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Uncovering and Upsetting the Paradigms of Prayer:
Liturgical Innovation from Antiquity to the Present

April 3 - May 22, 2007

Richard Sarason, Ruth Langer, Laura Lieber


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Learn About the Scholars

The Sefirah period, which marks the counting of the omer from Pesach until Shavuot, also marks our annual journey of learning together as we move from redemption to revelation, from personal liberation and freedom to our own continuing spiritual and covenantal growth. How appropriate that this year’s seven-week Sefirah Study focuses on we often communicate or lead others to express their own connections, through an investigation of traditional through contemporary liturgical paradigms. Our course will address those paradigms that have worked for centuries, in concert and in tension with our need and desire to foster contemporary liturgical creativity. Our scholars, Ruth Langer, Rick Sarason and Laura Lieber, will facilitate the discussion of how these decisions are made and evaluate some of the choices made in the past. They will introduce the question of how to go forward in creating new and meaningful liturgies, particularly against the backdrop of the publication of Mishkan T’filah, the first new North American Reform Siddur in 32 years. Our journey will also stop along the way as we encounter different chagim and their liturgical expressions.

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How the Program Works:

Week of
April 3  Rick Sarason Introduction to Uncovering and Upsetting Paradigms of Prayer – Liturgical Innovation from Antiquity to the Present 
April 9 Ruth Langer Constructing the Template: How does Rabbinic Liturgy Come to be? 
April 16  Ruth Langer Israel and the Diaspora: Minhag Eretz Yisrael 
April 23  Laura Lieber The Liturgical Land: Eretz Yisrael in Piyyutim
April 30  Laura Lieber The Exegesis of Love – Piyyutim on Mattan Torah 
May 7  Rick Sarason Liturgical Paradigms & Liturgical Creativity in the Modern Period 
May 14  Rick Sarason Liturgical Paradigms and Creativity in Mishkan T’filah and Some Roads not Taken
May 21 Siyyum Phone Call

Monday/Thursday E-mails and Course Materials:
Our Sefirah Study begins with a special introduction from Rick Sarason. The introduction will be e-mailed out the week before Pesach and posted on the Sefirah Study Course page. Whenever possible we will try to e-mail you the materials for that week. However, our scholars have included some wonderful text and support files that are very large! These, along with all of the documents will be posted on the course site. Just go to www.www2.huc.edu/continuinged, login, click on “My Courses” on the top right, and enter the Sefirah Study.

Each Monday you will receive an e-mail with either the actual text study or a link to the course site. The text study introduces a text and the approach or discipline of the week's scholar: it includes background exposition, the text, and study questions. Each Thursday you will receive another e-mail with the scholar’s insights and reflection on the text and their Weekly Wrap-up.

As always, we encourage you to study with a hevruta or study group. If you don’t have one and would like us to match you up (hevruta shidduch service) just send an e-mail to desupport@huc.edu or contact Ellen Nemhauser (contact info at bottom of the page).

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Past Sefirah Study courses are always available for independent study. Click here to see the full list of archived courses.

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Scholars' Bios

Dr. Laura Lieber is an Assistant Professor of Classics and Religion at Middlebury College in Vermont. She has rabbinical ordination from HUC-JIR in Cincinnati (1999) and received her Ph.D. in the History of Judaism from the University of Chicago in 2003. She specializes in the history of Jewish biblical interpretation, with a particular focus on liturgical poetry.

Her publications include "Penitential Themes in Early Synagogue Poetry," (forthcoming in the SBL series); Early Judaism and Its Literature; “There is None like You among the Mute: the Theology of 'Ein Kamokha Ba-Illemim' in Context, with a New Edition and Translation,” in the journal Crusades; “‘O, my dove in the cranny of the rocks, let me see your face!’ Targum, Piyyut, and the literary life of the ancient synagogue," in Paratext and Megatext in Jewish and Christian Traditions; and “Kissing Cousins: The Relationship of the Mekhilta and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Parashat Mishpatim,” in the Journal of the Aramaic Bible. She is also the author of The Reader's Guide to the JPS Haftarah Commentary and the entry "Piyyut" in the Encyclopedia of Judaism. Her current project is a book-length analysis of the Byzantine era synagogue poet Yannai's interpretations of Genesis.

Dr. Ruth Langer is Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Boston College and Associate Director of its Center for Christian-Jewish Learning. She received her Ph.D. in Jewish Liturgy in 1994 and her rabbinic ordination in 1986 from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. She is also a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Her research interests and publications focus on questions of the development of Jewish liturgy and ritual. Her book, To Worship God Properly: Tensions between Liturgical Custom and Halakhah in Judaism, (1998), examines the interplay of liturgical law and custom, of rabbinic dictates and the actual practices and understandings of the community, focusing on the mediaeval period. She is also the editor of Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue: Studies in the History of Jewish Prayer (2005). One current research project traces and interprets the development and interpretation of the liturgies surrounding the reading of the Torah. Another project underway looks at the impact of interactions with the non-Jewish, and especially the Christian world on the development of Jewish liturgies, focusing on the birkat haminim.

Dr. Richard Sarason is Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought and the Associate Editor of the Hebrew Union College Annual. He was ordained at HUC-JIR. Before joining the College-Institute faculty, he taught Religious Studies at Brown University where he earned a Ph.D. His specialties are classical rabbinic literature, history of Judaism in late antiquity, Midrash and Liturgy.

His recent publications include: Tractate Demai: Commentary, in A History of the Mishnaic Law of Agriculture (forthcoming 2005); "Midrash in Liturgy," in Encyclopedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism, ed. Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck; 2 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2004), 1:463-49; "Communal Prayer at Qumran and Among the Rabbis: Certainties and Uncertainties," in Esther G. Chazon, ed., Liturgical Perspectives: Prayer and Poetry in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature. 19-23 January, 2000. ( Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2003), 151-172


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