It is already the end of January and I am starting to think about Passover. For me at least, holiday planning takes several months; spring and Passover will be here sooner than we think! Actually, I am probably thinking about Passover because the Torah readings these days are about the slavery and exodus from Egypt. In Vaera this week, Pharaoh and nation experience the power of the plagues. We are familiar with much of the story because we tell it- in some fashion- during our Passover Seders. Each of us will share the Passover saga according to our own interests, enthusiasm and motivations. Even if however, we tell the same story Seder after Seder, we are not the same people from year to year. We are a little older (hopefuly wiser) and our experiences this year are a little different from the past. We may tell the same story and share the same rituals, but our Seder can never be identical from year to year because we are not identical from year to year. The Passover story therefore, must necessarily have new meaning for us with each reading. The story may remain the same but our understanding of that story varies with our life experiences, both positive and negative. We constantly search for new meaning in life; and how we relate to the story reflects our experiences at the moment.
On a more global level, one of the challenges for Judaism is to recognize how religion must reflect the present and not only the past. Certainly regarding ritual; It must incorporate contemporary ideas, language, music and history so that it speaks meaningfully to people today as it spoke to people of previous generations. Ritual must address concerns, discoveries, and general themes which are unique to the present generation.
This past year, the Conservative Movement published a remarkable new Siddur, called Lev Shalem. This Siddur follows the highly acclaimed Lev Shalem Mahzor; published just a few years ago. The Mahzor ‘s creative commentary, translations and alternative prayer selections have enriched Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer throughout the country. Unfortunately, the price of the Mahzor was just too steep for our community.
The new Siddur Lev Shalem is another story.
Because of our prayer book fund, we have purchased (so far) fifty Lev Shalem Siddurim; enough to use on a ‘typical’ Shabbat. As creatures of habit, I know that we are resistant to change; especially when we just purchased a new Siddur within the past seven years. For now, we will still use the Sim Shalom Siddur for all special Shabbat occasions (B/B Mitzvah ceremonies, special simhas etc). Sim Shalom was a significant upgrade over previously Siddurim from decades past. However, with the publication of Siddur Lev Shalem, we now have a prayer book which speaks to a contemporary world as previous prayer books did in the past. Lev Shalem is user friendly for everyone: For regular Shabbat attendees and for occasional worshippers; for Jews and members of other religious traditions. In additional to its contemporary and creative translations and alternatives, Lev Shalem offers explanations of almost every prayer and every prayer ritual.
No previous Siddur is comparable.
Below, I have condensed, edited and revised some of the comments about the new prayer book-written on the Rabbinical Assembly website:
* While Lev Shalem includes all the traditional prayers, psalms, and songs that are familiar from previous Conservative prayer books, it offers a wide array of readings, poems (ancient and modern), Hasidic wisdom, rabbinic homilies, and commentary on the history and diversity of the liturgy. The commentaries include selections authored by men and women. It incorporates Jewish wisdom from past and present; ranging from the prophets and rabbis of the Talmud to modern poets like Zelda and Marge Piercy.