LGBT-in­clu­sive Jewish prayer book adopted for High Holy Days

Re­form syn­a­gogues in Midtown, Sandy Springs em­brace the evolv­ing face of Ju­daism

GA Voice - - Georgia News -



This Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kip­pur, nu­mer­ous Re­form syn­a­gogues through­out the United States and Canada, in­clud­ing two in At­lanta, are us­ing a new prayer book, or “mach­zor,” that re­flects the chang­ing at­ti­tudes to­ward women and LGBT peo­ple within the Jewish faith. It is the first up­date to the Re­form prayer book since 1978.

Ref­er­ences to “bride and groom” have been changed to “cou­ple,” there’s a new non­bi­nary pro­noun, se­lec­tions from gay and les­bian po­ets are in­cluded, those who died in the Holo­caust due to their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion are hon­ored and more.

It’s a pro­ject five years in the mak­ing, cour­tesy of the Cen­tral Con­fer­ence of Amer­i­can Rab­bis (CCAR), the prin­ci­pal or­ga­ni­za­tion for Re­form rab­bis in the U.S. and Canada.

Ad­dress­ing the needs of the 21st cen­tury

Plans for the new prayer book be­gan in 2010. A few years ear­lier, CCAR pub­lished a prayer book for Shab­bat and ev­ery other Jewish hol­i­day ex­cept Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kip­pur.

“Peo­ple be­gan to get used to the style of that prayer book. It’s got a unique style and ap­proach to the­ol­ogy,” says Rabbi Hara Per­son, Di­rec­tor of Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the CCAR, not­ing the use of mul­ti­vo­cal­ity to in­clude a num­ber of voices and in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

There also had been plenty of changes in the Jewish com­mu­nity since the pre­vi­ous prayer book was pub­lished back in 1978, not the least of which was in at­ti­tudes to­ward women and the LGBT com­mu­nity.

“We be­gan to re­ally think about what it meant that we have a com­mu­nity that’s so much more di­verse in so many ways than we used to be,” Per­son says. “We needed a mach­zor that re­ally ad­dressed the needs of the 21st cen­tury— who we are as a Jewish com­mu­nity to­day and who we’re be­com­ing as a Jewish com­mu­nity.”

Septem­ber 18, 2015

A com­mit­tee of seven was formed, with reg­u­lar meet­ings, drafts and rewrites oc­cur­ring over the en­su­ing five years, in­clud­ing a pi­lot pro­gram to see what was work­ing and what wasn’t. And as the sun set on Sun­day, Sept. 13 of this year, the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah be­gan and Re­form syn­a­gogues be­gan us­ing the new prayer book. Yom Kip­pur, or the Day of Atone­ment, be­gins af­ter sun­down on Sep. 22.

‘You’re welcome, you have a place here, we want you to be here’

Rabbi Peter Berg of The Tem­ple in Midtown At­lanta was on that CCAR com­mit­tee and was one of two lo­cal rab­bis to start us­ing the new LGBT-in­clu­sive tome, along with Rabbi Ron Se­gal of Tem­ple Si­nai in Sandy Springs.

“The ed­i­to­rial com­mit­tee worked very hard to make sure the mach­zor was in­clu­sive,” Berg says, call­ing it “the most in­clu­sive mach­zor in our move­ment’s history.”

Berg men­tions the in­clu­sion of a se­lec­tion from Walt Whit­man’s “Leaves of Grass” in the Rosh Hashanah edi­tion that reads, in part, “As to me, I know of noth­ing else but mir­a­cles, whether I walk the streets of Man­hat­tan ... or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love.”

He also sin­gles out a me­mo­rial prayer in the Yom Kip­pur edi­tion to honor those who

In the Rosh Hashanah morn­ing heal­ing prayer, there are three gen­der op­tions. The first op­tion is for ben (male), the sec­ond is for bat (fe­male) and the third op­tion is “mi-beit,” which is a non-gen­dered op­tion. This is meant to be in­clu­sive of those who do not iden­tify specif­i­cally as male or fe­male.

Se­lec­tions from gay and les­bian po­ets like Allen Gins­berg and Walt Whit­man are in­cluded, although not be­cause of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. They just weren’t ex­cluded for it.

Ref­er­ences to “bride and groom” have been changed to “cou­ple,” and ref­er­ences to ei­ther “bride” or “groom” have been changed to “spouse” or “part­ner.”

In the Yom Kip­pur edi­tion, there is a me­mo­rial prayer for those who died in the Holo­caust that’s in­clu­sive of those who died due to their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. lost their lives in the Holo­caust.

“Let there be per­fect rest for the count­less mil­lions who died be­cause of race, re­li­gion or na­tion­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Hold them close to You for­ever,” it reads.

“One of the is­sues through­out was, we want­ing to use lan­guage that was very in­clu­sive and very care­ful,” Per­son says. “So there’s never go­ing to be any­thing through­out the book that as­sumes het­ero­sex­u­al­ity. It’s an over­all sen­si­tiv­ity about in­clu­sion and not want­ing to make any­body feel other.”

The new prayer book was up­dated in other ways as well, in­clud­ing an English trans­la­tion for those who can­not read He­brew and dif­fer­ent the­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tives for those who don’t have a tra­di­tional hi­er­ar­chi­cal re­la­tion­ship with God. There are also ref­er­ences to God as “she” and “com­pas­sion­ate mother.”

“I think [the changes] are sig­nif­i­cant be­cause they re­ally open doors that might not have been opened be­fore,” Per­son says. “It means that we’re say­ing ‘You’re welcome, you have a place here, we want you to be here’ to peo­ple who might have oth­er­wise felt closed out.”

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