2021 Annual Assessment

The Situation and Dynamics of the Jewish People

PROJECT HEAD: Shmuel Rosner

Dan Feferman, Shlomo Fischer, Shuki Friedman, Avi Gil, Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Gitit Levy-Paz, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, John Ruskay, Noah Slepkov, Adar Schieber, Yedidia Stern, Shalom Salomon Wald

Barry Geltman

2021 Annual Assessment

The Israeli Reform Movement has come out with a new siddur. Edited by Rabbis Dalia Marx and Alona Lisitsa, it attempts to address the general Israeli and non-Orthodox public and not only the members of the Reform movement itself. Thus, it adopted the title Tefillat HaAdam, which refers to a famous line from the Israeli paratrooper Hannah Senesh’s poem “Walking to Caesarea.” According to Rabbis Marx and Lisitsa, it is meant to highlight to secular Israelis, who are familiar with this poem from school ceremonies on Holocaust Memorial Day, that prayer can be found in secular events and situations alongside standard religious ritual.

The prayerbook manifests a two-pronged dynamic: it is at the same time more traditional and more radical than previous siddurim. It includes many more traditional prayers than previous Reform prayerbooks and at the same time engages with issues of sexual orientation and gender in radical, even revolutionary ways. Thus, the siddur includes a congregational blessing (Mi Sheberach) for someone who comes out of the closet.

This new siddur represents a further attempt on the part of the liberal denominations in Israel to change the institutional format of religion in Israel. Israel follows a “Catholic” or Christian Orthodox pattern of religion and secularization. Under this pattern, secularizing forces oppose religion. They do not attempt to change existing traditional religion, rather they attempt to negate or abolish it and/or its influence and standing and to free areas of life from its dominion. The roots of the liberal denominations, in contrast, are in the “Protestant” pattern of secularization where religion itself changes and becomes more pluralistic and liberal. This pattern is characteristic of the United States. Thus, the liberal denominations in Israel are trying to erode Israel’s historical “Catholic” pattern (the shul that I do not go to is Orthodox) and replace it with a more “Protestant” one. They have had some success and they hope that the new siddur with its Israeli character and features will aid them in this endeavor.