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Reconstructionist Jews receive new prayer book for High Holidays

NEW YORK, Aug. 23 (JTA) — As they gather for the High Holidays this year, Reconstructionist Jews will be following a new prayer book. According to spokespersons for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the 1,275-page Machzor’s “user-friendly and inclusive” liturgy balances “deep respect for 3,000 years of Jewish tradition and the honest struggles which contemporary Jews have with that tradition.” In addition to traditional Hebrew texts, the book contains new gender-neutral English translations by poet Joel Rosenberg and a variety of contemporary commentary. The Machzor, or High Holidays prayer book, also features readings by both Jewish and non-Jewish authors, including Martin Buber, Elie Wiesel, Annie Dillard, Danny Siegel, Maya Angelou and Marge Piercy. The book offers service leaders the option of three types of services: a more traditional service, a shorter, more innovative service or one that emphasizes English readings. The last Reconstructionist Machzor was published in 1948, and in recent years many of the movement’s 98 congregations had been compiling their own prayer books or using ones published by other movements. The new Machzor completes a series of six Reconstructionist prayer books created over the past decade by rabbinic and lay leaders. So far, congregations have purchased some 25,000 volumes of the Machzor, and the federation expects to sell another 10,000 in the coming month. Approximately 50,000 American Jews identify as Reconstructionist. Launched in the 1930s by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the Reconstructionist movement defines Judaism as an “evolving religious civilization,” in which the past “has a vote, not a veto.” It was the first movement to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah and is the only stream of Judaism to reject the idea that Jews are God’s chosen people.