As a rabbinic student, I had a great privilege: to be among the first to lead services from the new siddur of the North American Reform Movement. The leadership and congregants of the Union for Reform Judaism had decided that Gates of Prayer, after three decades of use, no longer met their spiritual needs. An important statement in its time, the book had grown stale. Its bindings were falling apart and its language, once innovative, now felt dated. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the organisation of rabbis to which I now belong, therefore commissioned a new prayer book: Mishkan Tfilah/????? ????. After an extraordinarily extensive process of editing, public assessment, congregational feedback and subsequent re-editing, Miskhan Tfilah (“Dwelling place of Prayer”) is now in use in Reform synagogues throughout North America.
What was true in America has now become true for us and our sister congregations across Australasia. Sadly, our beloved Gates of Prayer have fallen into disrepair, obligating Beth Shalom to select a new prayer book. At the same time, the Union for Progressive Judaism and Moetzah (Progressive Rabbinic Council of Australasia) have decided to produce a version of Mishkan Tfilah for our region.
Jewish prayer is a communal experience, and consideration of a new siddur is a community-wide undertaking. It is important that we select a prayer book with care, for as we shape our prayers, our prayers shape us in turn—inspiring us, uplifting us, supporting us, putting words to our deepest questions, truths and yearnings.
The Ritual Committee and I have engaged in an extended exploration of siddurim. We’ve considered the qualities of prayer books, explored how to evaluate them, and sampled several currently available, including Mishkan Tfilah and Seder Ha-T’fillot from the British Reform Movement. After much discussion, the Ritual Committee has recommended to the Board that Beth Shalom adopt the UPJ’s forthcoming edition of Mishkan Tfilah as our prayer book. After communal consideration, the Board of Management will take a final decision at its March meeting.
Through March and beyond, we will continue to hold several Shabbat services each month using a pre-publication edition of Mishkan Tfilah. In this way, every member of Beth Shalom will be able to experience Mishkan Tfilah for his or herself. These are opportunities to explore the fresh language and innovative layout of the new siddur. We’re also holding several conversations about it, as a way for us as individuals to formulate our personal responses to the book, and to offer feedback to the Board of Management as it prepares to make a decision on behalf of the entire congregation. Dates and times are listed in this edition of Teruah.
Also in this Teruah, as well as in next month’s, we will present a taste of Mishkan Tfilah, and some words about its creation and use. I hope these will whet your appetite to attend a service and/or conversation about this new possible siddur.
In addition to these gatherings, I welcome the chance to discuss these prayer books with you privately, should you wish. I know that any member of the Board or Ritual Committee would be also very glad to hear your thoughts. This is not a simple choice; your input is important and I hope you will join the process. Selecting a prayer book should be as uplifting for a community as prayer itself.