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The following are some of the changes made by Conservative Judaism in regular prayers:
Birkhot HaShakhar - Morning Blessings
Three of the early morning berakhot were modified to praise God for having created each individual in God's image, a free person and a Jew, rather than the conventional version which express gratitude for not having been created a woman, a slave or a non-Jew. Details on this modification can be found in "Siddur Sim Shalom - A Halakhic Analysis", Conservative Judaism, Vol.41(1), Fall 1988.
Conventionally Birkhot HaShakhar contains a number of passages describing sacrifices and offerings in ancient times which can only be recalled, not carried out. Most of these passages are deleted from the Silverman Siddur, and even more from Siddur Sim Shalom. The sacrificial ritual in ancient times was construed as means by which a Jew gained atonement for sin. After the destruction of the Temple and the consequential end of sacrifices there, the Jewish people were deprived of this means. To replace the readings on sacrifices, modern Conservative prayerbooks cite the talmudic teaching that deeds of loving-kindness now atone for sin; they draw upon rabbinic tradition to emphasize teachings about atonement and necessary behavior.
Texts that have been added to this part of the service include Leviticus 19:2, 14-18, Avot de Rabbi Nathan, 11a and Tractate Sukkah 49b.
Al HaNissim and the State of Israel
An innovation in Conservative prayer books is a liturgical response to the creation of the modern State of Israel. It was felt that this should be made in a manner that is integral to the fabric of the service; Such a liturgical model already existed: Al HaNissim, which is added to the service on Purim on Chanukah. Thus a new, third Al HaNissim was composed, adapting the language and style of the standard Hebrew text to produce a text that is used on Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. A Torah and Haftarah reading for this day is also indicated. In the Al Hanissim prayers, Siddur Sim Shalom follows the text of Rav Amram Gaon, emending the text which expressed gratitude for miracles "in other times, at this season" to now read "in other times, and in our day". This adds a basic theological dimension that miracles are not confined to a remote and unavailable past.
Sacrifices in the Amidah
"Siddur Sim Shalom" presents multiple alternatives for the Shabbat Musaf, but the Orthodox version that explicitly prays for the resumption of animal sacrifice in a rebuilt Temple is not one of them. Instead, Siddur Sim Shalom adopts an innovation from "The Shabbat and Festival Prayerbook" in the Musaf Amidah; it changes the phrase na'ase ve'nakriv (we will present and sacrifice) to asu ve'hikrivu (they presented and sacrificed). The petition to accept the "fire offerings of Israel" is removed from the Amidah.
There are similar modifications in the Rosh Hodesh Amidah. "Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals" does not present multiple services; it presents one musaf for Shabbat, for festivals, and for Rosh Hodesh. Within each service, the reader is offered a traditional text, as well as an alternative text which eliminates mention of sacrifices. The traditional Y'hi Ratzon meditation ("May it be your will, Adonai our God, and God of our Ancestors, that the Temple be restored in our day...") following the Musaf Amidah is restored. This is also restored in Va'Ani Tefilati.
Other changes in Musaf
Following a modification found in the siddur of Rav Saadiah Gaon, the Hebrew word ba-olam (in the world) is added to the daily prayer for peace at the end of the Amidah, making explicit the traditional Jewish concern for universal peace. A prayer for the welfare of the community, recited following the Torah service on Shabbat, was modified to include a phrase commending those who are devoted to helping rebuild the Land of Israel.
Tahanun - supplications following the weekday morning Amidah
The earliest sources about saying Tahanun is from the Tosefta in Berakhot; The Geonim viewed this section as optional, the contents were flexible as well. In his Siddur Maimonides also makes it clear that there are various customs and he is merely citing his own custom. Originally this point in the service was considered appropriate for the personal supplications of each individual, and it still is. Over the years, however, certain stylized passages were printed as the fixed text; these contain references to the physical desolation of Jerusalem and statements of extreme self-abasement. To reflect present reality, such statements have been deleted, other passages have adapted or abridged, and brief portions of supplications by Rav Amram and Rav Saadiah Gaon have been added. These are closer to us in spirit than many passages of later origin which were canonized by the printing press. One's own prayers are appropriate, and traditional.
