Rhymying our way through Ashrei

I wrote about a month ago about the way Ashrei was meant to be chanted.

Classical Hebrew poetry was composed not in rhyming verses, but in pairs of clauses that rhyme conceptually. Each line has two parts, with similar, poetically complimentary meanings. 

Now, when we chant Ashrei, we chant it such that the leader chants a full line, the congregation chants a full line, the leader chants a line, etc. However, it was meant to be chanted with the leader chanting clause one, congregation chanting clause two.

Such that, rather than:

Shatz: “Ashrei yoshvei veitecha, od y’hal’lucha selah.”

Kehilah: “Ashrei ha’am shekacha lo, ashrei ha’am she’Adonai elohav.”

You would instead have:

Shatz: “Ashrei yoshvei veitecha.”

Kehilah: “Od y’hal’lucha selah.”

Shatz: “Ashrei ha’am shekacah lo.”

Kehialh: “Ashrei ha’am she’Adonai elohav.”

This week, my first week back to Chavurat Lamdeinu in almost two months, I got the chance to lead Birchot Hashachar and P’sukei D’zimra. I took the chance to try this out for the first time. I explained what I wanted to do and everyone thought it sounded like a cool experiment. Normally, Ashrei is one of only two or three things we do in English at the Chavurah. Normally, when I lead, I break up the normalcy by doing Ashrei in Hebrew. But, for this one, we stuck with English so we could pay closer attention to the rhyming ideas. And it worked quite nicely.

Shatz: “Happy are those who dwell in your house.”

Kehilah: “They can always praise you. Selah.”

Shatz: “Happy the people with this heritage.”

Kehilah: “Happy the people whose God is Adonai.”

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8 responses to “Rhymying our way through Ashrei

  1. do you chant in english? i love that idea. i’m going to try it on saturday….

  2. yeah, we chanted in English. Lots of liberal outfits do it with Nisim B’chol Yom.

  3. At the Beth Emet kahal, we chant a lot of stuff in English, but not Ashrei.

    The music leader asks for a volunteer to lead us in Ashrei, and the volunteer is often a youngster, pre-bar/t mitzvah. There are 2 or 3 kids at least who do it from time to time, and invariably blow me away with their precocity.

    A volunteer is also requested for one English responsive reading. There’s a sign-up sheet for the other service roles — aliyot, hagbah/g’lila, gabbai, etc. Hebrew Torah reader and dvar Torah leader are arranged in advance. (We do triennial cycle, three aliyot, with two read in Hebrew, one in English. Most of the Hebrew readers chant; I am still waiting for someone to chant the English. (The cantor at my prior congregation did that from time to time, and I loved it.)

    As I read here about your chavurah, and about Kol Zimrah, etc., I am reminded to tell the world that participatory community t’filah is NOT limited to the world of alternative minyanim, but can exist within the walls of the institutional synagogue, given a cadre of capable, committed laity and empowering clergy. Ken yirbu.

  4. Larry, I’m well aware of the existence of quality participatory services within synagogues. I see my taste in services as having been molded by a childhood full of lay-led services at Beth Israel in Austin.

    However, synagogues like that are the exception, not the rule.

  5. At my former congregation, I was leading a daily service, and noted that everyone in the chapel was a regular, and in fact most were in the rotation to lead the services. I took them through the GOP liturgy, and when we finished, I asked if anybody had noticed anything unusual about the service. No one had. So I told them that, probably for the first time in the modern history of the congregation, we had done a service entirely in Hebrew.

    Whereupon one of the group remonstrated, You shouldn’t have done that! What if you had had someone here who couldn’t have coped?

    So yes, it is possible to do good things in the conventional synagogue — but you have to have the balls to stand up to the “little old ladies” like my friend Ed, who live in fear that someone will try something new (which may in fact be something old).

  6. I’m a fan of Noah Lubin’s version of Ashrei. (It’s on iTunes, his album is called Leaving Egypt.)

  7. Lubin’s is alright. It’s a little jazzy for my tastes. And you certainly couldn’t lead services with it.

  8. Pingback: Minhag Chavurat Lamdeinu | The Reform Shuckle

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