by Rabbi Jason Forbes
Liturgical worship must employ the art of blending kevah with kavvanah, a pairing of order and holy intention. Our worship spaces must be holy spaces where we all pray in unity, yet have the ability to let our intention, orkavvanah, be led by divine inspiration. This is why it has been important in our community to have a siddur prayerbook in everyone’s hand. We follow our service together, but we each have the opportunity to stop and dwell on each thought as we are inspired. Some passages affect us differently week to week. Communal prayer is made more powerful by individuals praying in unity, but not identically.
Many communities in the messianic world employ projectors and screens to show the service on the wall for everyone to follow. We broke from this concept many years ago so we could elevate the holiness of our sanctuary by removing unnecessary technology. Using a projected service also forces everyone to be at the same place, eyes fixed on the screen through the entire service. Instead of the projector and screen to display the service, we elected to use a standard orthodox siddur and optional transliterated siddur with messianic additions. This approach has served our community well over the years and established a community who knows the standard liturgy and understands the intention behind it.
“A holy book in every hand” was our vision. Individuals were empowered by their own unique experience with the liturgy. The one problem with this is that we couldn’t change the book. We were often faced with the dilemma that we wanted to introduce a new song, or poem, or meditation to the service and had no easy way to get it out to the people. We often would print it on little slips of paper and distribute them and call people’s attention to them at the appropriate time in the service. This caused fumbling and confusion. It was awkward for the cantor as well as for the congregants, interrupting our kavvanah. The one thing we knew is that the service must be dynamic while remaining faithful to the overall structure and message of the service. We want people who are familiar with the traditional service to enter in and feel like they are home. Our community norms must not be rooted in the unfamiliar.
It would be great to have a technology empowered book with paper pages that could change their print. We may get there someday, but this technology is not cheap or widely available. For us, it’s was time for a new kind of “book”. After some research we discovered that a cheap eInk based e-book reader (e-reader) might be the solution. We found that we could easily procure a touch screen e-reader for about $40 each. We also had the expertise in the community to write our own custom application for the devices. With this discovery, the B’Yachad Living Siddur was born.
The B’Yachad Living Siddur is simple to use and also helps people who are becoming more familiar to the service. On Shabbat, it’s only function is to show the service.
This siddur allows us to make changes to the service week to week so that our liturgical experience is flowing with the seasons and needs of the community. It will be dynamic and easy to follow.
Additional prayers and services that it will provide:
Blessing after Meals
Other special blessings
Kabbalat Shabbat service
Melitz Yosher - healing service
Kirtan Chadasha - meditative song service
Machzor - holiday prayerbook
Easy to use, even for those who are not technologically savvy
Hebrew, Transliteration, English (transliteration may be turned off)
Instructions and commentary on the service
Adjustable font size for different vision needs
Use in portrait or landscape orientation
Numbered sections match up to a real time display of the current section at the front of the sanctuary
The devices remain in the synagogue at all times. Should anyone want to access the contents of the siddur outside of the synagogue, our website will hosts a web-based application with equivalent functionality.
This special siddur allows us to reduce our dependency on paper materials. We will use and recycle much less paper. We won’t have to reprint our transliterated siddur every time we have a major innovation in our liturgical service. The devices that we get have already been used. Though they are a few years old and not the latest technology, they are suited perfectly for this specific function. As people get newer iPads and tablets, they get rid of their old e-readers. Because of this, we can purchase the e-readers cheaply and give them a second life. Old technology will be resurrected and given a holy purpose.
As stated previously, the contents of the siddur are available on website to community members. Members with a computer, phone, or tablet with a web browser will be able to use the siddur as well. This gives us opportunities to use the system for education. Embedded in the liturgy we will make select commentary and alternate readings available for study. We also include audio recordings of the liturgy being sung so community members can learn on their own.
We understand that orthodox halachah (religious practice) does not permit electronic devices to be used on Shabbat. This issue is complex and involves much study to understand. Our community values our tradition and has respect for rabbinic rulings throughout our history. On the other hand, we believe that our Judaism must be able to adapt when there is the potential to reap good spiritual fruit. Our reasoning follows generally from the principle of “aseh doheh lo ta'aseh” – that a positive mitzvah overrides a negative one. We consider and use the B’Yachad Living Siddur as a book. On Shabbat it serves and functions only as a book. One cannot use it to browse the web, check email, Facebook, or Twitter. The device is always on and pages are turned only by touching the screen, which is not a mechanical switch. We hold that the benefits of using this kind of siddur amount to many positive mitzvot, and they override the rulings to not use electronic devices on Shabbat.
Similarly, the members of our community are geographically dispersed. Because of this, we accept that we must drive minimally on Shabbat to assemble together in community. The benefits of being together outweigh the negatives. We believe limited use of modern technology is acceptable if we have good boundaries in place.
By using this technology we accept a benefit of living in the 21st century. With this we also need to make sure that we continue to honor and keep Shabbat. By bringing these devices into the sanctuary, we need to pay special attention to these guidelines so Shabbat continues to be honored. We must avoid casual use of technology on Shabbat.
Phones should be silent and put away. We must do all we can to remain “unplugged” on Shabbat. We spend enough of our time during the week in front of a computer, on the phone or tablet. If we practice proper self-control, we will reap the benefits of this new technology without falling into the distraction-trap that this kind of technology represents for us the rest of the week.
We believe that Judaism must carefully embrace modernity. Our sanctuary and worship show great respect for the traditions handed down to us. Our worship space evokes awe because of it’s beauty, and the singing voices of the temple service open our hearts to the Divine love all around us. The B’Yachad Living Siddur will serve as a new tool, an organic living document that represents our community’s unique liturgical voice. It is a new wine skin for our community, and may it bring about joy and blessing in all who use it.