Egalitarian Hebrew formulations
The language of liturgical formulas in Siddur Sim Shalom reflects the reality that in many congregations both men and women participate in the service. Some prayers include references to both the patriarchs and the matriarchs. Passages designed for use on Simchat Torah include texts appropriate for formally designating women as well as men as honorees on that occasion. The prayer on behalf of the congregation (recited after the Torah reading on Shabbat) has been emended to reflect the fact that women as well as men are members of the congregation. The Mi Sheberakh prayers contain forms for both male and female readers. The meditations prior to putting on the tallit and tefillin provide masculine and feminine forms.
Nahum, on Tisha B'Av
Tisha B'Av commemorates the days on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. The conventional text (Nahum) speaks of Jerusalem as "a desolate and vacant city", laid waste and deserted. These lines no longer bear any relation to reality. As such the new text recalls the tragedy of ancient times, over which we mourn, and recalls the desolation of Jerusalem in the past. It also speaks of a "Jerusalem rebuilt from destruction and restored from desolation". It asks that all who mourn Jerusalem of old rejoice with her now, and it prays for the peace of that city.
Shoah (Holocaust) Remembrance
"Siddur Sim Shalom" (original version) adds many passages for Yom HaShoah that can be added to any weekday service, as well as a formal reading. Several pages of readings are included in the supplementary section for addition to any of the services held on that day, and are followed by a formal reading arranged for responsive use. The section concludes with a Mourner's Kaddish similar in structure to the one on Yom Kipur.
Mysticism and Hasidism
A surprising mystical and Hasidic influence appears in Siddur Sim Shalom, as is illustrated by the numerous additions to the prayer book which originated in these movements. The blessing for the new moon (kiddush levanah) appears at the end of the Sabbath liturgy. Another mystical element is the Raza DeShabbat, the "Vision of Shabbat", which precedes the Sabbath evening service. Taken from the Zohar, this passage depicts the enthronement of the Shekhinah. Several of the alternative meditations which follow the amidot stress joy, and request freedom from atzvit (sorrow) in classic Hasidic fashion. In fact, a number of these passages are based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Some benedictions for mitzvot are preceded by kavanot (meditations) which were introduced into the liturgy by the Kabbalists.
Adding Matriarchs to the Amidah
Two positions have been accepted by the Conservative movement on this issue. One position states that, for a variety of reasons, it is wrong to add the names of the Matriarchs to the Amidah. A second position advances a halakhic argument that shows that such changes are permissible. In all cases where the law committee has validated more than one possible position, a congregation must follow the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d'atra [local halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in making such a p'sak [decision].
Note: When presenting the Matriarchs in the opening passage of the Amidah, Conservative/Masorti siddurim do not add the word "Imoteynu" (our Matriarchs), as the word "Avoteynu" is held to be correctly understood as "our Ancestors", and not as "our Patriarchs".
To better understand Conservative teshuvot and siddurim one should be familiar with the findings of modern liturgical scholarship; this has demonstrated not only the flexible nature of the liturgy in general, including the Amidah. Suggested references:
"Liturgy" entry in the "Encyclopaedia Judaica" Ismar Elbogen and Raymond P. Scheindlin.
"Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History", JPS, 1993.
Louis Finklestein's article on the Amidah in the "Jewish Quarterly Review" (new series) volume 16, (1925-1926), p.1-43
Joseph Heinemann "'Iyyunei Tefilla" Magnes, Jerusalem, 1981
Seth Kadish "Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer" Jason Aronson Inc., 1997
Jakob J. Petuchowski "Contributions to the Scientific Study of Jewish Liturgy" Ktav, NY, 1970
"Who knows four? The Imahot in Rabbinic Judaism" Alvin Kaunfer. Judaism Vol 44. Winter 1995, p. 94-103
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