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REVIEWS Marcia Falk's Book of Blessings Marcia Falk. The Book ofBlessings. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1996, 529 pp. In 1975, and to considerable fanfare, the Reform movement published the first of its Gates liturgies. That same year, but almost unnoticed, Margaret Moers Wenig and Naomi Janowitz (two undergraduates at Brown University) compiled Siddur nashim. In different ways, the two works heralded nearly a quarter of a century of Jewish liturgical renewal, much of it fueled by feminist critique. The Conservative mahzor layamim hanora'im had already appeared in 1972, but its numerous breakthroughs did not include attention to feminist issues (hameikhin mits'adeigaver was still "who guides man on his path"). Gafes ofPrayer made modest changes: human beings were no longer only "men," but God was still as masculine as ever. By contrast, Siddur nashim was radical for its time. It replaced masculine references with feminine equivalents; added women's voices from the t'chines, the midrash, and even from Jubilees; and composed new material reflective of women's experience ("Blessed is she whose womb covers the earth"). We were still relatively naive back then, thinking that the only question was whether God could or should appear as a woman on occasion. Except for a Selihot volume (1979) that smuggled in some material that had been rejected in a High Holiday mahzor of 1978 ("Mothering Presence, enfold me . . ."), Reform liturgies just avoided gendered references altogether (God is "You," not "He" or "She"). Consistent with the views of its founder, Mordecai Kaplan, the Reconstructionists (1991, 1996) began naming God according to function (Wise One, Beloved One, Bountiful [One])—albeit ungendered Ones, by and large. The Conservative Siddur Sim Shalom (1985) finally recognized women as worshipers (hameikhin mits'adei gaver became "who guides us on our path"), but retained God's masculinity. Independently, however, women everywhere were thinking through the issues, offering their alternatives to those of Wenig and Janowitz, and expanding the agenda. One of them was Marcia Falk. Falk was writing liturgy in the early 1980s. In 1984, she described her blessings to an enthusiastic audience in Los Angeles, and in 1985, she published them.1 She has since emerged as a foremost theorist of her generation, arguing 1. Cf. Marcia Falk, "What about God? New Blessings for Old Wine," Moment 10 (1985): 32-36; idem, "Notes on Composing New Blessings: Toward a Feminist-Jewish Reconstruction of Prayer," Journal ofFeminist Studies in Religion 3 (1987): 39-53. Further bibliography is given in The Book of Blessings itself, p. 511. Falk's best-known introduction to a blessing, nevareikh et 'ein hahayim, was borrowed by the Reconstructionist KoI Haneshamah. PROOFTEXTS 19 (1999): 87-100 © 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 88REVIEWS with particular single-mindedness that the issue goes much deeper than rabbinic Judaism's masculine nouns and pronouns. Its entire syntax is riddled with hierarchical presuppositions. If, however, God is reconceptualized as something other than the majestic Lord and Ruler of tradition (whether King or Queen), the liturgy can be recast with accents of mutuality, intimacy, and human empowerment .2 As theorist and Hebraist, Falk has therefore offered a compelling advocacy for doing liturgy differently—all of which means that we have been waiting for her Book of Blessings for a long time. And now we have it, the culmination of a decades-long liturgical project, and in a way, a synoptic statement for a generation of Jewish women who have urged us to think differently about God, revelation, ritual, relationship, and religion itself. Read The Book ofBlessings as a manifesto of a generation, not the only manifesto—not all feminists think alike, any more than all cubists paint the same—but a manifesto nonetheless, and an important one. It is a liturgical benchmark against which everything else will now be measured. The very form of The BookofBlessings tells all: though radical in its own way, it seeks continuity with tradition, by presenting itself as a siddur—a comprehensive order of prayer for Shabbat, weekdays, and minor festivals (like Rosh Hodesh). The Daily Cycle (part 1) contains weekday morning blessings, a mealtime liturgy, night-time prayer, and even daily psalms (albeit not from the Psalter but parallel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3311
Print ISSN
0272-9601
Pages
pp. 87-93
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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