Mahzor and prayer: Bringing inspiration ahead of Rosh Hashanah – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 4, 2021

Since the Yamim Noraim are the days of judgment for all humankind, the mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur highlights the universal concepts of human sisterhood and brotherhood and the unity of all creation.

At the same time, however, the mahzor is particularistic when it emphasizes the themes of revelation, reward and punishment, providence and the restoration of Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael.

Woven together with passages from the Prophets and the Psalms, from Talmudic sources and medieval paytanimm (authors of liturgical poetry) the mahzor was fashioned to evoke a powerful spiritual response from us. Each year, we meditate on the prayers it contains, and especially this year, we should be sensitive not only to the theological constructs and liturgical creativity but also to the extensive renewal (from corona) reflected in the text.

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Another well-known volume is the Mahzor Vitry. This work was prepared by Rabbi Simcha ben Shmuel, a student of the great commentator Rashi in the 11th century. The author lived in Vitry France and authored the earliest record of the Ashkenazi liturgy.

In the 15th century, with printing now available to produce these holiday liturgical volumes, we are presented the following quote about the siddur and mahzor from the late historian, Dr. Abraham Millgram.

Observing that the material in the mahzor-siddur is constantly increasing and has become too cumbersome to be carried into the synagogue, a publisher with a pure heart, decided to print the siddur in two volumes the first to contain the daily prayers and the second for the High Holy Days. This enabled one to purchase either part as he may desire. Some 600 years ago, the first two volumes appeared and will ever continue to be.

Some 250 years ago, Isaac Pinto translated and published the first English mahzor in 1761. A Sephardic Jew, he moved to colonial New York in 1760, after the first congregation in America, Shearith Israel, was formed.

The late Prof. Abraham Karp noted that Pinto put out two liturgical publications relating to the High Holy Days. The distinguished professor made it clear that Pintos Prayers for Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, and Kippur According to the Order of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews published in 1766, was the best of the translated works because it included more prayers.

IN 1976, I acquired a replica of the first liturgical publication in English for the High Holy Days. The small volume was published in 1761, entitled Evening Service of Rosh Hashanah and Kippur or the Beginning of the Year and the Day of Atonement. There is no author listed, but as Karp and other scholars have concluded, Pinto made the translation.

Pintos volumes, Karp notes, appeared before the first prayer book with an English translation was published in London in 1770.

Pinto, an English Jew, demonstrated his loyalty to the new nation, coming to be, by signing the resolutions favoring the Nonimportation Agreement, one of Americas earliest acts of defiance against England. In his obituary in a New York newspaper, he was praised: Though of the Hebrew nation, his liberality was not subscribed by the limits of that church He was a staunch friend at the liberty of the nation.

MANY NEW Hebrew mahzorim have appeared since then. The mahzor published by Koren features the translation by the late, noted, UK chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

The Rabbi Morris Silverman Mahzor was used by the Conservative Movement from the late 1920s until the 1970s. Discussing the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Silverman wrote, Judged by present-day moral standards, the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael seems an unusually severe act. It must be understood in light of primitive social standards according to which a concubine enjoyed a lower status and had no claim to the same rights and privileges as the son of the wife.

For the High Holy Days this year, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Rabbis has published a digital version of its own titled Mahzor Lev. In Orthodox circles, the De Sola Pool Mahzor and the Birnbaum Mahzor were used for many years. Now there are ArtScroll and Koren mahzorim. For the Reform the CCAR Mahzor continues to be used and updated.

This past year we lost one of the great collectors of Judaica, Ezra Gorodesky, who died at 93. A fascinating and loving person, he was born in Philadelphia and made aliyah in 1960. As a collector, he did not believe that he should keep what he had discovered and decided that his Judaic treasures, some very valuable, would be given to the National Library of Israel. He made over 900 gifts to the library manuscripts, objects and some of his unexpected greatest discoveries. He learned from his grandfather how to open book bindings and find manuscripts. The library nicknamed him The Kitchen Archaeologist.

At his death, the executor of his estate told me that Gorodesky had said that I could look through his books and select some after the additional books promised to the National Library were donated. I picked out a few miniature mahzorim and some other small books in Hebrew. These miniature volumes were all printed in the 18th and 19th centuries. None are really valuable but a wonderful remembrance of the days and hours Ezra and I spent together over 40 years.

One of the small books is Slihot, printed in Venice in 1795. I am using that tiny worm-eaten volume at Slihot this year. As I look at each small volume I can hear Gorodeskys voice. My grandson, Ori Burg, a partner in the ZOA film productions, made an award-winning film during his student days, about this uncommon individual (film about Gorodesky: vimeo.com/62141618).

GROWING UP in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1940s and 1950s, the mahzor seemed so formidable to me. I urge you to search your mahzor seriously when you are at the synagogue. It is amazing what you will find.

I call to your attention a prayer we sometimes have skipped. After the major musical rendition of Unetaneh Tokef, the poignancy of the prayer continues which you can feel in this English translation.

Each persons origin is dust, and each person will return to the earth having spent a life seeking sustenance.

Scripture compares human beings to a broken shard, withering grass, a shriveled flower, a passing shadow, a fleeting breeze, scattered dust, a vanishing dream. And You You O Lord are ever-present.

Another prayer for the High Holy Days by the late Rabbi Sidney Greenberg stresses what we can do in the new year:

Help us to keep our minds alive. May we be open to new ideas, entertain challenging doubts, reexamine long-held opinions, nurture a lively curiosity and strive to add to our store of knowledge.

Help us keep our souls alive. May we be more responsive to the needs of others, less vulnerable to consuming greed, more attentive to the craving for friendship, and more devoted to truth.

Help us to keep our spirits alive. Let us face the future with confidence, knowing that every age has its unique joys and satisfactions, each period in our lives a glory of its own.

May your mahzor inspire you on the High Holy Days 5782.

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Mahzor and prayer: Bringing inspiration ahead of Rosh Hashanah - The Jerusalem Post

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