Today is December 13, 2019 -

How Our Liturgy Remains Relevant Today

by Hazzan Michael Krausman

One of the most fascinating and enduring characteristics of our liturgy is that, for a system that was codified centuries ago, our prayer services reveal a great deal of sensitivity, flexibility and adaptability. If we take a brief look at the form and content of our services, we can see how this variability manifests itself.

Nusach, the mandated rubrics and traditions that govern how we sing our prayers, is the age old tool that is used to express our liturgical text in music. Thus, the same text sung in the peaceful, soothing Nusach of Shabbat, has an entire different feeling when chanted according to the jubilant, majestic Nusach of Rosh Hashanah. Similarly, the fairly plain chant of the weekday service gives way to the joyous Nusach of the festivals or the nearly silent chant of Tisha B’Av, the national day of mourning. Moreover, certain passages of prayer vary according to the seasons.

So, too, the prayers themselves have built in possibilities for flexibility, variety and sensitivity. For example, on festive occasions such as Chanukah and Purim, melancholy selections are omitted from the service, while on solemn days, plaintive prayers are inserted. Likewise, we add a special collection of Psalms called Hallel into the service on those festive occasions. Similar sensitivities are mandated for Shabbat, festivals, the period of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and even in a house of mourning.

The Amidah, a series of seven to nineteen blessings that forms the core of each prayer service, is a sterling example of this phenomenon. Provisions are made to reflect or even influence the mood of the worshiper. Thus, during the growing season, we add requests for rain (but please not until the end of Sukkot). During Chanukah, Purim and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel
Independence Day) we include a prayer that expresses our thanks for miracles. In fact, there is a designated place in the weekday Amidah for a personal prayer for a dear one who may be ill, and other spots where individual input is encouraged. Moreover, the structure of the Amidah encourages individual supplications throughout.

From as far back as the middle ages, liturgical poems, known as Piyutim, that reflect the spirit and condition of the author and the community in which he lived, have been composed and inserted into the liturgy to enhance the service. Our own Siddur not only contains a prayer for the state of Israel, obviously added since 1948, but mandates an entire service for Yom Ha Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day).

Even in times of personal or communal distress, such as during the horrific events of September 11 or at the funeral of a loved one, the sensitivity of our liturgy serves ?