Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Conservative & Reform Jews find High Holidays boring

Tablet Magazine   High Holiday services are a slog. OK, not at every synagogue, not all the time, not for everybody. But it’s true widely and often enough that most of you are nodding to yourselves. Granted, services aren’t meant to entertain us every minute. But which of the 613 commandments prescribe boredom? [...]

The rabbis themselves bear much of the responsibility. Year after unchanging year, they guide their flocks through the long hours of often-stilted liturgy without explaining what’s being recited, how it’s relevant, or where a segment begins or ends. Congregants turn page after page, parroting passages aloud as instructed, sitting and standing (and standing … and standing)—with few people knowing why. One chant runs into the next, often sung by a polished-but-formal choir whose high-church timbre can be distancing. Many in the pews eagerly await the rabbi’s sermon because it’s likely the one respite from predictability. Yes, some people feel moved at moments, but for what proportion of the 15-to-18-hour marathon? Indeed, one prominent rabbi told me he wouldn’t attend his own services if he weren’t running them; another told me he brings a good novel. [...]

On the High Holidays, large numbers of American Reform and Conservative Jews are inert spectators, expecting clergy to sprinkle atonement like fairy dust. Except for those raised with rigorous Jewish instruction (the Orthodox clearly operate in a separate sphere, often immersed from the womb in text), most of us have never taken the time to study the mahzor, nor could we explain the holidays’ origins. How many Jews do you know who could explain, for instance, how the shofar relates to the Binding of Isaac? Or how Yom Kippur connects directly to Mount Sinai? Some think it’s too late to learn, some can’t imagine how they’d find a teacher, many simply don’t rate it important enough to pursue. Most seem to rationalize the minimal investment, saying, “I bought my ticket, went to shul, confessed my mistakes, and vowed to do better. Dayenu.” [...]


  1. judging by the number of people who stand outside of the beit knesset talking, it isn't only reform and conservative jews who find RH/YK service boring.

  2. If the Rabbis and Chazzonim exhibited true feeling, the language of the heart will be heard by congregants - even those who have no idea as to what is going on in the service.
    But when the people leading the congregation are gong through the motions, what can you expect from people who don't understand what it's all about?

  3. The community Orthodox shul I grew up in ran a real marathon. If the machzor said "Some congregations say the following" we said "We're some congregation!" And if it said "Most congregations omit the following" we said "We're not like most congregations!" We started Rh and YK mornings with barely a minyan and by the time we were done mussaf we still had baraely a minyan. In the middle a couple of hundred people cycled through the place though.

  4. Too many prayers crept into the liturgy over the years and the same goes for selichos. Now we are left holding the baby and bored to tears.


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