Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is Yeshiva University Insensitive to the Handicapped?

YU has been distributing its "To-Go"® series for some time. For those unfamiliar, it's a booklet published around each holiday, with articles relevant to the respective day. Some of the articles are better than others, but I usually find it to be, on the whole, a worthwhile read.

This past month, they put out a joint Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur/Sukkot issue, with articles pertaining to the Tishrei holidays. One which I found particularly interesting was an article by Rabbi Kenneth Brander about the authorship of the "U'Netaneh Tokef" prayer, which is a highlight of the high holiday services.

The oft-repeated story is that Rav Amnon of Mainz composed this prayer about a thousand years ago, after his arms and legs were amputated by the local bishop as punishment for his refusal to convert to Christianity. On Rosh Hashana a few days after the punishment was carried out, Rav Amnon recited the "U'Netaneh Tokef" prayer in front of the congregation, before succumbing to his wounds.

The premise of the article is that Rav Amnon did not in fact compose the prayer. Rather, it was written much earlier by a composer named Yannai, who may have been the teacher of the famed Rav Elazar Hakalir. (For more info, follow the link above to the article.)

Rabbi Brander does a good job explaining the thesis, but I have to wonder about the title of the article. In short, he dispels a popular (apparent) misconception about the authorship of his important prayer, pointing out that it was not, as is widely though, written by a cripple. Maybe he could have found a less insensitive title than "U’Netaneh Tokef: Will the Real Author Please Stand Up"?

(I wrote this only half in jest. I'm sure that no offense was meant, but how did such a title get past the editors?)

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