Spiritual supply and demand

The book is a natural continuation of the two previous prayer collections Kaploun edited, the prayer books of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

hallot shabbat_311 (photo credit: (Photo by Yehoshua Halevi))
hallot shabbat_311
(photo credit: (Photo by Yehoshua Halevi))
It’s a known fact that among contemporary Israeli Jewry, a spiritual renewal is taking place. Yonadav Kaploun’s book Mimcha Elecha: Prayer Book for Shabbat with Readings for Mind and Heart is yet another step in this process: It unites the Sephardi version of prayer with Midrash, philosophy and personal diary writings, all pertaining to Shabbat.
The book is a natural continuation of the two previous prayer collections Kaploun edited, the prayer books of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. As with these, the traditional liturgical text is located in the middle of the page, surrounded by the additional texts which elaborate on it. Mimcha Elecha, which means “from you, to you,” aims to incorporate both religious and secular Jewish texts.
But traditional prayer contains a great challenge: preserving spiritual experience within the borders of halachic tefila (prayer) at least three times a day. There was an ancient debate among the sages regarding this. Rabbi Gamliel said (Brachot 4, 3): “Every day a person should pray the Shmona Esrei [the central, 18-blessing prayer].” Rabbi Shimon expressed an opposite opinion: “Don’t pray routinely, but by supplication (tahanunim)” (Avot 2, 16).
Historically the stream advocating a fixed prayer won; prayer is not voluntary in Judaism. Still, it 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), a collection of rabbinical texts on the High Holy Day prayers. 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, but there remains the question of whether this textual expansion is harmful for the tefila itself.
As every person attending prayer services in a synagogue knows, nowadays there is a broad solution for this issue: the Shabbat journals, like Shabbat Be’Shabbato and Meat Min Ha’or, which contain insights and sermons on the weekly portion and the actual events.
Mimcha Elecha puts the prayers of Shabbat in the center, a religiously refreshing move. While such a book won’t satisfy those seeking links to current affairs, as provided by the synagogue journals, it has classic sources about Shabbat that bear significance for Jews in every place and time.
Due to the multitude of sources cited in the book and the attempt to keep it at an acceptable weight (it has 437 pages), the font is relatively small, and reading the text becomes less convenient.
In addition, the fact that Kaploun chose the Sephardi nusach (formulation) narrows the potential appeal of this book. However, it gives respect to a vast community that was not given sufficient attention in the Israeli sphere until recently.
Kaploun should also be praised for his thorough editorial work on the book, which should not be taken for granted.
He demonstrates pluralism in bringing Shabbat sayings by secular individuals such as S. Izhar, Amos Oz and Tommy Lapid, turning to non-observant Jews who find Shabbat a powerful inspirational concept – “Habash,” as author Aharon Megged calls them in the book, a Hebrew acronym for “pro-Shabbat secular people.”
Additionally the short Shabbat law index by Rabbi Binyamin Lau provides a decent introduction to the basic halachot of the day, such as eruv and the 39 activities forbidden on Shabbat. Still, readers will be missing a few elements, such as a full list of the weekly Haftara portions, including the variations between Sephardi and Ashkenazi.
In addition, Kaploun dedicates a full chapter to the links between Shabbat and the Jewish calendar, with philosophical references to the weeks with special significance such as Shabbat Shira (when the “Song of the Sea” is read) and Shabbat Shuva (the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). But these texts are – again – missing a systematic explanatory list of such Shabbatot, like the four with special readings in the months of Adar and Nisan – Shekalim, Zachor, Para, Hahodesh – as well as the Tlata D’puranut, the three weeks between the 17 Tamuz and Tisha Be’av on which Haftarot about destruction are read, and the Sheva D’nehamata, the seven Shabbatot with optimistic Haftarot.
Summing up, expansions cannot be a substitute for the basic religious data needed in a prayer book. Nonetheless, Kaploun deserves praise for a magnificent collection and his excellent editing work. This book can definitely serve as a good guide for spiritual Jews who honor the Shabbat, experience its wonder and are searching for words to express their feelings.