Monday, September 27, 2004

The Yamim Noraim/High Holidays: Concerning quotes, cantors, qualms, and kavannah

A couple of posts ago, I was looking for a quote:

“Hanistarot laShem kelokénu, v’haniglot lanu u-l’vanénu ad olam, la-asot et kol divré hatorah hazot. The secret things belong to HaShem our G-d, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Nitzavim, Deuteronomy, chapter 29, verse 28) . . . I know I’ve heard this quote in the Yamim Noraim/High Holiday services somewhere, but I can’t remember where.”

Eureka—I found it! It’s at the very end of the long vidui/confessional Al Chet, only a few sentences after the final “V’al kulam . . .” This quote appears only in the Yom Kippur services, not in those for Rosh Hoshanah (which stands to reason, since we don’t do either the short [“Ashamnu . . .”] or the long vidui/confessional on Rosh Hashanah).

The more learned among you may find the above rather obvious, but for me, with my limited Jewish education and knowledge of Hebrew, the ability to track a quote cited in a siddur or machzor back to its Torah origin, or to figure out where in a siddur or machzor a quote from the Torah appears, is a major accomplishment, and one that I could not have achieved 30 years ago. Apparently, I’m improving with age.

And now, from the allegedly sublime to the arguably ridiculous: Both of our chazzanim—the High Holiday cantor and the regular one—drove me crazy, for a change. Our High Holiday cantor of the past few years, imported from Israel, gets the congregants jumping by singing parts of the service to well-known secular tunes. This year, he used everything from “Erev Ba” to “Yerushalim shel Zahav” to Elvis Presley to “G-d Bless America” to melodies from the Broadway musicals Fiddler on the Roof and Les Misérables, with a few Italian tunes and some arias thrown in for good measure. (And then, of course, our regular cantor, not wishing to be outdone, and with his usual delusions of operatic talent, does the same thing.) The congregants love it. I hate it. (I find it distracting.) What’s the matter with good old-fashioned nusach? But if we don’t hire him again for next year, members will complain and non-members will go elsewhere. So when the vote comes up, what’s a member of the Ritual Committee and the Board of Directors to do?

Adam Ragil’s Monday, September 20, 2004, post at is right on the money (you should pardon the expression). “Why is the shul transformed to a shuk on the holiest day of the year? …The modern shul is a business; it must sell something to survive. But must we do the selling in the sanctuary on Yom Kippur? It always reminds me of Jesus driving out the moneylenders and who wants to be reminded of Jesus on Yom Kippur?I've brought this complaint to the shul powers. They respond: we need the money. Isn't that a prostitute's argument? Does money answer everything? And what's next? Will we allow the local pizza place to put an ad on the paroches? . . . “

Unfortunately for me, as a member of the Ritual Committee and the Board of Directors, I *am* the shul powers (or among them, at least). Do I feel like a prostitute for voting for money-making popularity over proper nusach? Oy, don’t ask. :(

(My husband says that, when the Chassidic movement began, and started putting more emphasis on joy in davvening, people complained then, too, so what else is new?)

Then there’s other news, both good and bad. The good news is that either my Hebrew is improving with practice or I’ve been having rochmones on myself and using more English this year (probably both)—it’s getting easier for me to davven/pray the Yamim Noraim services. The bad news is that, between all the speed-davvening that I do to try to keep up so that I don’t miss U’n’taneh Tokef and the distraction of playing “Name That Tune” through half the services, my kavvanah/focus/intent is far from what it ought to be. What a dilemma: Kavvanah comes to me most readily when I davven at my own speed, but I can’t davven at my own speed when I davven b’tzibbur/pray with a congregation.


Blogger Noam S said...

I find the silent amidah the best place for kavanah. The other places to find it is in the prayers that are meaningful to you. Speeding through the rest for the purpose of keeping up seems to me to be ok, as long as you find your kavanah spots. Count me in on the keep the nusach/no name that tune issue, except for occassional tunes that mirror the dignity of the prayer, definitely not elvis, etc.

Sun Oct 10, 03:38:00 PM 2004  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Welcome to my blog, dilbert. I’ll be hopping over to your own blog as soon as I’m finished responding to your comment—it appears that I’ve missed a few good posts there. (Note to my readers: His kid has discovered Simchat Torah. :) )

I’m currently experimenting with davvenning/praying the birkot hashachar/morning blessings and the p’sukei d’zimrah/"verses of song"(sometimes called the introductory psalms) at home, so that I’ll be able to davven at least *some* prayers and/or quotes at my own speed (such as it is), which certainly helps in the kavvanah/focus/intent department. (When I davven at home, I even have enough time to read some of the English translations.) There’s also the added advantage that the birkot hashachar in the Birnbaum siddur/prayerbook, from which I davven at home, includes a lot more prayers than are included in the old Silverman Conservative siddur that my synagogue uses. Therefore, I get to add some prayers that I like (edited, of course—I’m not a big fan of the Akédah ) that I can’t davven when I’m in shul because I don’t know those prayers by heart and wouldn’t have time to davven them even if I did. I should mention, before anyone gets the impression that I'm more pious than the pope :), that I *never* davven the entire p'sukei d'zimrah because it would take me more hours than there are in a day!

Sun Oct 10, 09:36:00 PM 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how did you find your siddur quote. On line? Where? Call-a-friend? Who? Thanks

Sun Jul 15, 08:33:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Believe it or not, Anon, I found the quote when I heard the chazzan/cantor chant it!

Tue Jul 17, 01:27:00 AM 2007  

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