New track from Kirtan Rabbi and some Kaddish thoughts

Crossposted to Jewschool.

Last time I wrote about Rabbi Andrew Hahn a.k.a. Kirtan Rabbi I began by saying:

Though I usually scoff at anyone attempting to meld Jewish and Eastern spirituality, Kirtan Rabbi caught my ear.

It still catches my ear and his live CD is still on my Shabos Zmiros playlist, which I listen to all day on Friday every week to prepare for Shabat.

So he just came out with a new track of Kadish, which you can download from his site here.

As an aside, I don’t scoff at anyone attempting to meld Judaism and Easter Spirituality anymore. I read The Jew in the Lotus over the summer and challenged a lot of my conceptions of intentional syncretization of Judaism. I still scoff at most people trying to do this.

I don’t know anything about Hahn’s reasons for melding Jewish prayer with Kirtan, which Hahn described as a “call-and-response devotional chant, originally developed in India,” but I know that it does make for really great listening and mood-setting.

And now, Kadish. I have some pretty strong feelings about the Kadish. A regular reader of this blog will not be surprised by that. The liturgical tradition I come from plays fast and loose with the Kadish. In the Reform world, we usually treat Kadish as some sort of triviality. We’ve been without Kadish Shalem since 19th century German reformers lobbed it out the window. Kadish D’Rabanan made its Reform re-appearance recently with the advent of Mishkan T’filah. We’ve had Chatzi Kadish (oddly re-dubbed “Reader’s Kadish”), but in places it doesn’t go (as a stand-in for Kadish Shalem) and we’ve gone without it in places it does go. We’re going to ignore Kadish Yatom (the mourner’s kadish) for now, but I’ll come back to it.

This is all because of what I believe to be the basic misunderstanding of how to make prayer accessible on part of the entire liberal Jewish world. The notion has long been, if we get people to understand the wording of prayers, or if we change the wording so they’ll like it better, we can get people to appreciate prayer more.

My idea is that Jewish prayer doesn’t function on a detailed, word-to-word basis. It functions on a larger prayer-to-prayer, idea-to-idea basis. The poetry of Jewish prayer is not to be found in individual words. Certainly there is poetry in the words, but I’m talking about the poetry–the grand sweeping meaning that encompasses the whole service structure.

One of the challenges to this idea that confronts me is how do you get bite-size bits of liturgical structure across by saying a few words to at the beginning of a service? And that’s where the Kadish comes in. We’ve long ignored it as a meaningless trapping of structure, but if structure comes to the forefront of our effort toward understanding, the Kadish is suddenly of paramount importance.

If we tell people the following three things, I think they’ll get a little bit more of the structure than they did before, simply by learning where the structural breaks are.

  1. Kadish Shalem means you’ve finished a major service division and are moving into something new.
  2. Chatzi Kadish means you’ve finished a service division of less importance and are, again, moving into something new.
  3. Kadish D’Rabanan means you’ve finished piece of the service intended to be some sort of text study and are now moving back into regular prayer.
  4. Aside from being a time to recognize those in mourning, the Kadish Yatom also indicated the end of the service as well as the break between Birkot Hashachar (morning blessings) and P’Sukei D’Zimra (verses of praise). (However, in some liberal communities the BH/PD division is marked with anothe Chatzi Kadish, which is fine by me.

To continue with the Birkot/P’Sukei division, I don’t think I knew that the division really existed or was significant as a kid because I grew up using Gates of Prayer, which doesn’t make much a big deal out of the change from BH to PD. Bit if we’d had a Kadish there, maybe I would’ve known. Whatever. The end of this post is feeling kind of anti-climactic.

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27 responses to “New track from Kirtan Rabbi and some Kaddish thoughts

  1. Your thoughts on kaddish (your one-d spelling makes sense, but I spell from habit) happen to follow by one day my having attended Shabbat services yesterday at a Conservative congregation (where I had also been a week earlier for a Thursday shacharit). So I was treated to multiple flavors of kaddish, one of the many aspects of the service that helped remind me why I learned to prefer Reform worship even before I bought into Reform ideology.

    Keep in mind that I daven weekly in a highly participatory, largely Hebrew Mishkan T’fila service, that feels a great deal like the Sim Shalom service only without the extended interludes of three words – mumble – three words – pause – three words mumble etc, and without the repetition of the two Amidahs. With or without the punctuation mark provided by a kaddish, practiced worshippers know when we are transitioning from one part of the service to another — so I don’t feel at all deprived by losing the shalems and d’rabbanans, and certainly not by losing the musaf amidah.

    I agree that prayer-to-prayer, idea-to-idea is more important than word-to-word parsing — but then, I’m perfectly comfortable with understanding phrases like meivee goel and mechayeh meitim metaphorically. Rabbis obsess about those distinctions a lot more than most lay people do (present company of course excepted).

    The thing I did/do like in the Conservative service is that the Kaddish Yatom is in fact an opportunity to recognize the mourners (essentially lost in most Reform services) as well as a fact for the mourners to acknowledge their special status (totally lost in most Reform services).

