I read with much interest, the recent action of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, and that of my dear friend and teacher, Prof, Mordecal M. Kaplan, in reference to the substitution of the 130th Psalm for the traditional Kol Nidre on the eve of Yom Kippur service.
It may interest you to know that in our congregation, which is one of the old and very large Reform congregations of America, we have reintroduced the traditional Kol Nidre, (melody and words) in place of the hymn “On Come Day of God” which the Union Prayer Book substituted for it. And we did it, not because we believe in the ritual formula which the Aramaic Kol Nidre prayer expresses, but rather because especially on Yom Kippur eve, we wish our congregation to feel a sense of unity with Catholic Israel–(to use one of Dr. Shechter’s pet phrases).
Certainly there is no Synagog melody and no prayer in our ritual, perhaps with the exception of the Shema Yisroel, which is better known to Jews the world over. And is it not camouflage to sing the tune of Kol Nidre to the words of “O Come Day of God” or “M’m’a Makim?” To separate the words of Kol Nidre from the melody is like trying to retain the soul without a body.
The Kol Nidre gives every Jew who hears it, a thrill, and makes him feel that he is at one with all Israel. In these days of Pizur Hanefreshi and Pizur Haguf, we need to emphasize mostly the sense of Jewish religious unity and Jewish solidarity. It is true that the contents of the prayer do not express any “deep religious yearnings,” but ought we not to consider as more important, what people read into a prayer rather than what they read out of it?
The Kaddish prayer is also couched in Aramale, and when translated, does not begin to have the significance that the people read into the prayer. Yet the Kaddish has become one of the most important parts of our ritual service and helps to bring people not only back to religion, but back to the Synagog, because of the associations and meanings which have become associated with the prayer in these many year, Would Dr. Kaplan suggest that we eliminate the Kaddish and substitute a psalm for it?
I fully appreciate Dr. Kaplan’s efforts, but I fear me that he is making, in respect to what he did with the Kol Nidre, the same mistake that the early Reformers made–the mistake of overrationalizing and undrestimating sentiment, not sentimentality. Kol Nidre should have a place in our Yom Kinpur ritual, because of the beautiful sentiment which our people have associated throughout the ages, with the prayer. The fact that the folk legend about the “Anusim” grew up around this prayer, is an illustration of the love which the people had for the prayer, and for their desire to retain it and give it meaning, after it had lost its original significance.
Everyone familiar with the history of religion, appreciates the tendency of a people in their fondness for certain ceremonials, to constantly pour now wine into old bottles–to give new meanings to old forms–in order to continued the form. People are always more conservative than their leaders and they are especially conservative in religion because they associate the mystical, the intuitive, and if you place, things of sentiment, with religion. “To ignore and to deliberately run counter to this most natural tendency the evolution of religion is to say the least, a psychological leader.
Let us apply more psychology and less logic in our efforts to reform Judaism.
Yours sincerely. BARNETT R. BEICKNER Rabbi Enclid Ave Temple Cleveland, O, Oct. 10, 1927.