In celebration of Beth Emet’s sixtieth anniversary, the liturgy for our Erev Shabbat service was drawn from the siddurim the Reform movement has used during the synagogue’s lifespan – the Union Prayer Book and its adjunct Union Hymnal, Gates of Prayer, and Mishkan T’filah. From candle-lighting UPB-style, we segued into “All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee. “
All the world shall come to serve Thee,
And bless Thy glorious name,
And Thy righteousness triumphant
The islands shall acclaim.
Yea, the peoples shall go seeking,
Who knew Thee not before,
And the ends of earth shall praise Thee,
And tell thy greatness o’er.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in Reform musicology, but I will make two observations about “All the World” that the experts can refute if I’m off base:
- I associate it, not with Shabbat, but with Rosh Hashanah, since it appears as the closing hymn for the morning service in Union Prayer Book II and also in Gates of Remembrance.
- It has always struck me as the hymn that best encapsulates Classical Reform worship, sung in English, with a universalistic message, somewhat ponderous lyric, and lofty musical style.
Although I am about as far as you can get from Classical Reform in my ideology and liturgical preferences, I confess that I always looked forward to the rousing rendition of “All the World” that closed the morning service at my former congregation (and not just because it signaled that lunch was right around the corner). And when geography propelled a change in my affiliation, I told my new rabbi when he debriefed me after my first round of High Holy Day services that one thing I really missed from my old life was “All the World.”
They shall build for Thee their altars,
Their idols over-thrown,
And their graven gods shall shame them
As they turn to Thee alone.
They shall worship Thee at sunrise
And feel Thy kingdom’s might
And impart Thy understanding,
To those astray in night.
(For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what we do end our HHD service with in my current congregation – I can only assure you that it’s not “All the World.”)
So – the cantor gave me my nostalgia trip, my sentimental journey into a prior era of my synagogue life – and lo and behold! Something was missing. I have been trying to figure out what, and why, and the hypotheses that follow are listed in growing order of suspected importance:
- Our synagogue was full for this special celebratory Shabbat, but that meant 300 voices rather than the 1800 that would have been gathered in the “cathedral” sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah at the previous temple.
- The congregational participation, while spirited, projected an aura of good sportsmanship, willingness to play the historical game, rather than an inbred sincerity and sense of sanctity and connection to the message of the hymn.
- Missing was the sense that the hymn was wrapping up the service (which, in this case, of course, it wasn’t) but more important, we don’t resonate as did an earlier generation of Reform Jews to the mission of bringing ethical monotheism to the world. We’re not as much into One God for Everybody as we are into partnering that God in perfecting the work of creation.
- The hymns of the Union Hymnal were intended for an organ accompaniment. A piano backed by an instrumental trio just doesn’t create the same kind of soaring majesty.
In the course of pondering the effect and the affect of “All the World,” I discussed my reaction with a knowledgeable synagogue musician who comes out of Conservadoxy and who dismissed the hymn altogether as borrowed from the musical style of the Lutheran Church. Wrong! I haven’t sourced the Hebrew text (v’yeh-eh-ta-yu kol l’avdecha) but the translation, by Israel Zangwill, dates to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and surfaced in the second Union Hymnal, circa 1914. New music, composed by Abraham W. Binder, was applied to Zangwill’s lyric for the Third Edition in 1932 (for which Binder served as Musical Editor).
With the coming of Thy kingdom
The hills will shout with song,
And the islands laugh exultant,
That they to God belong.
And through all Thy congregations,
So loud Thy praise shall ring,
That the utmost peoples, hearing,
Shall hail Thee crowned King.
In compiling the Beth Emet anniversary service, our clergy, normally scrupulous about gender sensitivity, were equally scrupulous about the historical text , and left it alone. I don’t have a copy of the first 1978 Gates of Repentance at my fingertips, but I assume it followed Gates of Prayer in getting rid of Thee and Thou throughout, in favor of You and Your, including All the World Shall Come to Serve You. It may not have been until the CCAR Liturgy Committee was preparing the 1996 revision of GOR that they started grappling with the removal of masculine imagery for the Deity. While they still felt the need to perpetuate the triumphalist missionary message of All the World, they did get rid of the kingship imagery, and made a few other essentially cosmetic changes in the process Had I been king of the Liturgy Committee (oops, I mean sovereign), I would have decreed that “All the World” was an historical artifact, and if it was to be included at all, would have printed it in its original form.