Short review of On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations

by Jennifer Stern Breger

JOFA Journal readers are very familiar with the outstanding scholarship of Daniel Sperber, whose writings have often graced our pages.  This volume, which explores the development of our liturgy, has its roots in a presentation at the 2007 JOFA conference and devotes much attention to the berakha in the morning prayers recited by men, she-lo asani isha (“who has not made me a woman”).  Sperber addresses the question of the permissibility of introducing the names of the Matriarchs into the opening berakha of the Amidah, and the difficulty of the phrase in Tahanun that refers to the nations “who abominate us as much as the ritual impurity of the menstruant woman.”

Sperber demonstrates with great erudition and historical knowledge that it does not make sense to talk of a single crystallized version of the liturgy; changes have always taken place in the prayers Jews have said through the ages.  After discussing both Talmudic sources forbidding changes and the rulings and formulations of Maimonides, he concludes that it is quite permissible to make changes as long as one does not alter the overall content and structure of the liturgy or prayer.  The reader will learn a great deal from the richness of Sperber’s writing in this book, enhanced by its valuable footnotes and appendices, and the depth and breadth of knowledge demonstrated about the history of Jewish liturgy, including the introduction of new prayers, variants in liturgical texts, and the range of different views on the subject of liturgy held by scholars through the ages.

This review is from the JOFA Journal (Summer 2011).

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