By Rabbi Edwin Goldberg

Part One: Don’t “Bury the Lead,” or Why We Have Placed the Shofar Service into Three Parts of the Service

The traditional High Holy Day prayer book, as opposed to the Reform versions produced in the last century and more, includes a service, musaf, that evokes the ancient sacrifices.  Reform Judaism abandoned this service, due to its musty connotations of “barbarian” rites but a key element of this service on Rosh Hashanah, the sounding of the shofar was maintained.  Sounding of the shofar was retained no doubt because the very essence of Rosh Hashanah is bound up in the peal of the shofar.  Can you imagine Rosh Hashanah without it?

When our core editorial team for the new machzor first sat down to work on the book, and we began with Rosh Hashanah morning, we wanted to make sure that the essence of the day was front and center.  We all agreed that the shofar sounding was the most important element of the day for so many worshipers.  We realized that the placement of the shofar service, towards the end of the morning worship, left something to be desired.  After all why would something to integral to the morning be only introduced near the end? 

In journalism, this error is called “burying the lead.”  This is when a reporter waits too long to present the heart of the article.  Many years ago a small-town newspaper carried a headline about a hen that lay two-eggs at the same time.  This was newsworthy, of course.  Later on in the article we learn that another hen hypnotized a snake.  Were I the editor, I would have led with that headline!

I fear that, all too often, and especially when synagogues have to offer back-to-back Rosh Hashanah morning services, the shofar service, coming towards the end, is not presented with the beauty and poignancy it deserves.  As one cantor complains, at the end of the first morning service, as we are preparing for the sounding of the shofar, the executive director is standing at the back of the sanctuary, pointing at her watch.

The shofar deserves better, as do we.

As I will write about next week, the shofar service is more than sounding the shofar.  It features three themes, much like a classical sonata, which invite study and contemplation, if only there were the time.  Our new machzor allows the time because we have altered the shofar service in a dramatic way.

Our service takes the three themes of the shofar service and presents them in three different parts of the service, towards the beginning, in the middle, and close to the end.  The theme of God’s sovereignty appears near the “coronation of God” at the beginning of the service.  The theme of God’s remembering appears near the Torah reading where we read that God remembers Sarah.  And the theme of God’s redeeming the world comes near the end of our morning prayer, when we are contemplating renewal and improvement.

When we first announced this three-part presentation of the shofar service there was a great deal of resistance from colleagues.  First of all, they argued it was not traditional.  Our response was, ever since Reform Judaism took the musaf service away, that argument has lost its luster.  Second, some folks felt if people heard the shofar near the beginning, they would not stay for latter parts of the service (re: the sermon).  Our response: “Write better sermons!”

Over all, once piloting of Rosh Hashanah began in various congregations, people have been surprised and delighted by the change.

Next week I will explore in more depth the spiritual opportunities offered by a slower, more intentional reflection on the three themes of the shofar service.

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg has served as the senior rabbi of Temple Judea in Coral Gables since 1996. In July he will begin serving as the senior rabbi of Temple Sholom of Chicago. He is the coordinating editor of the forthcoming CCAR Machzor and is the author of five books. His newest book is, Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most.

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