Why is it time for a new Machzor?

– by Rabbi Greg Alexander

We are very blessed to begin 5779 with a brand new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, the Sanctuary of the Soul, a partner to our already beloved new siddur Mishkan T’filah.  But why change?  After all, our previous machzor, the Gates of Repentance, has served us well.  When it was edited in 1978, it represented exciting and progressive liturgical innovation.  The world was a different place then, and it was replacing the old Union Prayer Book that some of us grew up with, reclaiming much of the Hebrew liturgy that had been taken out before.  I remember my bar mitzvah was one of the first with the (then new) Gates of Prayer siddur in my childhood congregation and for a barmy boy the news that there was “more Hebrew” was not something that 13-yr old Greg appreciated at all.  But comparing the outlook, layout and ideology of Gates of Repentance with the Union Prayer Book (even without opening the book – just in size) shows just how radical that change was then.

But in recent years, Gates of Repentance has increasingly felt dated and even obstructive to some of our prayer experience.  The language reflects its time and the readings reflect the thinking of Jews in the mid- to late 20th Century.  Once we introduced Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat and Festivals the difference became glaring.

The fact that Gates of Repentance contains male-gendered language and did not insert the names of the Imahot – the foremothers – alongside the Avot – forefathers – does not seem consistent with contemporary sensibilities.

Mishkan T’filah introduced a fully transliterated service where every page invited those who know Hebrew and those who don’t to join in Hebrew prayer.  The absence of this in Gates was a barrier to entry to many in shul and left them as passive observers rather than inviting them to join the davening.  Gates of Repentance presented one, linear service that was followed page by page and designed to be lead by the service leader and choir with the davener a participant/ follower.  Mishkan T’filah radically altered that dynamic with each page presenting options on the right and left pages for the davener to choose.  Even if the congregation is reading one, the davener can read another, and still “keep up” with the service.

Like Mishkan T’filah, Mishkan HaNefesh makes strides towards a multi-vocality that creates a space for all to inhabit, offering a multiplicity of different approaches. Through updated translations, elucidating essays, rich commentary, and a beautiful selection of poetry, Mishkan HaNefesh provides an environment for those of all backgrounds to find meaning in the High Holy Days.

Most importantly, the Mishkan series does not assume one understanding of G*d, prayer or the meaning of our lives and allows the davener to find their own inspiration and comfort within its pages.  May it serve us just as well as Gates of Repentance has done.

We will use our new High Holy Day Machzor this year for the first time. You will not be able to follow the services with the old Gates of Repentance. You can purchase your set for R 700 per set either during the week from Glynnis, or at the sales point in the gallery before the service.

Please consider donating one or two sets of our new Machzor to Bet David to be loaned to guests on the day. We will acknowledge your donation with a book-plate.


Yizkor: Let my cry come before You.

As a deer yearns for streams of water,

so I yearn for You, O God.

My whole being thirsts for God,

for the living God. Psalm 42:2

 Hear my prayer.

Let my cry come before You.

Do not hide from me in my time of sorrow. Turn Your ear to me.

When I cry, answer me soon. Psalm 102:2–3

 My God,

my soul is downcast.

Therefore I think of You. Psalm 42:7


Dear friends,

The above beautiful prayer is taken from the Yizkor service section in our new High Holy Day Machzor for Yom Kippur (page 549).

Celebrating a new year includes also remembering those who walked this path before us. Those who came together in joy and in sadness, who were in awe, fear, and in tears, and in love, happiness and full of hope.

When we bow down our heads in remembrance this year on Yom Kippur, we will know that they are with us, and that as long we remember them, they will be part of us and our lives.

May the coming Shabbat and High Holy Days comfort those who have lost a loved one only recently or at this season in years past.

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

The Yizkor service will take place on Yom Kippur (19.9.) at 17:00. The  dedication of new leaves for the tree will take place at 16:45.


Take us back


Repentance is acceptable, the Rabbis teach, at any time, but the special time for repentance is the season from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Penitence, our High Holy Days. In all the rabbinic sources, repentance involves two things: remorse at having sinned and confession of the sin. The numerous rabbinic statements regarding sin and repentance are scattered through the rabbinic literature and are not presented in any systematic form, nor linked to only specific rituals, giving us an idea of the openness and fluidity on how we can find our own personal path and approach to find back to the Eternal.

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Take Us Back

       A precious teaching I have given you:

My Torah. Do not forsake it.

       A Tree of Life to those who hold it fast:

all who embrace it know happiness.

       Its ways are ways of pleasantness,

and all its paths are peace.

       Take us back, Adonai —

let us come back to You.

      Renew in our time the days of old.

   Quote: Mishkan HaNefesh: Yom Kippur:
Machzor for the Days  of Awe (Page 353).

The vulnerability of our own existence


At no other time of the year are we more exposed to the vulnerability of our own existence in this world as we are during in this season of the High Holy Days. It seems that our holy texts paint an image where we are unimportant figures in a game far bigger than us. But, looking closer, we see messages of hope and encouragement, love and an outstretched hand, inviting us to become active partners in God’s plan to heal the world, and to leave our footprint in a world redeemed.  

Shabbat Shalom—Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Our days —

Like the grass of the field,

like flowers in the meadow

vanish in a momentary gust of wind,

gone, never to be seen again.

But God’s love is infinite

and with us forever.

God’s goodness reaches far

into the future —

This is the gift of the covenant.

Psalm 103:15–18
Quote: Mishkan HaNefesh: Yom Kippur:
Machzor for the Days  of Awe (Page 546).

These I remember …


In our journey of the High Holy Days, our tradition invites us not only to find our inner selves, but also to deepen our conection with those who lived before us and prepared this path for us. Our forebears are many, and their contributions are uncountable. May we find meaning in their acts and the inspiration to follow them:

These I remember —

The ones whose lives were shaped by a mitzvah:

“You must not remain indifferent.”

The ones who lost their lives through devotion to a mitzvah:

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

The ones who embodied, through deed and dedication,

a mitzvah: “Choose life.”

And these I remember…

The ones who mended the broken, brought healing

to the wounded, fought back despair with the solace of faith.

The ones who breathed life into a prayer:

L’takein olam b’malchut Shaddai: to establish in the world

the sovereignty of High and Noble Purpose.

I remember these…

Artists of the soul, architects of redemption —

the activists and advocates of justice and beauty,

exemplars of tikkun olam: repairing the world.

On this holy day, we remember…

Rabbi Adrian M Schell

Quote: Mishkan HaNefesh: Yom Kippur: Machzor for the Days of Awe (Page 518).