Recently the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS or Law Committee) of the Conservative Movement passed a responsum (halachic ruling) on the question of “When Should A Person Come Off the Communal Prayer List?” I found it interesting because it confirms some of the thoughts I have about our “MiSheberach List” and some of the practices I follow.
Over the course of the years I have occasionally run into some resistance when I tell well-meaning people that we cannot put someone’s name on the MiSheberach list unless we have a strong indication that the person whose name is being put on the list agrees to it. The authors of the responsum, Rabbis Daniel Greyber and Micah Peltz, write: “ community members should not call the synagogue office and place people on the public mi shebeirakh list without the knowledge and consent of the person who is being prayed for. When people are being prayed for, they should be asked if they want their names listed in Hebrew or English or both. If the communal list is used both orally during services and also publicly displayed – in the lobby, in synagogue printed publications or emails, or on the synagogue website, patients must give consent for where and how they are to be listed. The only exception would be in the case of a public figure whose illness is well known in the public square.”
This statement only applies in cases of a list which is publicized or publicly displayed -- which we do in our Wednesday and Friday announcements. If you wish to add a name orally during services, this stricture does not apply -- although it’s a good idea to make sure that the person really wishes to be prayed for.
This brings me to the second point in the responsum I want to discuss. I’ve already mentioned my late father’s feelings regarding inclusion on the MiSheberach list. My father once said to me that he believed that at birth, God allocates to each person a specific number of “successful” MiSheberachs and therefore one should not “waste” their finite supply on a minor illness. While I’ve never heard of anyone else who believed this or phrased it precisely this way, I have always been careful to put myself or close friends and family on the list only in case of serious illness and to take the names off when they are no longer seriously ill. Rabbis Greyber and Peltz seem to agree with this concern -- if not the exact reasoning my father used -- and write that “not every scrape or cold requires a prayer for healing.”
The third issue I found interesting is the rabbinic concept of tircha d’tzibura, burdening the community. Reading a long list of names -- particularly when the person who asked for the name to be put on the list is not present and no one else knows the person who is being prayed for -- besides taking up time, risks creating the impression that our prayers are magic and that simply placing a name on a list “will magically activate healing within God that will make its way to that person in another part of the world.”
Therefore, Rabbis Greyber and Peltz write: “In an effort to balance the challenges of keeping up with those whose names are on the list and communal prayer realities, many congregations reset their mi shebeirakh lists regularly. By reset, we mean they clearly communicate to the congregation that everyone will be removed from the list unless instructed otherwise. Though there is no set amount of time for someone to remain on the list, there are different customs that have developed to reset the list. Some have a custom of doing it every month, on Rosh Hodesh, while others do it twice a year, on Passover and Rosh Hashanah. Whatever the reset timeframe is, it is advisable to determine a reset routine that can make sure that the list is as up to date as possible, while also not becoming too long.”
We currently have no fixed date when we “reset” our list but it is something to which we ought to give some thought. In the meantime, if you’ve asked to put a name on the list and the person has recovered, please let the office know that they can come off the list.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian