The bit of Jewish liturgy hidden in plain sight in the red hymnal

For reasons too long to go into now, I was tracking down threads in the Classic Reform tradition of Reform Jewish liturgics a couple of weeks ago. Suffice it to say that it was in parallel with some of the liturgical developments in Unitarian churches in the late nineteenth century. There were some friendships crossing the divide, or at least cooperative parterships. It’s hard to tell how far or wide without a deep dive.

So, I was reading the Adoration ending sequence from the Sabbath evening service in the Union Prayer Book, in wide use in Reform temples through the early 1970s. This is the Aleinu, for those familiar with the traditional Hebrew name. I thought, “this looks familiar.”

As well it should. Capitalization aside, the first part of the Aleinu was dropped in almost verbatim as the Exhortation — that is, a beginning sequence — of the First Service of the Services of Religion, the services prepended to the 1937 joint Unitarian-Universalist Hymns of the Spirit.

So, it reads:

Let us adore the ever-living God, and render praise unto him who spread out the heavens and established the earth; whose glory is revealed in the heavens above and whose majesty is manifested throughout the earth. He is our God and there is none else; wherefore in awe and wonder we bow the head and magnify the Eternal, the Holy One, the Ever Blest.

That’s the same hymnal that has the Jewish text translated by a Unitarian minister, “Praise to the Living God” as its first hymn.

And if you’ve read this far and are at the UUA General Assembly in New Orleans, you may be interested in Shabbat Worship, presented by Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness on Friday, June 23, 5:00 pm in the Hilton Riverside Windsor Room.

Cross-posted to

The red hymnal on Earth 2

So, Hubby and I sometimes imagine a version of Washington, D.C. according to an alternative historical timeline, on a planet we call Earth 2. With today’s realities a bit different, changed by what-could-have-been. The garden variety stuff of science fiction.

And somehow this thought brings me to the thought of Jewish liturgics. OK: I watched several hours of Yom Kippur services from Reform temples on streaming video, but I’ll address that later. Now, I’m going to wade out into the liturgical habits and controversies of another religion, and that’s usually a bad idea, so I ask your indulgence for a moment. Let it be granted that the liturgical innovations of the earlier Reform Jewish generations are commonly portrayed (fairly or not) today as imitating Protestant worship, particularly in predominant use of English, hymn singing; sometimes, rabbinical dress. Reform worship has, in succeeding generations, become more traditional in custom, particularly in its use of Hebrew. (There’s a countervailing movement I’ll try to get back to; again, later.)

But, being Protestant, I’m curious to see what they came up with.

And what did I find? A Reform hymnal contemporary to the 1937 joint Unitarian and Universalist Hymns of the Spirit (“the red hymnal”). Thus my Earth 2 moment. Really, it’s also a parallel to the old Beacon Song and Tune Book: they both include fully-worked services for children. It’s the Union Hymnal.

I’ve round references to the Union Hymnal in print until the 1950s. The one linked here, despite the earlier bibliographical information is from 1936.

It’s not so unlikely a parallel development. There was a time (before this) when the most progressive Unitarians and Reform Jews made goo-goo eyes at each other. (Not sure off-hand if any Universalists joined in.) The 1937 joint Unitarian and Universalist Hymns of the Spirit (“the red hymnal”) starts with a Jewish hymn: “Praise to the Living God”, co-translated by Unitarian minister Newton Mann and Reform rabbi Max Landsberg. It’s also found in the most recent Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition at 215.

And here it is; note there are more stanzas than we use.

The connection cuts both ways, with Unitarian-written texts in the Reform hymnal: here, here, here, here and doubly here. I’m sure there are more.

A resource to review, methinks.