With that kind of pressure, maybe it’s no wonder that it took a team of rabbis 12 years to complete the new prayer book. By every measure, though, the result is a remarkable volume that overflows not only with the spiritual richness of the liturgy, but with wide-ranging commentaries and perspectives on the holidays in Jewish history, tradition and theology.
Yet the question remains: Can it help encourage a return visit before another New Year rolls by? The challenge arises at a time when synagogue membership seems generally headed downward, and when the Conservative movement, which not so long ago was the largest Jewish denomination in America, is now outnumbered in terms of synagogue members by the Reform. (Of the three largest denominations, Orthodox is most strict in its observance; the Reform is the most liberal; and the Conservative movement straddles the two, adapting aspects of traditional observance to contemporary life.)
Indeed, at the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly convention held this past May in New York, a key theme was the need to re-define the mission of Conservative Judaism for new generations of Jews in a contemporary climate that some observers have begun to describe as “post-denominational.”
What does “post-denominational” mean? The broad-based approach of the new prayer book—in which supplementary readings range from Hasidic sages to Gilda Radner, and from devout medieval Jewish Spanish poets to Israeli poet and professed atheist Yehuda Amichai—is in some ways reflective of this “post-denominational” style that blurs lines between the different movements.
Maybe it’s time to just pack it in.