Why is it time for a new Machzor?

– by Rabbi Greg Alexander

We are very blessed to begin 5779 with a brand new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, the Sanctuary of the Soul, a partner to our already beloved new siddur Mishkan T’filah.  But why change?  After all, our previous machzor, the Gates of Repentance, has served us well.  When it was edited in 1978, it represented exciting and progressive liturgical innovation.  The world was a different place then, and it was replacing the old Union Prayer Book that some of us grew up with, reclaiming much of the Hebrew liturgy that had been taken out before.  I remember my bar mitzvah was one of the first with the (then new) Gates of Prayer siddur in my childhood congregation and for a barmy boy the news that there was “more Hebrew” was not something that 13-yr old Greg appreciated at all.  But comparing the outlook, layout and ideology of Gates of Repentance with the Union Prayer Book (even without opening the book – just in size) shows just how radical that change was then.

But in recent years, Gates of Repentance has increasingly felt dated and even obstructive to some of our prayer experience.  The language reflects its time and the readings reflect the thinking of Jews in the mid- to late 20th Century.  Once we introduced Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat and Festivals the difference became glaring.

The fact that Gates of Repentance contains male-gendered language and did not insert the names of the Imahot – the foremothers – alongside the Avot – forefathers – does not seem consistent with contemporary sensibilities.

Mishkan T’filah introduced a fully transliterated service where every page invited those who know Hebrew and those who don’t to join in Hebrew prayer.  The absence of this in Gates was a barrier to entry to many in shul and left them as passive observers rather than inviting them to join the davening.  Gates of Repentance presented one, linear service that was followed page by page and designed to be lead by the service leader and choir with the davener a participant/ follower.  Mishkan T’filah radically altered that dynamic with each page presenting options on the right and left pages for the davener to choose.  Even if the congregation is reading one, the davener can read another, and still “keep up” with the service.

Like Mishkan T’filah, Mishkan HaNefesh makes strides towards a multi-vocality that creates a space for all to inhabit, offering a multiplicity of different approaches. Through updated translations, elucidating essays, rich commentary, and a beautiful selection of poetry, Mishkan HaNefesh provides an environment for those of all backgrounds to find meaning in the High Holy Days.

Most importantly, the Mishkan series does not assume one understanding of G*d, prayer or the meaning of our lives and allows the davener to find their own inspiration and comfort within its pages.  May it serve us just as well as Gates of Repentance has done.

We will use our new High Holy Day Machzor this year for the first time. You will not be able to follow the services with the old Gates of Repentance. You can purchase your set for R 700 per set either during the week from Glynnis, or at the sales point in the gallery before the service.

Please consider donating one or two sets of our new Machzor to Bet David to be loaned to guests on the day. We will acknowledge your donation with a book-plate.


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