(Reform) Jews have a new High Holy Days prayer book- and just in time. The holiest days in the Jewish calendar begin Sunday at sundown, and the new text for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur contains updated language on women and gay marriage and also makes belief in God optional. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has revised the existing text, in use for a generation, to be feminist and gay friendly, while also leaving room for disbelief. Reform Judaism is the most progressive arm of Judaism. It is also the largest Jewish denomination in the United States.
“One of the goals was to create a prayer book that was a prayer book for the 21st century, that is welcoming and inviting to everybody,” said Rabbi Hara Person, the publisher of the new prayer book, “Mishkan HaNefesh.” (Emphases/italics mine).
A countertext to a prayer from Genesis (“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth…”) questions the scientific basis for the story of creation. It begins, “I speak these words, but I don’t believe them.” Inspiring!
“We wanted to allow for people who come in with doubt and anger, not to say there’s only one way to approach these holidays,” Person said. (I bet they don’t have to say, “Happy Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur” anymore. In fact, I bet they say “happy holidays,” too). “There’s a place for you regardless of who you are and what you’re coming in with.” Wow.
One Midwestern rabbi stated, “A prayer book is an interesting lens, a window into who a people is at a given moment.” He went on to say that, among his congregation, “there is an enthusiasm and a sense that the last prayer book served us greatly for a generation, and now its time has passed.”
A religious book, a prayer book, is simply an interesting window “into who a people is at a given moment?” Forget immutable truths, forget concrete right and wrong. Forget the Ten Commandments (we already have), forget the word of God. Our religious texts are just what the hell we feel like believing or “feeling like” at any given time.
Every two-page spread in the new tome has a multi-screen approach, reflecting our preference for learning from modern digital devices. The translations on these pages have, of course, been updated, by referring to God as “she” or “compassionate mother” and replacing outmoded references to “bride and groom” with the blissfully non-gendered “couple.”
Even better, there are alternate passages on the opposite pages, for those who wish to avoid the prayers altogether. Poems by Carl Sandburg, Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman are among the treasures to be found on these pages.
Experts say these changes are a way to reach a younger demographic. Jewish millennials, like their (formerly) Christian counterparts, are much more likely than previous generations to identify themselves as having no religion. Can’t imagine why.
Even the “Conservative” Jewish movement has revamped its prayer books to offer contemporary translations of prayers with gender-neutral language and recognition of same-sex couples.
There was concern among some Jews that these changes would be seen as shocking- and would generate a backlash. There hasn’t been any. These changes simply mirror what has transpired in the Christian “religious” community.
Looking at the massive, stupefying changes in/to mainstream Judeo-Christianity in the past 50 years, it is scary to project what will be doctrine/ accepted behavior in another 50 years.
“We certainly want to be open and inclusive to our NAMBLA Friends, Planned Parenthood Pals, and communist dictatorships around the world…! Illegal aliens, you’ve found your home! Islam is a religion of Peace! Capitalist-caused climate change is ruining the planet!
Bestiality? Who are we to judge?!”