Several South Florida synagogues used a new prayer book this year. Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe was presented to the membership of four Reform congregations this high holiday season. The book is meant to offset what many felt to be the “insensitive” words and themes found in traditional Jewish texts.
“Countertexts” are presented throughout the volume. They are intended to encourage a more open-minded style and discard imagery that might feel uncomfortable in its religious approach. The old liturgy seemed to be filled with xenophobia and in need of a fresh eye.
The idea that traditional Judaism relies on halacha (Jewish law) and Jewish practice seemed to smack of exclusivity in a culture that reveres diversity. Sources in Mishkan HaNefesh include non-Jewish poets and writers like Walt Whitman and Jewish writers like Allen Ginsberg and Grace Paley.
Mishkan HaNefesh was put together with a decidedly non-patriarchal agenda. God is referred to in both feminine and masculine pronouns and terms. Brides and grooms are referred to as non-gender “couples.” Political correctness is paramount. The comfort level of each and every reader is imperative.
The people responsible for Mishkan HaNefesh accomplished their goal. Their prayer book is truly p.c. It embraces all.
And perhaps that is its downfall.
Authentic Judaism’s authority comes from Hashem, not people’s sensitivities. Its directive is the Torah, not attainment of every individual’s optimal comfort level.
The efforts of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which published the book, were obviously well-intentioned. However, the obsession with emphasizing feel-good political correctness in lieu of legitimate Jewish concepts removes Mishkan HaNefesh from consideration as a serious Jewish resource. The book’s content is more akin to a text used in a liberal university’s diversity 101 class than to a Jewish New Year machzor.
Perhaps the authors of Mishkan HaNefesh would benefit from heeding the tagline of a popular hot dog commercial and “answer to a higher authority.”Shelley Benveniste