“All the World”

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


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7 Responses to ““All the World””

  1. Frank Castronova Says:

    At Temple Emanu-El (Oak Park, Mich.), we had our 58th anniversary Shabbat service last night. The liturgy mostly followed UPB evening service 1. The choir was accompanied by pipe organ. The music was (other than what we sing every week): Tov L’hodot (Janowski), God is in His Holy Temple (Hawkes), Tzadik Katamar (Lewandowski), How Good it Is/L’cha Dodi (Lewandowski), Mi Chamochah (Weiner), Yih’yu L’ratzon (Kingsley), and All the World (Binder).

    We use UPB and organ every year at this service. Attendance was at its peak when we started this tradition with the 50th anniversary and was at its lowest last year. Most of the crowd is at the older end of the Baby Boomers. This year we had several visitors, perhaps because it was mentioned in this week’s Detroit Jewish News.

    I can’t write with certainty that the closing song, All the World, brought up feelings of universalness, but it is a nostalgic moment for many. For this song, the organist pulled out all the stops, so to speak. It was a triumphant beginning of our congregtion’s 59th year.

  2. Janice Weiss Says:

    Larry, you mention someone “dismissed [“All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee”] altogether as borrowed from the musical style of the Lutheran Church.” You yourself say the hymn is “an historical artifact.” Both of those descriptions are no doubt true, but for those of us who grew up within Reform in the 1950’s, that hymn–as well as the V’ahavta recited in English, etc., etc.–still feels like “the real Judaism” to us, the mother’s milk that we first imbibed as Jews. To mix in a different metaphor, I’ve often thought that for Reform Jews my age and older, Reform’s return to Hebrew for most of the prayers felt like devaluing the entire stock of Jewish currency that I had laboriously and lovingly built up throughout my childhood Jewish education. In fact, that “currency” has not just been devalued, but almost completely abandoned. While that change is understandable from the movement’s perspective, for me and others like me, it feels sadly like being dismissed.

    • larrykaufman Says:

      While I understand the estrangement you feel between the Reform you grew up with and Reform as it is practiced in most congregations today, I infer that you are holding “the movement” responsible for a phenomenon which it reflects but does not cause.

      It’s not just a quibble, for example, to state that Reform didn’t “return to Hebrew.” Reform in its outset devalued Hebrew, until congregations discovered that their members were looking for something other than what they had been delivering. So Reform congregations began adding Hebrew, and participatory worship, and marching with the Torah, etc. because the people who were there wanted those things, and the people who didn’t want those things weren’t there anyway, to protest them. (If you were the rabbi, or the president, and 20 members wanted to wear kipot and one didn’t want them to, which way would you lean?)

      I have no idea, for example, how many members of our Kahal grew up Reform (I did not) — but those who cherish the Reform of the fifties have not been dismissed, only outnumbered.

  3. Janice Weiss Says:

    No, of course I don’t blame the movement, and I certainly agree with your depiction of why and how those changes came about. I also VERY much like things like participatory worship & marching with the Torah–especially the former.

  4. ML Says:

    My dad, a dyed in the wool classical Reform Jew, comes to to services with me every once in a while. He, too, complains that everything has changed. There’s too much Hebrew, too many kipot, etc… My first response to him is always, “Hey dad, what do you expect? You come a few times a year. The people that want Hebrew, participatory services, kippot, etc.. come most weeks. You voted a long time ago…with your feet!”

    I also like to ask people who think there’s too much Hebrew in the services today, what did you expect? You sent us to Hebrew school, you sent us to NFTY kallot (and camps) where we sang Hebrew songs and chanted Hebrew prayers. Did you not really want us to learn these things? Was Hebrew school supposed to be a failure (only that “failure” actually worked with some of us)?

    My suggestion: Start an English language minyan at your synagogue. Request an organ service once a month. (And show up for it!) You can have your cake and eat it too, but you might have to bake it yourself as well.

  5. Jon Levinson Says:

    I, too, enjoy All the World. At my current shul (for how much longer, I do not know, as they are too liberal for me), we NEVER sing this, nor would we ever sing the Adoration. On HHD, we are forever flipping pages to avoid both.

    I’m still waiting for someone to show me where G-d entered into a covenant with the matriarchs (and not due to their marriages to the patriarchs) that entitle them to be included in the first blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei

    • larrykaufman Says:

      Since my original post appeared several months ago, there has been additional online discussion of All the World and related artifacts of Classical Reform Judaism, and I recommend that you catch up with that discussion on the Reform Judaism blog, http://www.rj.org. I don’t understand the comment about avoiding singing the Adoration — I’ve never been in a synagogue of any stream where it has not been sung, at least the first section through Anachnu Kore’im — although some congregations eschew the versions that suggest a special destiny and special responsiblitiies for the Jewish people.

      As I read the first blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei, in its “egalitarian” version, I don’t see any statement of a covenant with the matriarchs, only that the God of our fathers was also the God of our mothers. Personally, although I understand the pressures that have led to the de-gendering of God in our liturgy and our Torah translations, and to the inclusion of the imahot and of Miriam in places where they historically had not been mentioned, it’s not an issue that engages me greatly. Actually, some of the tortured translations that emerge from efforts to de-gender the Deity drive me up the wall. But none of it would ever be likely to incite me to change congregations, let alone movements.

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