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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Prayer Book for the Internet Generation

As a young kid in the Reform Jewish community we used the Union Prayer Book, a traditional book with Hebrew on the right and English on the left with lots of instructions for page jumping, standing, when to sing and whether everyone should speak. When I became a Bar Mitzvah in 1976, the temple sisterhood gave me a copy of the new prayer book, Gates of Prayer. The Gates of Prayer had services in a linear fashion using different fonts to denote when to sing and who should speak and with instructions on when to stand and sit. One could run an entire service giving no instructions from the Bima.

Gates of Prayer lasted more than three decades with only some rewording mostly to make the prayers gender neutral.

But in this Internet age people no longer read linearly. Last Friday I had my first taste of the new Reform Jewish prayer book, the Mishkan T'filiah.  No instructions or any indication when to stand or who should talk or sing. Here is a sample page (via the New York Times).


Each prayer gets its own two page spread with Hebrew, a faithful transliteration and translation and a couple alternative interpretations. No instructions or indications on when to stand, who should talk or sing and even when to turn the page. Our temple put in a notecard in each prayer book to explain the new book with some clues like whenever we hear "Baruch Atah (Blessed are you..)" we should turn the page.

One can easily see the Internet's influence. Each prayer gets the equivalent of a web page (or maybe a blog post). Lists on sides are like hyperlinks to other prayers. At the bottom are Twitter-length commentaries on the prayer. 

I expect this will be the last paper prayer book in the Reform movement. In the future we'll all download the prayers on our e-readers or smart phones with links to the next and other relevant prayers, all preset by the rabbis for that day's service. 

10 comments:

  1. Looks exactly like much of the web: too much information, and not user-friendly. (Great as a reference, but do you really want to pray from it?)

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  2. In the future we'll all download the prayers on our e-readers or smart phones with links to the next and other relevant prayers, all preset by the rabbis for that day's service.

    Thus making fire on Shabbos inside the temple! :)

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  3. Thus making fire on Shabbos inside the temple! :)

    Now that we understand nature better is there any excuse left to equate the flow of electrons (electricity) with the process of fire (oxidation)?

    Just sayin'

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  4. Thus making fire on Shabbos inside the temple! :)

    Now that we understand nature better is there any excuse left to equate the flow of electrons (electricity) with the process of fire (oxidation)?


    Now that we understand nature better, is there any excuse left to prohibit the process of fire (oxidation)?

    Just sayin'

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  5. If I am not allowed to check my phone messages on Shabbat, why in the world would I be allowed to use my eBook reader?

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  6. Lance is talking about reformed Judaism, which allows lighting fires and flowing electrons (or even eating a bacon cheeseburger) on Shabbat

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  7. Or maybe we'll outgrow the idea of prayer, entirely?

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  8. Would the use of a computer based on reversible logic be permitted on the Sabbath?

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  9. Now that we understand nature better is there any excuse left to equate the flow of electrons (electricity) with the process of fire (oxidation)?

    Isn't oxidation analyzed using the electromotive series?

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  10. obivously lance meant that his e-book timer would be set before shabbos.

    my prediction:
    next edition = MOSHIACH!!

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