The North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL) has awarded Dr. Lawrence Hoffman, the Barbara and Stephen Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship, and Ritual as well as Professor of Liturgy at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion with its annual Berakah Award in recognition of his singular scholarly contribution to the field of liturgy. Rabbi Hoffman was presented with the award by the Academy's President, Rev. Ruth A. Meyers, at its annual conference, held this January in New York City.
The Berakah award has been given since the beginning of the academy and is awarded annually to a member of the Academy to honor his or her work. An interesting note is that the founding members of the all-Christian academy chose Berakah as the name of their award, which is Hebrew and means "blessing".
The NAAL is an interfaith scholarly organization dedicated to liturgical research and dialogue. It is unique because while fully academic, it is devoted equally to the religious end of enhancing worship in North America. The Academy thus represents the very best American tradition of ecumenical sharing, informed by scholarship, creativity, and ethical sensitivity. Academically speaking, it brings together historians, artists, theologians, musicians, translators, composers and others - an entire gamut of liturgical specialists, who continually redefine and set the standard for the field as a whole.
The Academy was founded in response to the Vatican II's call for liturgical renewal in the Roman Catholic Church, an initiative that was paralleled among Protestants and Jews. Rabbi Hoffman joined it in its second year of existence, and late became its first Jewish president. His presence led to the Academy's decision to expand its constitution to include as members scholars of both Christian and Jewish liturgy, and to dedicate its efforts to the deepening of prayer in both church and synagogue.
The Academy's impact extends beyond its own ranks. Lessons shared there on matters of ritual , liturgical music, theories of translation, and the like, find their way to its members' classrooms, congregations and communities, producing what is widely recognized as a broad-based North American spiritual revival. At the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, Dr. Hoffman has introduced a series of courses on ritual and worship, and his students, now in their third decade of study with him, have translated what he teaches them, internationally.
Rabbi Hoffman carried with him the momentum of change by taking on leadership roles within the Academy as well as serving on the ritual committee. His experience with the ritual group has had a profound influence on his work as a liturgist, as well as his role as a rabbi. It was the Catholic liturgical renaissance that opened Rabbi Hoffman's consciousness to the possibilities that lie in the study of Jewish liturgy and Jewish worship. He was particularly interested in ritual and the process of ritual and taught classes to students of whom some would become the next rising stars in the field and of whom many would later become prominent figures within the Reform movement.