Diary: Edinburgh synagogue - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Diary: Edinburgh synagogue
Saturday, 05 February 2005 at 08:54 pm
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I managed to make it to Edinburgh for shabbat today. I keep telling myself I should go more often but three hours of travelling on my one day off often puts me off. Anyway, I'm glad I went because I had a great time.

I really, really like the Edinburgh Progressive community. They are lovely, lovely people, incredibly friendly and welcoming. And proud of the fact that they have a lot of converts and people from non-traditional backgrounds, which is really heartening. For a long time they were calling themselves the Edinburgh branch of Glasgow Reform, but recently decided they wanted to stand on their own feet. For various reasons mainly to do with interpretations of Jewish status they ended up affiliating Liberal rather than Reform.

The result of this is that they're still getting used to the Liberal 'brand' and identity. Today's service, for example, was their first introduction to the Liberal prayer book. They insist on doing Reform-ish things that horrify dyed in the wool Liberals, like making a fuss of the Torah scroll as a physical object. They gave me the honour of holding up and displaying the scroll in front of the community. This is kind of a ritualized trial of strength thing (as many Torah scrolls are extremely heavy), and it's not usual for women to do it even in an egalitarian context. I was able to manage it because the Edinburgh scroll is unusually small, but I found it nerve-racking and also strange, because it's just not a ritual rôle that is normal for me.

R Aaron Goldstein, the visiting rabbi who led the service, is a Liberal rabbi who is the son of another Liberal rabbi. He's very flexible about including bits from different traditions into the liturgy, but there was a bit of a culture clash between him and the community even so. He's quite into Jewish Renewal and the like, which means bringing meditative practices of various sorts into the service. That's not really my thing but he was very sensitive and not over-the-top about it; I found the guitar playing a bit much but that's just my background and prejudices.

Anyway there was a discussion session afterwards where the differences in approach became very apparent. R Goldstein wanted to discuss the second prayer in the Amidah which is about God "who makes the dead live", literally. And he was surprised when this turned into an argument about resurrection and whether the Liberal translation of that prayer is fair. I mean, I take his point that Judaism has always been ambivalent about resurrection, and there are reasonable readings of that prayer that are not about resurrection, but only someone completely immersed in the Liberal world could forget that resurrection was the first thing that would come to most people's mind on reading that prayer. And then he said, as a throwaway line, "The laws about sacrifices would only become relevant if the Temple were rebuilt – God forbid!" and was surprised when this started a completely off-topic debate about whether we want and pray for the restoration of the Temple. It's really quite sweet that he's so hard-core Liberal he thinks these issues are done and dusted!

Anyway, yay Edinburgh LJC!


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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 5th, 2005 10:05 pm (UTC)
44 minutes after journal entry, 10:05 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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What is the Liberal interpretation of מחיה מתים? And to what extent do the community feel they will have to move to fitting in with Liberal issues because of their affiliation. Does such a thing as right-wing-of-liberal exist?
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:February 6th, 2005 08:29 am (UTC)
11 hours after journal entry, 08:29 am (livredor's time)
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What is the Liberal interpretation of מחיה מתים?
I think it's one of the things that they kind of leave up to the individual, they think there's room for a range of beliefs about that. I would guess that the majority probably don't believe in any sort of literal resurrection. Classical Liberalism certainly didn't; the old 'Service of the Heart' siddur used to replace 'who gives life to the dead' with 'who gives life to all', so there was no possible mention of anything to do with resurrection.

In the new one they've put the traditional words back, which suggests a softening of the former position. But they translate it as 'source of eternal life'; there's no mention of death in the English. From what I could gather from R Goldstein the idea is that you're free to read it more metaphorically, and it's not so much 'eternal life' as applied to the individual but a concept that God is, eternally, the giver of life. You'd probably hate the Lev Chadash translation in general; most of it is very interpretative, it's simply not realistically a guide to what the pshat of the Hebrew actually says. And I too feel a little uncomfortable with saying something at least superficially different depending whether I'm reading in Hebrew or English.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 6th, 2005 11:49 am (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 11:49 am (lethargic_man's time)
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You'd probably hate the Lev Chadash translation in general; most of it is very interpretative, it's simply not realistically a guide to what the pshat of the Hebrew actually says.

That said, the Singers (second edition, the one I've got) says "Who revivest the dead", when there's no textual basis for that significant "re-".
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:February 6th, 2005 05:03 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 05:03 pm (livredor's time)
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there's no textual basis for that significant "re-".
Except that *vive isn't in fact a word, but I do know what you mean. The Liberal translation isn't claiming to be a literal translation, and it's not actually any less justified by the general sense of the Hebrew than other versions. It's just that I find fairly literal translations preferable when it comes to liturgy.

Also Liberal Judaism may not be going against the text, but they are going against most of what has been the mainstream historical approach to the issue for most of modern Jewish history. Not that I have a problem with that, obviously, just I think it's good to acknowledge that you've chosen to do that.
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:February 6th, 2005 10:39 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 10:39 am (livredor's time)
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And to what extent do the community feel they will have to move to fitting in with Liberal issues because of their affiliation. Does such a thing as right-wing-of-liberal exist?
In theory, Liberal Judaism is more centralized / top-down than Reform. However, as with any branch of Judaism small provincial communities have a lot more freedom to do things their own way than the London flagship shuls. And the Edinburgh crowd are really not going to stand for anyone telling them what to think or how to practise. They're a very diverse community and very engaged Jewishly, and I think rightfully proud of both of those.

