Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our friends' shul: Observations and reservations

See parts one, two, and three.

The good news
I just finished reading On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations, by Daniel Sperber, a work that would be better appreciated by scholarly readers who don't mind books with more footnotes than original text. One thing that Rabbi Sperber wrote did stick in my mind: He stated that there's no requirement to read the Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings aloud. This became relevant almost as soon as I read it, since the first thing that my husband and I noticed about Shacharit/Morning Service in our friends' synagogue was that the service begins with the "Rabbi Yishmael omer" quote from the Talmud [correction, courtesy of the Reform Baal Teshuvah--"Rabbi Ishmael omer" is from Pesikta d'Rabbi Ishmael], presumably so that the mourners can recite the Kaddish D'Rabbanan prayer that traditionally follows that quote when there's a minyan. All preceding prayers and quotations are recited bi-y'chidut, privately by each individual. This is a very smart move. Since the congregants recite these prayers silently, each individual can choose which versions of various b'rachot/blessings to say, which quotes to recite and which ones to skip, with no fear of causing offense. Hence, my husband could avoid the problem that I mentioned in the comments to this post: " . . . my husband is complaining that, if we became Orthodox, *he* wouldn't be allowed to lead services anymore--because he refuses to thank G-d for not making him a non-Jew and for not making him a woman, and substitutes the Conservative version, "who has made me Yisrael (a Jew)" and "who has made me b'tzalmo (in His image)." If we were to join this synagogue, no one would ever know about his choice of b'rachot unless he told them.

The not-so-good news
There's one aspect of the sanctuary's design that I do not appreciate at all--to balance the momumental-size Aron Kodesh (which I, personally, find a bit excessive), the architects gave this room an extremely high ceiling. Unless there are a significant number of people present to absorb sound and keep it close to the floor, the voice of the baal tefillah/prayer leader tends to wander off toward the ceiling. While I've certainly attended synagogues with far worse acoustics (unfortunately), I found it helpful to sit slightly ahead of the amud (Torah-reading and prayer-leading desk), so that the baal tefillah's or baal koreh's (Torah reader's) voice went pretty much straight into my ear. I wish that the architects, designers, and planners of the sanctuary had given as much thought to the needs of those with hearing problems as they gave to the needs of female worshippers. (In addition, I'd love to know how they remove the sifrei Torah/Bible scrolls from the top shelf of the Aron, which, by my husband's estimate, is roughly ten feet above floor level--surely there's a pulley system inside, because, without one, they'd need a ladder, literally.)

Compounding the problem with the acoustics is that, as far as I can determine, none of the men who lead services are either professional chazzanim/cantors or trained singers. The same was true of the women and men who read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). Put untrained singers into a room with a ceiling three (four?) stories high and no microphone, and it's inevitable that some of us will have trouble hearing them--none has been been taught how to "project" his/her voice, and some will simply not be loud enough.

Speaking of the lack of professional chazzanim, those of you who've read the recent Jewish Week article For Cantors, Season of Their Discontent will know what my next complaint is--too much Carlebach and company (by which I mean music new enough to be no older than I am) and not enough nusach. On one hand, I enjoy being in a synagogue that encourages congregational singing. On the other hand, I'm not sure how I'd feel about spending the next 30 years or so in a shul in which I'd rarely hear a "regular" Kedushah. And what's this business about skipping the hymn Yigdal completely at the end of Maariv (Evening Service) on Erev Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and holiday evenings) and replacing the hymn Adon Olam at the end of the Shabbat and Yom Tov morning services with Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) ?

As long as I'm kvetching (complaining) about the replacement of Adon Olam by Hatikvah, I should say that one friend of ours with whom I spoke after our visit mentioned that the senior rabbi of this synagogue is an interesting combination of right-wing in his political views and, insofar as possible for an Orthodox rabbi, left-wing in his religious perspective, and is an activist in both areas. I tend to try to ignore politics as much as possible, and was none too happy to have the Season of Rejoicing marred by his mention of the unpronounceable Iranian's appearance at the United Nations, nor was I pleased with his plea, on the Day of Rest, for the release of Jonathan Pollard from prison. It's not that I disagree; it's just that I'm not crazy about political pronouncements from the pulpit on Shabbat or Yom Tov. This might be a problem, were we to settle here for the next 30 years or so.

As Too Old to Jewschool Steve commented here, "Were you to join an orthodox congregation, I have no doubt you will continue to find a multitude of issues about which to vent." My reply was, “Probably, but at least they'd be different issues. :)” Well, here they are. :)


Blogger The Reform Baal Teshuvah said...

This became relevant almost as soon as I read it, since the first thing that my husband and I noticed about Shacharit/Morning Service in our friends' synagogue was that the service begins with the "Rabbi Ishmael omer" quote from the Talmud, presumably so that the mourners can recite the Kaddish D'Rabbanan prayer that traditionally follows that quote when there's a minyan.

I'm confused. . .

I thought that R' Ishmael Omer (from Pesikta d'Rabbi Ishmael, not the talmud, afaik) was recited so that the "la'asok b'divrei Torah" would not be l'vateil, and that kaddish d'rabbanan was recited for the completion of study of R' Ishmael's rules.

The first Mourner's kaddish is right before "Baruch She'amar." with another right after aleinu, and possibly a third after the psalm of the day.

Tue Sep 28, 06:27:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reform BT, thanks for correcting my reference.

A former rabbi of ours told us that we couldn't say Kaddish D'Rabbanan without saying Rabbi Yishmael because we had to quote from Torah sheh-bi'chtav (the written Bible), Mishna, Gemara, and Midrash first. The first three are "covered" in the Birkat HaTorah quotes, and "Rabbi Yishmael omer" counts as Midrash (midrash halachah, I presume), if I understood him correctly.

To be precise, the first Mourner's Kaddish is recited after the psalm Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit, L'David (Psalm 30). It's the recitation of the psalm that justifies the recitation of Mourner's Kaddish, since mourners generally have to engage in some text recitation or study in order to recite a Kaddish, if I understand correctly. (There are three verses from TaNaCH/the Bible quoted in Aleinu). It just happens that Psalm 30 is recited right before Baruch Sheh-Amar.

Tue Sep 28, 09:38:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

OMG, Shira, can't you ever let anything go? I feel like someday, you're going to meet the Almighty, and say, "I thought you would be taller..."


Wed Sep 29, 07:52:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, I'm sorry to say that one of my sister congregants agrees--she said that she was glad we weren't there on Sukkot weekend, because, without me, there was no one to complain. Oy. Methinks I'm making a name for myself as a perpetual kvetch.

Sun Oct 03, 12:13:00 AM 2010  

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