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B’nai Sholom A Test Site for Revised Ritual for Holiest Day

On Wednesday, September 26, 70 Reform Jewish congregations around the U.S. – including Albany’s B’nai Sholom Reform Congregation – will take a historic opportunity to pilot a draft of a new Yom Kippur afternoon service, part of a planned new Reform Jewish prayer book for the Days of Awe. The new prayer book will be published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the professional organization of nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis.

The afternoon service of prayers and readings is a key part of the Day of Atonement, the time when Jews believe that each person may repent prior to being judged for the coming year. American Reform Judaism first published a prayer book, called a machzor, based on traditional sources, in 1884; revised it over the years, and last introduced a major new version in 1978.

“This new service marks a generational shift to a brand new liturgy,” explains B’nai Sholom Rabbi Donald P. Cashman.  “And given that Jews are so familiar with the service for the Days of Awe – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – it’s a significant change.  Reform Judaism introduced an entirely new prayer book for daily and weekly use during the last decade, as we adapt to the reality of Jewish life and Jewish thought in the 21st century. Publication of a new book for the Days of Awe will mark an equally important moment in the life of Reform congregations.”

Yom Kippur begins at sunset Tuesday, September 25, and continues through sunset the next day.

Rabbi Cashman points out major differences in this new order of service, which illuminate the path Reform Judaism took when it split from more orthodox practices.

“In the ancient, traditional service, a section called the Avodah detailed the sacrificial worship on Yom Kippur in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and the High Priest’s preparations for it, as part of a section of the day called Musaf. Reform Judaism eliminated Musaf; moved Avodah, and changed the emphasis away from sacrifice and the Temple. Instead, the service dealt with heroic acts by martyrs in response to persecution of Jews over the centuries.

“Now the emphasis is shifted toward our individual responsibility for the world. The focus of the readings and meditations is on middot – personal qualities or attributes. The goal is tikkun middot – repairing and strengthening the personal qualities and traits that enable us to fulfill our urge to be good – virtues such as love, self-discipline, gratitude, and forgiveness.”

Other changes include some further reordering of the service, new song texts, and optional readings from the Torah, the Five Books of Moses in the Jewish Bible.

Each congregation piloting the new section is asked by the CCAR to survey a cross-section of its members for their reactions. Feedback from across the country will affect the final shape of the new machzor.

“We are informing and involving our entire congregation in this pilot project,” Rabbi Cashman said.

“As with Christians at Easter and Christmas, Judaism’s Days of Awe are the best-attended services of the year. Liturgy that is experienced year after year becomes part of our feelings about the festivals themselves. The Day of Atonement has a quality of focus and devotion like no other day. Shifting to new prayers and readings will feel unfamiliar, but will offer us the chance to view Yom Kippur in a fresh way, promoting rededication to its ideals of repentance and renewal.”

Admission to Yom Kippur services, per common practice for these holidays, is by ticket only. For information, contact B’nai Sholom Reform Congregation at 518-482-5283, or e-mail

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