Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Changing the Tisha B'av liturgy in light of new realities

כשהכותל המערבי שוקק המוני מתפללים האם אפשר לומר על ירושלים שהיא "אבלה מבלי בניה" ו"שוממה מאין יושב

Translation: When the Western Wall is bustling with crowds of worshipers, is it possible for us to say that Jerusalem is "mourning without sons" or 'alone without inhabitants'?

The quote above comes from an article written Rav Chaim Navon, who argues that the time has come to change our Tisha B'av liturgy, specifically the Nachem prayer we add to the Amidah. It simply no longer makes sense to speak in the present tense of a Jerusalem that is abandoned, alone, and empty of worshippers. In our day Jerusalem is full of life, people, and new construction. How can we stand before God during Amidah and speak of the desolate and lonely city that no longer exists?

In his article Navon cites three bold names - Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Lichtenstein, and Rabbi Halevy - who he says have already changed the words of the prayer. Which makes sense. Those three are known for their realism, and their refusal to treat Judaism like a relic. To them Judaism still breaths, and because it still breaths it must change and develop as the world around us changes and develops. Though I respect their perspective, and agree that only things that are dead cease to change, I still would not alter the words of Nachum.

Though Judaism isn't a fragile relic, and shouldn't be treated like something delicate, the various prayers we say belong to a different category. We don't say Nachum because the words themselves matter to God, or because their recitation works like a spell that in some way or another compels God to act. We say the words because saying the words matters to us, because reciting them connects us to our childhood, our parents, our past.

Conservatives who argue that some rule or precedent prevents us from changing the words are, I think, being dishonest with themselves as copious examples of changes to the liturgy can be easily presented. Conservative who wish to leave Nachum the way it is are concerned that changes make things seem less real. If we correct Nachum, the prayer will feel wrong. I'm sensitive to that, too, and because God, I am sure, does not care one way or the other, why not let people say Nachum the old way if they find it  personally meaningful?

Post inspired by @noahroth who Tweeted: How can we say "השוממה מאין יושב"‎ when it is factually inacurate? Discuss.

Search for more information about prayers at 4torah.com
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