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New Reform Judaism Machzor ready for High Holy Days

The new Reform Judaism High Holy Days Machzor, that has been 10 years in the making, is now available for order.

The revised and modernised prayer book was produced by an Editorial Group of clergy (pictured top) – including Group Chair Rabbi Mark Goldsmith and Joint Editors Rabbi Paul Freedman and Rabbi Professor Jonathan Magonet – together with rabbinic and cantorial colleagues and input from regular congregational testing.

Explaining some of the many innovations, Rabbi Paul said: “When we produced the new Reform Siddur in 2008, people noticed the changes: a modern use of language, helpful translations, explanatory notes and transliteration of the Hebrew on nearly every page. But when the High Holy Days came around, our congregations had to go back to the old prayer book style and design.

“The new Machzor means we are bringing everything together and catching up. Regularly updating our prayer books is rather like painting the proverbial ‘Forth Bridge’… it’s never ending really!”

As a companion to the renewed Reform Siddur (daily and Shabbat) the High Holy Days Machzor has now caught up with it, although the other Machzor (pilgrim festivals) is not yet fully part of the set. These changes and improvements are needed to reflect today’s Progressive Jewish society and those of the next 30 to 40 years, before a new generation suggests that the next edition will be needed.

“We want to make sure that we met gender neutral language needs, for instance,” explained Rabbi Naomi Goldman, a regular member of the Editorial Group. “Diversity of communication is so important and until now the old version reverted to a type that is no longer entirely appropriate for today’s world.”

Rabbi Naomi added: “People had become so used to the modern Siddur with the introduction of the Matriarchs, for example, that they told us they were quite surprised when they realised that Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah were missing on the High Holy Days!”

One of the key aims was to demystify the principles, customs and practices of the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe). The draft Rosh Hashanah evening and morning services have been tested out for a number of years in a variety of congregations. Questionnaires and discussions led to feedback that was full of ideas and useful points of interest that the editorial team took into consideration. Some of these are reflected in the preparatory readings and study anthologies  that help accompany the congregant through the themes of the days and special services of the whole penitential period.

“One of the most asked questions, though, was will it be heavier than what we’ve had before,” said Rabbi Mark. “That’s why our new edition will now be split into two volumes and we will also make available a Kindle version so that people can have the access that suits them best.”

Rabbi Jonathan did not expect to be involved in the challenge of another prayer book editorial project. He said: “I worked with the late Rabbi Lionel Blue on the current edition. It was an innovative and powerful volume that has served our congregations well. While we have tried to preserve what was best in that familiar book, working together with a new generation of colleagues we have tried to respond to the changing needs of our time.”

The new Machzor has been designed to facilitate the variety of styles and alternative services in our congregations. In particular, in many places, the usual liturgy on the right-hand page is creatively complemented by readings and poetry in a blue typeface on the facing page, either for congregational use or to give permission to the individual to ‘wander’ and find new meaning in the service.

The Reform series of prayer books, Forms of Prayer, first appeared in the 19th century and this is now the ninth edition of the High Holy Day volume, replacing the 1985 edition. The hope is that it will allow everyone to participate in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a way that addresses their personal needs and reflects today’s Reform and Progressive values and place in Jewish tradition.

  • The Reform Judaism Machzor is available as a two-volume set in a slipcase, in good time for the High Holy Days this autumn. It can be ordered now through your local Reform synagogue.

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