Preface to siddur birkat shalom
and Miriam Bronstein.
The traditional siddur is precious to us. We are profoundly attached to its words, its structure and its wisdom. In praying these words we move
beyond ordinary time; we participate in eternity. We connect with our ancient past and with our extending future. Yet some aspects of the
traditional liturgy present a barrier rather than serve as a vehicle in our religious explorations. We have found that we need to adapt the liturgy,
to give voice to areas of our experience which have been silenced, and to revise aspects of the tradition which trouble us. The issue which has
most engaged us in this process is the inclusion of women and women's experience. Other central issues we have begun to address include: ways
of understanding God, good and evil, the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, and views of human nature. We view these concerns not only as central to our particular community, but also as core ethical and spiritual issues for our people.
In taking a close look at the liturgy, we are addressing some of the most basic questions about ourselves, God and the world. We recognize that the language of the siddur has the potential to express not only our concept of how the world is, but our vision of how it ought to be.
Through the repetition of the prayers, we inspire and replenish ourselves with impressionistic, yet powerful, answers to our questions; we form
and reinforce a world view. How mindful we must be, then, as we choose words for regular, set prayer. As feminist Jews, we are committed to working for a world in which oppression is ever being undermined and transformed into justice.
Religion can be a powerful force in helping or hindering this process of transformation. It is important to us to be conscious of the values which are promoted in our davenning. If, in our davenning, we retain and create life-affirming images and practices, and move away from
damaging ones, we believe we can enhance our lives. The words and teachings we turn to and rely on in our times of need and openness have
great impact on us. As we examined the language of traditional prayer, we arrived at the same insight that has been evolving in many
communities: language that is politically inadequate is spiritually inadequate. We feel a need to integrate our political and spiritual beliefs, so that we can bring our whole beings to davenning, and not separate certain parts of our morality from our spirituality. Language affects
consciousness, even though we are often not aware of this fact. The changing of pronouns, for example, not only points to institutional
change for women (leading and participating equally in ritual), but also points to theological change, expanding our concepts of God in enriching and liberating ways. Our siddur, its words, its message, even its grammar, should affirm and strengthen our vision of a world which is moving towards redemption.
Our prayer is part of our pursuit of tikkun olam (the kabbalistic notion of repairing or transforming the world). The title of our siddur, Siddur Birkat Shalom, reflects our spiritual and ethical mandate. “Birkat Shalom” has a double meaning. It means: “the blessing or prayer of the (Havurat) Shalom community,” and it also means “the blessing of/for peace.” We hope our davenning with Siddur Birkat Shalom will instill within us a sense of wholeness (shlaimut), and will inspire us to seek shalom wherever we are.
Another term we use frequently in our siddur, “mutkan”, Hebrew for “adapted”, contains the same Hebrew root as does the word tikkun. We
use this word to indicate modifications we have made in the traditional text of a psalm or prayer. We selected this word to express our hope that
in our process of adapting the liturgy, we perform an act of tikkun. When we render a prayer or psalm “mutkan” we intend a reparation of what is
troubling in our prayers and in our consciousness, what is in need of transformation in our spiritual lives.
In preparing this siddur, we were also committed to freeing our spirituality from the “idolatry” of imaging God as exclusively male and
hierarchical. Our religious experience is diminished when we worship only a part of God as if it were the whole. As we include additional
names for the Holy One, we are expanding our understandings of God. We know that all human language is limited in its ability to convey
ultimacy. No one image is God; there are innumerable images or notions that could potentially express the various aspects of God. We have been influenced by midrashic (1) and kabbalistic teachings which present multiple images and experiences of God within an overarching framework of the unity of God. This pluralistic, yet monotheistic view of God is even reflected in two of our traditional names for God, Adonai and Elohim, which are both in the plural. (Adonai means “my Lords” and Elohim means “Gods”). As the poet has written, “Countless visions we have named You, through all visions, You are One.” (2) As the siddur continues to evolve, we hope that our explorations of God’s multiplicity and oneness will strengthen our sense of the unifying spirit and the harmony that is inherent within each of us and in the world.
We are responding to a changing world view. The sacred task we have undertaken is to integrate traditional and feminist Judaism in making the liturgy reflective of our highest values. We draw from the wisdom and spiritual power of the past and the present. We are seeking to find fresh meanings in the traditional liturgy, and to add new insights from the experiences of our lives and the wisdom of our time. We consider Siddur Birkat Shalom be a continuation of the tradition of
interpreting Torah. Though we were very reluctant to change the words of Tanakh (the Bible), especially Torah (the first five books), we needed to acknowledge our disagreements with the sacred text however painful it may have been. When we daven, we are not studying or quoting, we are making the words our own. Thus, we have maintained traditional teachings and forms as much as possible, in a creative balance and
tension with the evolving beliefs and values that we also hold sacred.
Throughout the generations Jews have davenned, yearning for closeness with the Holy One. We have sought to praise and thank the Creator, and to open ourselves anew to the wonders of creation. We have expressed our joy, our pain and fear, and our hopes for a messianic era of
justice and peace. Through prayer, we strive to perceive the sparks of the holy in every aspect of life, and to sense our connection with the
universe around us and with the deepest parts of ourselves. We want to be inspired to fill our lives with good deeds.
We are grateful to the Holy One for giving us life and the capacity to reach out through our prayer and song. We join with the ancient psalmists, with our ancestors and our living communities in singing to God a new song. May davenning with Siddur Birkat Shalom draw us close to the One in whose presence we live; may it be a gateway to holiness for all who enter.
1. For example, see Pesikta Rabati, chapter 21.
2. Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Hasid, “Hymn of Glory”