This High Holy Season we’ve chosen “Aleinu,” Hebrew for “it’s on us,” as our core theme. It will serve as a guide all year long as we invite the cultivation of more responsible and robust collective consciousness: to interconnect. It’s on us.
The following links provide a partial list of resources that have inspired our thinking and ignited our conversations. Have something to add? Email Rabbi Emily at email@example.com and we might feature your contribution in our program!
Aleinu is the name of one of the most controversial prayers in Jewish liturgy. Originally composed for Rosh Hashanah 1,800 years ago (and still a work in progress), this prayer has been censored, edited, deleted, and restored in countless ways throughout history. Each change has reflected shifts in Jewish attitudes towards our own faith and towards the religions and cultures of our neighbors. Up for another spin, Lab/Shul is challenging the prayer’s partial legacy of seclusion and exclusion, reclaiming its lesser known universal vision of unity as a call for greater collective responsibility beyond tribal and ethnic boundaries.
Aleinu becomes the call for each one of us to take on, of our own free will, the yoke of communal empathy and belonging, finding ways to harness our energy in service of communal and civic good. At this time of increasing social divides, political polemics, consumerist priorities, and digital toxicity, Aleinu is a critical reminder of what’s at stake: for us as individuals, for our country, and for our world.
– Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
“Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Even tiny insects survive by mutual cooperation based on innate recognition of their interconnectedness. It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.”
-The Dalai Lama
“Commenting on Aleinu’s prominence in Jewish prayer services, Ismar Elbogen, a 20th-century scholar of Jewish liturgy, said it was certainly significant that ‘the idea of… the future union of all mankind… in the service of the one God became part of the daily service.’ Both paragraphs of Aleinu are recited in a standing position. During the first paragraph, it is customary to bow while saying the words, ‘We bend the knee and bow.’” -Seth Winberg
Read about the prayer’s history and meaning: Aleinu: A Popular Prayer with a Controversial History.
“I like to approach religion intellectually. I like my brain, and I trust my brain, and I know how to use my brain. But the first time I tried prostrating myself during the Great Aleinu, the experience went right past my brain and hit me somewhere far more profound.” -Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt
Read about the crazy tradition of full prostration: The Great Aleinu Prayer
“Thus, the overarching theme of paragraph two is the universalizing of the worship of God from a Jewish practice to a human practice. This idea is further emphasized in the prayer by its use of four infinitive verbs “to see, to remove, to establish, and to turn,” which describe the process of global transformation” - Professor Rabbi Reuven Kimelman
Read about key issues and opportunities for liturgical innovation: The God of All or the God of the Jews? The Theological Tension of Aleinu
“Alenu is a paradox. For some the prayer is a declaration of our duties as good American pluralists, to suppress the ideas that divide us. For others it stands for the uniquely American privilege to worship without criticism or sanction.” - Zeev Elef
Read about the evolution of the prayer’s “anti-Gentile animus”: The Parenthetical Problem of Alenu
“I’ve always had trouble with the traditional words of Aleinu.... While we are a unique people, the reality is that our destiny is intertwined with the other peoples of the world.” - Rabbi Dan Medwin
Read about the American Reform Movement’s new versions of Aleinu: It is Up to Us: Alternative Aleinu Versions and about the Israeli Reform Movement’s controversial adaptation: New Reform liturgy to expunge traditional "Aleinu" prayer