    I also loved that we sang Adon Olam to the tune of Maoz Tsur — I don’t remember ever experiencing that before, although I have heard yom tov melodies applied to Mi Camocha.

    Meanwhile, I couldn’t get your link to work so I could listen to the Kirtan Kaddish (and I’m too luddite for MP3) so I can’t comment on that part of the post.

    • Check out the version of this post at Jewschool. There’s a player plugin there that’ll let you listen to the track easily.

      We may just have to disagree on the usefulness of Kadish in helping Reform Jews separate out the service, but I think you’d still have to agree that the loss of them is a sign of the general Reform disregard for structure.

  2. Larry Kaufman writes:
    I also loved that we sang Adon Olam to the tune of Maoz Tsur

    Already?! Does the Chanukah season now begin the day after Thanksgiving too? Two Shabbatot Chanukah this year aren’t enough?

  3. David, it seems to me that your basic argument is that the Kaddish, in its various form, provides a useful infrastructure for the service, almost as if it were layers of scafolding upon which the rest of the prayers are built. And further, that the kaddishes are a more useful tool for providing a guide to the service structure than instructions from the sha’tz. Is that a correct reading of your thesis here?

    If I’m reading you correctly, then I do agree with you that the kaddishes are incredibly useful liturgical bookmarks, so to speak.

    I’m not so sure about your argument that the liberal Jewish world treats that kaddish as a “trivialty,” having “lobbed it out the window.” I’m also not convinced that there exists a “basic misunderstanding of how to make prayer accessible on part of the entire liberal Jewish world.” I think the latter is a highly contentious statement.

    The kaddish was replaced/moved/removed from Reform services precicely because of a desire to reSTRUCTURE the siddur. Whether or not you agree with the decision (and I happen to side with you on disagreeing with it), it seems to me that the changes made vis a vis kaddish were done precisely because of a desire to make prayer more accessible for a specific community. It doesn’t seem so trivial to me. Remember that the siddur is not immutable. It is and has always been a human creation. Why not make textual changes to get people to appreciate and understand prayer more?

    OK. Some more thoughts…

    1. I agree with you that in great part, Reform liturgical education has been focused too much on translation and repetition at the expense of imbuing a deeper understanding of meaning, but I’m starting to see changes here. A LOT of work still needs to be done across the board, but I think many congregations are moving in the right direction.

    2. You argue that “Jewish prayer doesn’t function on a detailed, word-to-word basis… The poetry of Jewish prayer is not to be found in individual words.”

    It’s incredibly ironic that you make this statement in reference to the kaddish, since the kaddish is filled with beautiful poetry in its very individual words. The prayer is almost entirely an elevation of adverbs of praise to God, each one raising higher than the previous. Poetic indeed.

    The meter of the kaddish, too, speak volumes to its poetic stature. There is a clear pattern found in the recitation of the prayer, as one enters an almost meditative rhythm right from the start.

    And to speak directly to the “word-to-word” basis which you argue is devoid of poetry… The sequence of individual words in the kaddish is incredibly illuminating: “YITgadal v’YITkadash… YITbarach, v’YISHTabach, v’YITpa’ar, v’YITromam, v’YITnasei, v’YIThadar, v’YITaleh, v’YIT’halal…” Let alone the highly meditative rhythm of this passage, the repetition of the sounds in the words themselves cannot be ignored.

    This is poetry. The poetry is in the individual words. Take a look and find it! Since you argue so often for liturgical honesty, integrity, and purity, do you honestly think that the psalmists (yes, the siddur is filled with individual poems) and original composers of the siddur weren’t intentionally writing poems to God?

    • “Is that a correct reading of your thesis here?”

      Yes, except for the bit about the sha’tz. I’m just saying that’s it one of many things that, if pointed out, could aid someone far down the line, every time they pray. That’s how it is for me.

      “I’m not so sure about your argument that the liberal Jewish world treats that kaddish as a “triviality,” having “lobbed it out the window.””

      Then to what would you attribute the disappearance of Kadish Shalem?

      “I think the latter is a highly contentious statement.”

      No doubt it is. However, it is my feeling. The Reform world is obsessed with re-wording prayers and I think that it’s the wrong approach to making prayer accessible.

      “Why not make textual changes to get people to appreciate and understand prayer more?”

      You can. And as someone who says Sarah, imahot, etc, I’m ok with some amount of textual changes. But I’m also not ok with a certain amount of structural change, which what I’m protesting here. And I believe that a certain amount of structural change is detrimental to our ability to understand the full scope of the service.

      And I disagree that there was ever a concerted effort to re-structure the service in Reform liturgy.

      Ok. Your numbered points.

      1. I haven’t seen this, but if you’re seeing it or if it’s happening, good. I’m glad to hear it.

      2. If you re-read what I wrote, you’ll see that I don’t deny a word-to-word level of liturgical poetry. “Certainly there is poetry in the words, but I’m talking about THE poetry–the grand sweeping meaning that encompasses the whole service structure,” as I said in the post.

