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Review: Naming God

A collection of essays on one of the seminal prayers of the High Holy Day season, Avinu Malkeinu

Edited by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, Jewish Lights, $27.99

    Avinu Malkeinu - "Our Father, Our King" –- is one of the seminal prayers of the High Holy Days, its final verse sung to a plaintive melody that captures the essence of the Days of Awe (a few years ago the Scottish band Mogwai even produced a rock version).

    The history and interpretation of the prayer, whose roots go back to the Talmud and a supplication by Rabbi Akiva using the formula "Avinu Malkeinu", are explored in this, the sixth volume of Jewish Lights' Prayers of Awe series. Under the editorship of American Reform rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, rabbis and scholars from across the religious spectrum look at different aspects, though there is a particular focus on the struggle many Jews may have today with the metaphors of masculinity and royalty. Some see the prayer as "a mantra", whose meaning lies more in the experience of its communal recitation than the actual words.

    Among several Progressive contributors from the UK, Rabbi Jonathan Magonet examines the concept of "father" and "king" in the Psalms, while Dr Annette Boeckler does so in the prophets. Questions of practical theology - how the prayer should be translated and edited in contemporary Reform and Liberal machzorim - are tackled by Rabbis Paul Freedman, Andrew Goldstein and Charles Middleburgh.

    Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand views it through the prism of parenting and the balance between the principles of mercy and justice; unconditional love without rules leads to spoilt children. For Rabbi Tony Bayfield, the image of parent evokes vulnerability - the worry over a child's welfare.

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