Between Prayer and Reality
This year’s symposium, held annually by the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), focused on challenges that arise in all matters relating to prayer, especially in our changing reality
6 February, 2020 | Arutz 7
“Prayer connects the private realm to the public realm,” said WIHL Director Rabbanit Devorah Evron as she opened the annual symposium of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) on January 27. “The laws of prayer are based upon from the story of Chana, who prayed for something extremely personal, but in a very public location,” she pointed out.
Under the title “Fixed prayers, supplication, tradition and contemporary life,” this year’s symposium began with an in-depth discussion of the traditional established prayer texts, moderated by WIHL fellow Rabbanit Shira Oren Sapir.
In a panel called “Prayer Versions (nusachim) Model 2020,” rabbi and educator Yosi Sofer spoke of the present halakhic reality – which is a very different reality than the one on which many of the original laws of prayer are based – and the conflicts that arise from this disparity.
“There are laws which were set on the basis of a certain reality, but that has changed in a way that it affects the halakha,” he said. “For example, do we really want to return to the age of sacrifices? And what do we do with prayers referencing the State of Israel as if we were still in exile? ” Sofer maintained that in light of this, “today a person must choose between the prayer texts and the true intentions of the heart, since one cannot always have both,” noting that “even if we change the wording of prayer – that won’t bring more people into the synagogue.”
The title of the second panel was a question: “Do we subscribe to the verse ‘Don’t forsake the Torah of your mother’ or the verse ‘Together, the tribes of Israel‘?” In this session, Rabbanit Tamar Bitton, head of Yerucham’s communal midrasha ‘Amit Be’er,’ explored the existence of so many various nusachim (versions) of Jewish prayer.
“The IDF chose one nusach – Nusach Sefard – for their prayerbooks and ceremonies, and althought that decision was made in accordance with the majority in Israel, it was not in accordance with the majority of worshippers,” Bitton pointed out. “We need to ask ourselves which is a higher value: national unity, or preserving the teachings of our ancestors? Can we make more of our prayers a combination of various nusachim, like the penitentiary prayers of selichot? I am against a ‘melting pot’ in prayer, as I wouldn’t want the current texts to disappear,” she said, adding, “I also believe that those who are exposed to more than one model becomes a richer person.”
Following a break for workshops on piyyutim (liturgical poems), song, and an examination of various works of prayer, participants reconvened for a concluding discussion of Prayer and Song between WIHL fellow Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis and noted Israeli Orthodox singer, pianist and songwriter Odeleya Berlin.
“I’m afraid to know the secret behind the attraction of ‘Ochila,'” Berlin said – referring to the sold-out program of songs and prayers which she has been performing prior to Yom Kippur in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the past eight years. Berlin – who only performs for women – said, “It took me years to find my place in the world of prayer. When I stopped being afraid, I begain to incorporate piyyutim from different ethnicities in my show, and today I do not perform any songs which do not touch me emotionally.” She added, “We are already experiencing the days of the Mashiach; when I see the recent Siyyum haShas, the success of Ochila, batei midrash like this one filled with women – I see redemption.”