Designing Shabbat Services
Through a process of congregational input, focus groups, meetings with various committees and the Board of Directors, the Ritual Committee identified key qualities (values) that we want to reflect in all of our services. We used these qualities as a guide to making decisions and choosing how to address different complex issues. These qualities reflect the unique culture and personality of the Kehillah.
Services should be accessible to all our members and prospective members.
- We welcome all levels of experience and involvement.
- The length and timing of services is practical; the Friday evening service begins at 7 p.m. and lasts one hour, and the Shabbat morning service lasts from 9:45 a.m. to noon. To accommodate this timing, we do not chant the morning blessings or musaf.
- We hope that everyone who attends will participate in services and chose siddurim (prayer books) with line-by-line (“translinear”) transliteration and explanations. The Friday night siddur is Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil. The Shabbat morning siddur is Siddur Eit Ratzon.
- We provide pamphlets that explain the Shabbat morning service and the rituals for those less familiar with the synagogue setting.
- We have “Synagogue Buddies,” members who can help orient new members or those who want to learn more about services.
- Our rabbi will provide brief explanations during the service to explain/teach aspects of the service.
We want all attendees to feel comfortable.
- We aim to create an informal environment that puts people at ease.
- We have ushers on a regular basis who welcome people to the sanctuary and help them get settled in.
- We often use Chapel Emanu-El, which is a cozy place for worship when there are less than 50 or so attendees. This space offers much better acoustics and has a more intimate feel. Semi-Circular seating in this space will also create more of an inclusive feeling.
We design services so that they are family-friendly.
- Our weekly Friday night and Shabbat morning services are open and welcoming to families with children of all ages. Guidelines on supervising children will create common and reasonable expectations between parents and other service participants, allowing more comfort for both.
- We find ways for children to participate in the service as often as possible.
- A set of quiet toys is kept in the back of the room.
- We encourage all families to feel comfortable to come and go at any time if they are not able to stay for the full length of the service. A suitable space will be provided in the education wing for those taking a break from services.
- The effectiveness of the babysitting arrangements will be reviewed from time to time.
- Family Shabbat services are held approximately every month and are oriented both in content and style towards families with pre-B’nei Mitzvah children.
- Tot Shabbat services are also held monthly and focus on the youngest members of our congregation.
We strive toward creating a moving experience and hope that our services are:
- Spiritually uplifting
- Musically rich
- Intellectually challenging
Our services are participatory.
- We encourage congregants to be involved in leading different aspects of services. There are many parts we read in English so that anyone can participate.
- We can tutor and mentor those who would like to learn new skills or brush up on old ones.
- We will do group aliyot on a regular basis so that more people can be part of the service and get closer to the Torah.
Our services promote community.
- We offer monthly potluck dinners to provide a comfortable place before services to get to know other congregants and prospective members.
Prayer Text Selection
I. Values Involved
- Connection to Jewish tradition.
- Gender inclusion and neutrality.
- Respecting non-Jews.
- Reconstructionist identity, especially as reflected in the above three values, while accepting that members may not agree with all aspects of Reconstructionist philosophy.
- Consistency with the mahkzor. The broad positive reaction of the congregation to the first use of the makhzor is one indicator of the “prayer text personality” of the congregation.
II. Proposed Approach to Leadership of Prayers
All prayer leaders follow the prayer text that is the Kehillah practice for public prayer, even where the siddur offers alternatives. This, of course, does not preclude the use of supplemental English readings printed in either the Friday night or Shabbat morning siddur.
III. Established Kehillah Practice for Public Prayer
- Additions to the traditional text to provide gender inclusion/neutrality.
Example: Mention the matriarchs with the patriarchs in the opening blessing of the Amidah.
Reason: These additions implement the egalitarianism and inclusivity that fundamental values of the Chapel Hill Kehillah.
- Additions to the traditional text to include “all people” in prayers for peace.
Example: Insert “peace for all people and peoples” into the ending paragraph of the full Kaddish (Oseh shalom).
Reason: These additions implement the egalitarianism and inclusivity that are fundamental values of the Chapel Hill Kehillah.
- Alternative texts regarding chosen-ness
Example: Use a revised opening paragraph of the Aleinu which does not compare Jews to non-Jews in a way that implies defects in the beliefs, morals, or practices of the non-Jews.
Reason: This revision implements the respect for other peoples that is a fundamental value of the Chapel Hill Kehillah. This revision is standard in all the Reconstructionist siddurim/makhzorim we examined. However, since it is a revision and not an insertion, the traditional text is also provided for those who prefer it for private use.
- Alternative texts regarding “a Redeemer” versus “Redemption”
Example: In the first blessing of the Amidah, replace the traditional “You will lovingly bring a redeemer to their children’s children” with the Reform/ Reconstructionist, “You will lovingly bring redemption to their children’s children”.
Reason: This is an issue of Reconstructionist religious beliefs, and hence an issue that involves the Kehillah’s Reconstructionist identity and our respect for beliefs of members who differ. There are no linkages to the values of egalitarianism and respect for non-Jews. This revision is standard in all the Reconstructionist siddurim/makhzorim we examined. Historically, it was motivated by (1) a belief against all supernaturalism and divine intervention in the laws of physics, and (2) a related belief that people are obligated to help bring redemption through their own efforts to improve the world and society. (The second of these points is implied/inferred by Reconstructionism but is not literally in the words of the revised prayer, which speaks only of God bringing redemption). We note that on its face, the revised Hebrew text and the accompanying translations do not state how God brings redemption, and is therefore open to varying personal interpretation. For example, one could have an interpretation that God brings redemption in the form of a redeemer. Since it is a revision and not an insertion, the traditional text is also provided for those who prefer it for private use.
- “Gives life to the dead” versus “Gives life to all that lives”
Example: In the second blessing of the Amidah and a few other passages, the traditional “You give live to the dead” is replaced in some Reconstructionist texts with, “You give life to all that lives.” We have chosen to maintain the original wording.
Reason: The prayer “You give life to the dead” was incorporated into the traditional liturgy about 2000 years ago as a conscious (even polemical) reference to the Rabbinic belief in bodily resurrection at the end of days. Less literal interpretations have been taught by later rabbinic authorities. The Reconstructionist revision was motivated by the movement’s leaders’ theological belief against the supernaturalism they felt was inherent in the words of the traditional blessing. While Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan supported the revision, there are some Reconstructionist rabbis who now support the traditional wording and give it interpretations that are less supernatural and that are independent of the concept of bodily resurrection at the end of days. For example, the traditional wording can be taken as referring to or reminding us of rescue from serious illness or from spiritual death. The revision is used in the Reconstructionist siddurim Kol Haneshamah and Siddur Hadeish Yameinu, but not in our new High Holiday makhzor which was created by a Reconstructionist rabbi for his own Reconstructionist congregation. We have chosen to be consistent with our makhzor and with the reconstructing the meaning of the phrase to indicate rescue from serious illness or from spiritual death.