The Reforing of the High Holidays

by Malcolm H-Stern. [ 1915 – 1994 ]


America's assimilative pull on Jewish, life emerged in print as early as 1761 with the anonymous translation into English of the prayers for the Evening Service of Rosh Hashanah and Kippur Services, published in NewYork. The intent-was not a substitution for the Hebrew service, but a "pony" to assist the Hebrew-ignorant in following the service.

The birth of this Reform movement in Germany, in the early nineteenth Century led to the use of the vernacular in the service, along with such excisions from the traditional prayer-book as the medieval poems piyyutim , and even the Kol Nidre. The piyyutim were, often mystical and untranslatable in modern terms. The Kol Nidre presented a different problem: As the Jews of Germany began to achieve civil recognition, one of the last vestiges of their medieval disabilities was the so-called oath "more judaico" that was required of a Jew when involved in a case against a Christian. The oath which included a number of degrading rituals and pledges was usually administered inside or just outside the synagogue, and the Jew was often required to declare that the recitation of Kol Nidre did not absolve him.

Kol Nidre

It was with this in mind that the rabbis who gathered in conference at Brunswick in 1844 resolved unanimously to call on their congregants to refrain from reciting Kol Nidre. In its place they suggested the substitution of some other text set to the traditional melody. One. of the rabbis at Brunswick, Leopold Stein, had already published a poetic paraphrase in German, whose English translation. “Day of God", became the norm in every American Reform prayerbook. A century later, the third edition of the Union Prayer Book II (Newly Revised, 1944), attempted to reinstate the original Hebrew version of Kol Nidre. The first printing appeared with it but an outraged member of the Publication Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis prevailed on his colleagues to withdraw the Hebrew and substitute the paraphrase in English which appeared in all subsequent printings of that edttion Gates of Repentance (1978) has restored the Hebrew text, recognizing that the association of the "haunting melody had led Kol Nidre to be sung in Hebrew in most Reform congregations and that its importance in the popular mind led most people to refer to Yom Kippur evening service as the Kol Nidre service.

Use of Shofar

The use of the shofar, also, was questioned by some early Reformers. Blown by amateurs, the resultant sounds led otten to utter.-, i-alhci than to* exaltation. Some congregations tried substituting trumpets, bugles, or the organ to play the traditional shofar calls. Others had the shofar "improved"'with bugle mouthpieces to allow for greater tohal'accuracy.The-late Isadora Freed, one of the best of -our Reform synagogue composers and musicians, attempted to create a feel: ing of exaltation by having the shofar calls echoed from the choir loft by a brass ensemble, but the echo was not always-in tune. In Berlin, a hotbed of -early radical Reform procedures, the shofar was totally removed from the service in 1845. With the current growth-of interest in ritual in our: movement the availability and quality of shofar-blowers has risen. As a consequence, Gates of Repentance has replaced the three shofar-calls of the. Union Prayer Book with the traditional nine.

One of the early principles of Reform Judaism was "a return to Biblical Judaism" which included one-day observance of all Jewish holidays. The German Conference of 1846 proclaimed that second days no longer had significance, but they excepted Rosh Hashanah because even the Jews of Palestine, observed two-days. Gradually, however, many Reform congregations abandoned the second, day of the New Year. An attempt to do so in Charleston. SC. in 1843 was defeated, but twelve years later Temple Emanu-El of New York led the way.

Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern [ 1915 – 1994 ] is a historian and former placement director of the CCAR


STEIN, LEOPOLD. Reform rabbi, b. Burgpreprach. Bavaria, Germany, 1810; d. Frankfort, Germany, 1882 He was called to Frankfort in 1844. In 1845 he was chairman of the second rabbinical congress. As a result of disputes with the board of the Frankfort Jewish community he resigned as its rabbi in 1862. Later he became manager of an educational institution and preacher at Westend-Union, Frankfort. With S. Süslind he published the periodical Der israelitische Schullehrer, and he was also the editor of the year book Ahawa. Stein was a friend of the German poet Friedrich Rueckert. and wrote many poems and dramas.

His works include: Gebete wid Grsaenge zum Gebrauch bei der offentlichen Andacht (1840); Haus Ehrlich, a drama (1863), which was presented in Mannheim; Der Knabenraub von Carpentras, a play (1863) Sinai, die Worte des ewigen Budes (1868); Die Schrift des Lebens (3 vols., 1872-1910); Torat chajim; Das judische Religionsgesets 1877; Der geklärte Judenspiegel (1882). Besides these works, Stein published numerous collections of sermons, of which Kohelet was best-known. His Gebetbuch fiir

Israeitische Gemeinden (2 vols.) was edited by R. Gruenfeld and adopted by the community of Augsburg (1917). ,

Lit.: Kohut. "Leopold Stein. Einiges aus seinem Nachlass Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, Sept. 4 and 11, 1903; Ettelson. Harry W.. in Central Conference of American Rabbis Year Root;, vol. 21 (1911) 306-27.