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Sacred Texts, Old and New
09/06/17

When the High Holy Days arrive in just a couple of weeks, the prayers, translations, meditations and poetry found in Mishkan HaNefesh, our new machzor (High Holy Day prayer book), will encourage us to consider the themes of the Holy Days personally, in the context of our day. It is, as the editors continue to say, a machzor for our generation. It is not too late to order your copy here! Gates of Repentance, the red-covered machzor that many of us have tucked away on our home library shelves, served this same purpose for our Reform movement for nearly two generations – since 1978, when it was published.

Since the first prayer book was put together in the 9th century by Rav Amram in Babylonia, every Jewish prayer book has been a dynamic representation of its generation. So, to the many members of Reform synagogues around the continent who ask why a new machzor is needed, there is a clear answer…this switch is in full keeping with our evolving Jewish heritage.

With all that as background, there is another, more functional question that is being asked: “What should I do with my old books?” Since transitioning from one prayer book to another is hardly new to the Jewish people, neither is the answer.

The Talmud states that all sacred writings should be preserved in a place where they will not be destroyed. Therefore, there are three options available to you:

  1. Keep them. Though not in regular use, they are a good addition to your Jewish library. You are likely to have a favorite reading, or a few, and being able to refer back to them when you want can be helpful.
  2. Donate them. We are exploring connections to synagogues that may need them. The challenge with this, though, is that since our entire movement is facing this same dilemma, there are over a million copies of Gates of Repentance looking for new homes!
  3. Bury them in a geniza. Geniza comes from the Hebrew word for "hidden." It is a storage space, most often a burial space in a Jewish cemetery, reserved for sacred texts, so that they are not disposed of in any way that disregards the holiness of their words. Torah scrolls are buried in a geniza, and so are old prayer books. There is a geniza at Hillside Memorial Park, and each year, our Religious School students take a field trip there to learn about it, and to deliver whatever sacred texts our synagogue has collected to be buried there.

If you have been one of the people wondering what to do with your copies of Gates of Repentance, consider these options. If you want to hold on to them, great. If, however, you want to donate them or put them into a geniza, feel free to bring them to the synagogue office during business hours, or you may bring them when you come for Yom Kippur, along with your food donations for SOVA. There will be a space designated there for the books. Whether we can donate them or not, in the spirit of our Talmudic teaching, we will ensure that they will not be destroyed.

Warmly,

Rabbi Leah Lewis

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