Variations on the Aleinu

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Variations on Aleinu.

1. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, for the Pnai Or/ALEPH siddur-anthology Or Chadash, used "sheh-lo asanu im goyai ha'aratzot, v'lo samanu im mishpachot ha'adamah" [etc etc in the following phrases] -- where the "lo" is lamed-vav, not lamed-aleph, meaning "to Him" or "for Him" -- rather than "not." In order to deal with the false limitation of God to the masculine, two of these four "lo" 's can be said as "lah" -- "for Her" which also signals those who are listening rather than reading that the meaning has shifted.

Why do this? To change the basic meaning of para 1 of Alenu, by recognizing that in our era the Jewish people shares a fate with all the peoples of the earth, rather than being divorced from their lot; and to do so in a way that minimally violates the sound and rhythm of Alenu. Some communities use this version on Shabbat and the more traditional one on other days.

2. Judy Chicago wrote a poem which carries the lyrical vision of para 2 of Aleinu, which we sometimes chant in English as an analogue. More often we sing [part of] it, to a tune created by Margot Stein-Azen. The song version goes:

"And then, and then, both men and women will be gentle;
And then, and then, both women and men will be strong;
And then all will be, so varied rich & free,
That everywhere will be
Called Eden once again."

We sometimes continue with the same tune to move immediately into the Hebrew "Ba'yom ha'hu."

3. We sometimes pause after para 1 of Aleinu and ask the kahal to create paragraph 2 by imagining what they see the world "in that day" to be like. People around the circle (we davven in a circle, including Aleinu & Bar'chu) describe one vivid piece of a world where wickedness has vanished like smoke, etc.

For example: once in NYC, someone said, "In that world there would be an Uptown Crosstown subway from Black Harlem to Spanish Harlem to the white East Side -- and no one would be afraid to ride it in either direction." Someone once said, ":In that world when governmental leaders met to make treaties of peace and friendship, it would not be on the front pages -- because it would be so frequent and so obvious." Etc. Sometimes a very heimish image, sometimes very grand -- whatever comes from the circle. We wait for six or seven, sometimes if the flow is strong even more, and then sing "Ba'yom ha'hu."

4. Since we usually use "Yahh" [said to sound like a breath] instead of "Adonai" and "ruach" instead of "melech ha'olam," we do this also at the end of Aleinu -- "Ba'yom ha'hu yih'yeh Yahh echad," and also (for gender balance) "tih'yeh Yahh achat" and "shma achat." The sense is, "and Yahh will be the breath/rushing spirit of all the earth."

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center

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