fbpx
Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Revisiting the Misheberach and Debbie Friedman’s Spiritual Legacy

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

This month marks the nine-year anniversary of the death of the beloved Jewish musician Debbie Friedman, who died on Jan. 9, 2011, at 59. Her music touched Jews across the religious spectrum and also impacted the general culture of American Judaism. Friedman is widely remembered for her melody accompanying the misheberach, the prayer for healing, that has become a virtual icon among liberal Jews. 

Traditionally, a prayer leader recites the misheberach in a synagogue during the Torah reading. During this prayer, the names of those who are ill are publicly recited. When recited on behalf of a Jew, it is customary to use the Hebrew name of the person for whom the prayer is being said. Although for most purposes, a person’s Hebrew name traditionally includes the Hebrew name of one’s father, in the case of the misheberach, the Hebrew name of the mother of the ill person is used instead. No single reason for this distinction exists, but this tradition has an ancient pedigree.

- Advertisement -

Despite its origins in traditional Judaism, the misheberach has been the subject of remix among the majority of American Jews. Friedman’s melody certainly has contributed to its popularity, but there are many other reasons it is so widely appealing. For one thing, it is highly inclusive. It can be recited on behalf of all people. Also, as Friedman’s version illustrates, the actual content of the misheberach can be remixed in a highly accessible manner so that Jews and non-Jews, with little or no knowledge of Hebrew or background in Judaism, can participate. Another important aspect of the prayer’s appeal is that it is readily portable so that it can be invoked as a stand-alone prayer in non-synagogue settings such as support groups for ill patients and their families. The prayer’s malleability also is demonstrated by its frequent extension to cover all emotional and spiritual dimensions of illness for patients, their caretakers and even the loved ones of those of are ill. 

Although many people feel a general disconnect between intellect and emotion when it comes to faith, at certain moments of our lives, the intellectual barriers to faith recede.

These applications of a remixed approach to the misheberach allow many individuals other than those who are ill to find a personal meaning in the prayer beyond the original context of petitioning God for a positive outcome. The truth is that people can, and do, find meaning and comfort in reciting this prayer even if they are unsure about the specific nature of their faith. For all these reasons, the misheberach is a remarkable illustration of how Jewish tradition can be remixed to provide a pathway with timeless relevance and appeal. 

A study based in Tucson, Ariz., of 35 people’s experience with the misheberach revealed a deeper connection to Judaism based on the consistent recitation of this prayer. This connection was grounded in history, community, peoplehood, strength, comfort and emotional healing. Illness, either one’s own or that of a loved one, has the potential to create especially significant opportunities for embracing Jewish tradition. I have never had anyone refuse me when I have offered to say the misheberach on behalf of a sick relative or friend, no matter how disengaged that person was from any type of religion. Although many people feel a general disconnect between intellect and emotion when it comes to faith, at certain moments of our lives, the intellectual barriers to faith recede. At these times, the emotional or spiritual pull takes over as comfort, history, tradition and community assume more importance.

The beauty, wisdom and power Jewish tradition, including the power of Jewish prayer, can speak to Jews from all backgrounds. The history of the Jewish people is as complicated as Jewish tradition. Transmitting this tradition in today’s largely secularized American society is difficult. Among Jews who don’t feel bound by Divine command to observe the laws of Jewish tradition, religion can be a tough sell. Then again, Jewish tradition always had to be flexible and responsive to the foreign cultures in which the Jews have lived for centuries. The importance of this flexibility was recognized in the Talmud by Rabbi Simeon Ben Eleazar, who is quoted as advocating that one should “be pliable like a reed, not rigid like a cedar.” The underlying message is that rigidity can threaten survival.


- Advertisement -

Roberta R. Kwall is the Raymond P. Niro Professor at DePaul University College of Law. She is the author of “Remix Judaism: Transmitting Tradition in a Diverse World,” forthcoming in February, 2020 (Rowman & Littlefield), “The Myth of the Cultural Jew” (Oxford University Press) and “The Soul of Creativity” (Stanford University Press). 

- Advertisement -

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our email updates.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact
- Advertisement -

Popular Articles

Prof. Yair Zakovitch and Prof. Avigdor Shinan: The Song of Songs Scroll

Shmuel Rosner, Professor Yair Zakovitch and Professor Avigdor Shinan discuss their new book - The Song of Songs Scroll, a New Israeli Commentary. Prof. Yair...

NYC Department of Education Bans Schools from Using Zoom Due to ‘Zoombombing’

The New York City Department of Education banned schools from using the video conferencing platform Zoom due to recent disruptions known as “Zoombombing.” The New...

Israeli Hospitals Told to Get Ready for COVID-19 Peak

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus and the number of infected cases continued to climb on Sunday, Israel’s Health Ministry had a...

Is Coronavirus Really “Dismantling the Ultra-Orthodox Model?” Questions and Comments

This is a crisis in Charedi society — a crisis that is shaking the foundations of the entire Charedi society.

Jews Always Are Scapegoated for Pandemics. Are We Safe Today?

The Black Death was one of the worst pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of 100 million to 200 million people in...

Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust and the Writers Who Revealed It

“Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust” is a powerful, poignant and painful exploration of the murder by bullets of Lithuanian Jews by Lithuanian nationalists...

9 Jews Die of Coronavirus in Sweden, Which Has Europe’s Laxest Containment Policy

(JTA) — Sweden’s Jewish community has lost at least nine of its members to the coronavirus, translating into a death rate among Jews that...

Idina Menzel, Ben Platt, Rabbis David Wolpe, Sharon Brous and More Invite You to a Virtual Seder

It would have been enough to vicariously see our favorite Broadway and Hollywood stars celebrating Passover on social media, but now fans will get...

Leave Anne Frank Alone

While doctors scramble for protective equipment, laid-off workers pray for their next paycheck, and over 6,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, people are cracking...

Volunteers Distribute Matzah to Police in Israeli Orthodox City Bnei Brak in Gesture of Appreciation

The Haredi neighborhood, which has been gravely affected by COVID-19, is in a police enforced-lockdown.

Brooklyn’s Orthodox Neighborhoods Have Especially High Rates of COVID-19

Four heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn have especially high rates of the novel coronavirus, according to data released by this city’s Department of Health. The...

Top Charedi Orthodox Rabbi Dies of COVID-19

Yaakov Perlow, leader of Novominsker Hasidim and a top haredi Orthodox rabbi, dies of coronavirus at 89.

The Oy of Cooking – a poem for Torah Portion Tzav

And this is the law of the guilt offering. It is a holy of holies. Guilt is holy. Such a part of the Jewish DNA our Book has...

This Virus Represents The Global Death of Human Ego

As a deadly, invisible force sweeps the planet, something profound is happening. We are in Hollywood late-show host Jimmy Fallon’s home as his daughter climbs...

UK Prime Minister Moved to ICU As Coronavirus Symptoms Worsen

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) on April 6 after being hospitalized the previous day for...

Culture

Idina Menzel, Ben Platt, Rabbis David Wolpe, Sharon Brous and More Invite You to a Virtual Seder

It would have been enough to vicariously see our favorite Broadway and Hollywood stars celebrating Passover on social media, but now fans will get...

Recipes for Mimouna, The Moroccan Celebration of Spring

The mimouna table overflows with sweet treats like orange jam, eggplant jam, marzipan, meringues and, of course, the famous moufleta, crepes served with butter and honey.

Rabbi Donin’s Trilogy Speaks Volumes About Jewish Life

Donin himself conceived of his work as “a practical handbook on how to live a Jewish life,” but he also acknowledges that the overarching goal of the three books in the series is “to answer the constant query, ‘Why?’

Gloves, Masks, Curbsides: Passover Shopping During a Pandemic

Passover shopping is hectic enough in normal times.

Jews Are Celebrating Passover – Hospitalized with COVID-19, Or Not

Even with abnormal hospital restrictions, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is ensuring Jews can still have a seder.

Trending
Trending

My Religion Pivoted To Zoom. Will My Faith, Too?

The coronavirus pandemic has been terrible — an overnight realization of the worst-case scenario, truly — for people who hate videoconferencing. People like me. I’m...

Ripple Effect: Insanity

My daughter and I started doing a daily workout routine called Insanity. I cannot think of anything more appropriate for this crazy time than doing...

Let’s Take a Virtual Field Trip Together #SafeAtHome

Thanks to Global CommUnity for this list of Virtual Field Trips! While we are #SafeAtHome, we can explore the world from our...

Top Charedi Orthodox Rabbi Dies of COVID-19

Yaakov Perlow, leader of Novominsker Hasidim and a top haredi Orthodox rabbi, dies of coronavirus at 89.

Pandemic Times Episode 13: Selwyn Gerber on “The Coronavirus Crisis and our Money”

New David Suissa Podcast Every Morning at 11am. Wealth manager Selwyn Gerber discusses some practical financial things we need to know during this crisis. How do we manage our...

Hollywood

Larry David Says Bernie Sanders Should Drop Out of Presidential Race

Larry David, the Bernie Sanders doppelganger who often portrays the presidential candidate in skits on “Saturday Night Live,” says the senator from Vermont should...

‘On the Map’ Free Online Screening and Q&A This Sunday

The documentary “On the Map” tells the story of the underdog Israeli basketball team’s triumphant victory at the European championship in 1977. Set against...

‘Frozen’ at the Pantages: It Doesn’t Have to Be Jewish

Let’s face it, there’s nothing particularly Jewish about the Disney musical “Frozen.” Unless you count Idina Menzel and Josh Gad, both of whom appeared...
- Advertisement -

Podcasts

Pandemic Times Episode 17: The Curse of Being Right

New David Suissa Podcast Every Morning at 11am. As the pandemic times intersect with Passover, a reflection on how we can use this time to...

Pandemic Times Episode 16: Food author Paula Shoyer on cooking during a pandemic

New David Suissa Podcast Every Morning at 11am. Celebrated food author Paula Shoyer discusses how the pandemic is influencing how we view food, and shares her...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x