Spiritual Supply and Demand – book review of Sefer HaShabat, by Yonadav Kaploun

Spiritual Supply and Demand, book review of Mimcha Elecha – Sefer Ha'Shabat, Sidur Tefillah, Hagut Ve'Chavayah Le'Shabat [Prayer book for Shabbat with Readings for Mind and Heart], Editor: Yonadav Kaploun, Tel Aviv 2010]

Spiritual supply and demand: the Judaism renaissance in Israel

It's a well known fact that in contemporary Israeli Jewry, a spiritual renewal is taking place. Yonadav Kaploun's book Mimcha Elecha is yet another step in this process: it unites the Sephardic Version of prayer with Midrash, philosophy and personal diary writings, all dealing .with Shabbat

The book is a natural continuation to the two previous 'Tefillah-Collections' Kaploun edited: the prayer books of Rosh-Ha'shanah and Yom-Kippur. Like them, the traditional Tefillah text is located in the middle of the page, surrounded by the additional texts which elaborate on the prayers and expand them. The Book of the Shabbat aims to address various Jewish religious and secular texts. But the desire to supply a spiritual product for two publics – religious and secular – brings a basic problem to this book, which I will relate to later.

The Basic Problem: the Routine of Prayer

The traditional prayer contains a great challenge: having and preserving spiritual experience within the borders of hallachik Tefillah, three (and more) times a day. There was an ancient debate between the sages regarding this. Raban Gamli'el said (Mishna tractate Berachot 4, 3): "every day a person should pray the Shmone-Es're.” Rabbi Shim'on expressed an opposite opinion: "don't pray routinely but supplicatory (Tachanunim)" (trac. Avot 2, 16). Historically, the stream advocating a fixed prayer won, and prayer is not voluntary in Judaism; but essentially, prayer needs to be more than thoughtless mumbling

Kaploun's book is another attempt to address this problem, by adding 'spiritual food' to the traditional text of Jewish prayer. In doing so he is a disciple of S. Y. Agnon, who edited the anthology Yamim Nora'im (Days of Awe), in which he presented rabbinical texts to Jews at prayer. As Agnon wrote in the introduction to this book:

"But what will the laity do once he loses concentration in the Tefillah? […] because of that I composed this book, so a person might read in it in the intervals and his heart will be awoken…"

Agnon phrased it carefully, though the spiritual problem is clear. But there remains the question whether this textual expanding is not harmful for the Tefillah itself.

As every person attending prayer service in a synagogue knows, nowadays there is a wide solution for this issue: the Shabbat Journals (like Shabbat Be'Shabbato and Me'at Min Ha'or), which contain thoughts and 'Wort's on the weekly portion and the actual events. But these journals have long ago become cheap commercial publications.

the Shabat book

Expanding the arena of Tefillah or diminishing it?

Sefer Ha'Shabbat puts the prayers of Shabbat in the center, and this is religiously a refreshing move. Due to the multitude of sources cited in the book and the attempt to keep it a conceivable weight (the book has 437 pages), the size of the letters is relatively small for the text of the prayers as well as additions, and reading it becomes less convenient. It is clear that such a book can't also fulfill the quest for those seeking the links to current affairs, as provided by the synagogue Shabbat pages, but it definitely has classic sources about Shabbat, which bear significance for Jews in every place and time. The fact that Kaploun chose the Sepharadi version (Nosach) is on the one hand narrowing the potential users of this book, but on the other hand giving respect to a vast community that had not been given the sufficient attention in the Israeli sphere till the last centuries, and I refer of course to the Sephardi population. Kaploun should also be praised for his thorough editorial work on the book, which should not be taken for granted.

A few shortcomings

On the one hand, Kaploun shows pluralism in bringing secular sayings about Shabbat, such as S. Izhar (p. 34), Amos Oz (p. 298) or Tommy Lapid (p. 122). He is thus turning to non-observant Jews, who find Shabbat as a powerful and inspirational concept. The author Aharon Megged calls them "Chabash" (p. 300, Hebrew abbreviation for 'Pro-Shabbat Seculars people'). On the other hand, the secular target-public of this book is apparently demanding a systematic treat of few issues: the short Shabbat law index Rabbi Benjamin Lau wrote is good, and gives a decent introduction to the basic Halachot of Shabbat, like Eruv or 39 forbidden works of Shabbat. Still, the audience of this book will lack a few elements, such asa full list of the weekly portion Haftarah, including the variations between Sefarad and Ashkenaz . No Shabbat Prayer-book is self sufficient without it.

In addition, Kaploun dedicated a full chapter to the links between Shabbat and the yearly calendar, month by month, with philosophical references to the special Shabbatot: Shabbat Shira, Shabbat Teshuva etc. (pp. 249-272).But these texts are – again – missing a systematic explained list, of the special shabbatot, such as Arba-Shabbatot (four Shabbats) on the months of Adar and I'yar: Shekalim, Zachor, Para, Ha'chodesh. The Shabbats of Tlata-De'Pur'anut (Three Shabbats with Destructive Haftarot) between the 17th. Of Tamuz and the 9th. Of Av, and the She'va-De'nechamata (Comforting Haftarot), seven Shabbats which has an optimistic Haftarot – has no systematic commentary either.

Alenu Leshabe'ach

Summing up, expansions cannot be a substitute for the basic religious data needed in a Siddur. That notwithstanding, we should definitely praise Kaploun for a magnificent collection and his excellent editing work. This book could definitely be a good guide for spiritual Jews how honor the Shabbat, experience its wonder and are searching for words to express their feelings.

(Published in Jerusalem Post Magazine, 1.7.2011. I thank Jonah Mandel for his language editing. All remaining mistakes are mine, n.b.)

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