update 2002-08-08

I’m working on a proposal for a project that I’m calling the “Open Siddur”. The goal of the project is to bring back the creative power of t’fillah to the individual while encouraging the feeling of solidarity with and awareness of the larger Jewish community and their diversity. The draft proposal is located here. Growing up Jewish and “Orthodox”, I often heard that regardless of one’s personal gripes with this or that aspect of the tradition, it was religiously dishonest, to “pick and choose” elements from the tradition one desired to practice from those that were odious. Later in college, I heard as a tenet ascribed to the “post-modern”, that the past and culture can be plundered for inspiration and re-contextualization. This other “picking and choosing” seemed to me that, while fun, was also disrespectful and cultural theft, in the same manner that the Kabbalah was recontextualized by Christians in the Middle Ages for their utility. But now I’m thinking that for a Judaism which is under attack by mono-culture fundamentalists, deep understanding and appreciation of Jewish worldviews can be accomplished by individuals studying and selecting and even creating new elements for their personal T’fillah (one of the last spheres where the individual still retains some creative power within the constraints of Jewish traditional discipline. The 1960s saw a movement for Jewish chavurah movements to explore creativity in Judaism as a shared experience. But what is needed, and has sorely been lacking for as long as I can see is *help* from the Siddur and the Jewish tradition itself to encourage and inspire an *individuals* creativity. After all, the tradition is relying on the individuals energy to maintain itself to the next generation. This is usually accomplished through a religio-ethnic sense of duty and self-righteious discipline, which yield its own simple rewards to the individual. If we are to conform for the sake of a unity in tradition, we should be aware not only of the purpose of our conformities, but also the limits of our selfless conforming. The religion must maintain and encourage space and freedom for individuality and creativity, and not limit individuality in spirituality and individual expressions to fables about revered rabbis.

About Aharon N. Varady

Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, the Yiddish Forverts, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes. He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find his work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support him, please consider donating via his Patreon account.

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