Also, I think the Liberal movement is itself in flux right now. The movement as a movement is taking on more and more traditional practices, more Hebrew in services, restoring lots of the prayers that the founders left out, more emphasis on ritual alongside (definitely not instead of!) ethics and spirituality. So the 'right-wing-of-Liberal' mode is becoming more and more the norm anyway.

I think Edinburgh made the right decision, because in the end status issues are more important than nusach issues. It's much easier to be a Liberal community that happens to have a full Reform-style Torah service, than it is to be a Reform community where a significant fraction of the community aren't accepted as Jewish by the Reform movement.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 6th, 2005 11:50 am (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 11:50 am (lethargic_man's time)
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Also, I think the Liberal movement is itself in flux right now. The movement as a movement is taking on more and more traditional practices, more Hebrew in services, restoring lots of the prayers that the founders left out

Now where have I heard that before? ;^)
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kassrachel: ehyeh
From:kassrachel
Date:February 5th, 2005 10:13 pm (UTC)
51 minutes after journal entry
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This post is totally fascinating to me, as it reveals my America-centrism; I've heard (and used) the term "liberal Judaism" to mean "the opposite of conservative Judaism" (both liberal and conservative with lower-case letters, mind), but I didn't realize there was a branch/denomination of Judaism which calls itself Liberal Judaism. My bad. :-)

Maybe it was my early exposure to American Jewish summer camp, but I've always had a soft spot for (well-played) guitar in services. I can see why it bothers people, though. These days I find organ-playing in services (as is practiced at my parents' temple) bizarre, but it seemed perfectly normal to me when I was small; I guess it's all a question of what one's used to and what flavor of liturgical music one enjoys. For my part, I like a shul where the congregation is expected to sing lustily; if we're doing so over guitar, or if all the little kids have tambourines and no sense of rhythm, or if we're doing it entirely unaccompanied doesn't matter much to me, as long as they let me sing. :-)

I chuckled a little at the bit about the restoration of the Temple. I've actually wrestled with that one quite a bit, and have aligned myself with teachers and thinkers who don't want to see Temple sacrifice restored, but I'm certainly aware that the reading I favor is not the dominant one, historically, and indeed that my reading is just that -- a reading -- not the definitive answer to the question...
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 5th, 2005 10:28 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 10:28 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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AIUI, the correspondences are like this:Maybe it was my early exposure to American Jewish summer camp, but I've always had a soft spot for (well-played) guitar in services. I can see why it bothers people, though. These days I find organ-playing in services (as is practiced at my parents' temple) bizarre, but it seemed perfectly normal to me when I was small; I guess it's all a question of what one's used to and what flavor of liturgical music one enjoys.

I recently discovered that in the 1950s, the minister of the Orthodox shul I was barmitzvah'd in wore a dog collar, and that this was not untypical. Whoa!

For my part, I like a shul where the congregation is expected to sing lustily;

Hear hear, with the added restrictions of "in tune" and "in time with everyone else". :o)

PS: I like your icon (as I've observed, but not had a chance to mention, before).
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:February 6th, 2005 10:47 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 10:47 am (livredor's time)
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I didn't realize there was a branch/denomination of Judaism which calls itself Liberal Judaism. My bad. :-)
Oh, I really wouldn't expect anyone outside the UK to know about the Liberal movement (although there is one small Liberal shul in Ireland...); it's a very local phenomenon. It pretty much grew out of 19th century English liberalism (hence the name!), and one of the original goals of the movement was explicitly to try and make Jewish practice more 'English'. They've moved on a lot since those early days, mind you, and could certainly no longer be justly characterized as 'a Jewish version of the Church of England'!

I've always had a soft spot for (well-played) guitar in services
Fair enough. I don't think it's bad, it's just weird to me. Guitar music, like organ music, automatically has church associations for me (though very different bits of the Church!); I don't have any problem in principle with instrumental music on shabbat.

These days I find organ-playing in services (as is practiced at my parents' temple) bizarre, but it seemed perfectly normal to me when I was small
Yeah, there are some Reform shuls here (but more Liberal) that go in for organ music and deliberately church-style polyphonic choir singing. I wasn't brought up with that and therefore do find it odd.

I guess it's all a question of what one's used to and what flavor of liturgical music one enjoys
Oh, absolutely, this is entirely the case. There's room for all sorts. Personally I find a lot of niggun / meditative singing can get a bit creepy too, but again, it's personal taste.

For my part, I like a shul where the congregation is expected to sing lustily
So do I, very much so. I'm not musical myself, much to my regret, but I do enjoy a service where the congregation get really involved in the musical side.
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 6th, 2005 11:52 am (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 11:52 am (lethargic_man's time)
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Personally I find a lot of niggun / meditative singing can get a bit creepy too, but again, it's personal taste.

<middly baffled> How so? There's a bit of that in Yakar, and I'd have thought you'd have liked it. Or is it more that the sorts of shuls that do that tend to be ones you'd not get on so well with anyway, like, frex, the JLE?
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livredor: words
From:livredor
Date:February 6th, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 05:08 pm (livredor's time)

not liking niggun singing

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Mm. I do like music, I just prefer songs with proper tunes to repetitive / meditative singing. I think it's mainly because I'm a control freak, I don't like being manipulated into certain emotions. For me, kavanah is a very personal thing, it's not something that the shaliach tzibbur should be imposing. It's not the music that I object to as music; some of the Carlebach etc tunes are perfectly fine. I'm not good at meditation anyway, and I'm particularly not good at it if it's public and communal.
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(no subject) - monanotlisa (2/6/05 02:10 am)



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