prayers truly come from “a full heart.”