Our synagogue approached the introduction of the Matriarchs into our service in a systematic fashion. Over several years, Rabbi Nesson taught a series of classes on 1) the history of prayer beginning in the Torah and beyond; 2) the development of the prayer service from the First and Second Temple periods to the present; 3) the development of the Siddur, the prayer book; 4) the role of Jewish law in making changes to key prayers; 5) the approach of the Conservative Movement to prayer and liturgy; and 6) when and how is it possible to make changes and additions to liturgy.
Over the course of these classes, we continued to narrow our focus to the inclusion of Imahot (Matriarchs) by the Conservative Moment in the first blessing of the Amidah (avot). We paid special attention to the decision of the law committee of the Conservative Movement based on a paper by Rabbi Joel Rembaum which concluded that it was desirable to add the Matriarchs to the prayers. The Siddur Sim Shalom includes a version of the first page of the Amidah that reflects that decision.
At the same time, we realized that this was not the end of the discussion. There were those, such as Rabbi Jules Harlow, who objected to this addition for a variety of specific reason. We turned our attention in this continuing discussion to a Teshuvah (a Responsa paper) written by Rabbi David Golinkin of the Schechter Institute. Rabbi Golinkin makes the distinction between written prayer for the prayer book – liturgy – and tefilah prayer from the heart. While offering the importance of the recognition of the role of the Matriarchs in our history, he also brought attention to other significant sources of Jewish law (Maimonides) which do not allow changes to the words of the, “Avot” prayer. The words in the “Avot” prayer, many of which are quotes from the Torah, have not been changed since the time of the Temple.
Rabbi Golinkin concluded that the Imahot (Matriarchs) may be added to our liturgy and prayers, but not in the manner or words that are currently written in the Siddur Sim Shalom. He recommended a different placement and invited suggestions for different wording. Dr. Rabbi Eniat Ramon, who was subsequently appointed as Dean of the Schechter Institute Rabbinical School, wrote such an addition to the prayer book. She based her prayer both on verses of the Torah and on the long tradition in the Midrash of the role of the Matriarchs.
Our congregation was persuaded by Rabbi Golinkin’s analysis and adopted this new version of the Matriarchs for our services. This decision was a groundbreaking one since we were – as far as we know – the first congregation in America to use these words to recognize the significant role of the Matriarchs in the life of our people. We believe that it fulfills the philosophy, halacha (Jewish law) and vision of Conservative Judaism and our congregation.