      There are two levels of poetry in the service, as I alluded to above. There is a word-to-word level poetry, which has beauty for the sake of beautifying the service. And that’s a good thing.

      But from that level of poetry, we won’t get the grand poetry of the whole service, where one entire prayer-idea leads into the next. This is what I’m talking about.

  4. My suspicion is that the real reason for the kaddish before pesukei dezimrah is to make sure 10 people are there at the very beginning. (This isn’t as relevant for Reform services, where people generally show up on time.)

    • The corollary to people generally showing up on time for Reform services is that they also expect to be done on time. Come at the beginning, stay till the end, and the interval between those two points is 75 minutes, 90 max. Whether or not that subservience to the clock is a good thing, I find it preferable to what I have observed on Shabbat morning at Conservative congregations — service starts at 9 (assuming a minyan), and people filter in so they’re there for seder kriat hatorah — thus putting in the same 90 minutes.

      (The theological argument for the 90 minute service rests on the non-Mishnaic rubric that the mind will absorb only what the seat will endure.) And part of the implementation plan is to avoid repetition. The elitist Reform liturgists probably assumed that their high-class yidn could absorb the Amidah the first time, and didn’t need to have both a shacharit and a musaf rendition, like the peasants needed. And that their deity could absorb being magnified and sanctified and glorified on one hearing, and didn’t need the variations on the theme. Restructuring was not the issue — shortening was.

      Meanwhile I don’t think that the Reform obsession with re-wording prayers has anything to do with making them accessible — it has more to do with making them believable, or at least with not saying what we don’t believe (or what we don’t like). And it also has to do with needing to reconcile divergent points of view…including on the admissibility of metaphor. Yes, a camel is a horse designed by a committee, but camels thrive in milieus where horses don’t.

      • I happen to like long services.

        Yes, I know all about the obsession with avoiding repetition. But the endeavor is misguided, in my view. Repetition exists in the service for a reason, not for repetition’s sake. Encounter the repetition on its own terms and deal with those. If you find you still don’t like it, fine, get rid of it.

        Musaf is not there just to make it longer or just to repeat the Amidah.

        • You say:
          Repetition exists in the service for a reason, not for repetition’s sake. Encounter the repetition on its own terms and deal with those. If you find you still don’t like it, fine, get rid of it.

          Not knowing the reason, I can’t evaluate it on its own terms — but I am reasonably confident that the developers of UPB and GOP had what they considered good reasons for getting rid of it, and that the developers of MT didn’t find any reasons to put it back. And conformist that I am, I go with minhag hamakom, use the siddur that the kahal is using, and find that 2-1/2 hours is long enough.

          • Larry, at the risk of both of us saying things we’ve said to each other before, I’d bet that developers of MT are looking out for folks like you who want a shorter service and that they’re not considering the reason Musaf exists. To them, it’s an obstacle to getting out on time.

            Conformist that I am, that’s why I don’t regularly go to places where MT is in use.

            • Question:

              If we accept that the structure and framing of a service are just as important as the content (we’ve talked about this many times before…), then why can’t the argument “We want a shorter service” be valid ground for removing items deemed extraneous?

              • Because it is a sign of intellectual laziness and of a missed opportunity to be clever about something.

                • Then aren’t any changes to anything just being intellectually lazy and missing opportunities?

                  I suppose I’m just saying that once you agree the structure of the siddur is open to change, whether or not you agree with the changes being made, you need to be open to their legitimacy.

                  • “Aren’t changes to anything just being intellectually lazy?”
                    Obviously not. When a car company changes the styling of a model to suit changing tastes, that’s not intellectually lazy. Rather, its prudent. But the design of the car doesn’t mean anything and prayer does.

                    I’m open to the legitimacy of changes made to the service with good intentions and a serious reason.

          • I’ve been to many many services that included musaf (and a full Torah reading, even) and were finished in 2.5 hours or less. Many of these services didn’t include birkot hashachar (which most Reform Shabbat morning services do include), but there are different ways of making these tradeoffs. My approach would be to include everything in the siddur (birkot hashachar, musaf, etc.) and let communities and individuals decide what to include and not include in the service.

            • Bingo, which I’ve said many times here about MT. Mishkan fails for me because it does not represent the full tent. It if did, I’d be empowered by MT to choose, as a Reform Jew, whether or not to include Musaf, Kadish D’Rabanan and whatever else in my service. If I choose to skip it, so be it.

              How can a movement claim to base itself in autonomous choice and then limit what you know about your choices?

            • For example, this morning’s Segulah included a full Torah reading, musaf, two full repetitions, and a LOT of singing, and finished (including announcements) at precisely the 2.5-hour mark. (No birkot hashachar, no d’var torah.)

  5. First time we’ve ever maxed out the number of possible nested replies. Good job.

    Larry, I guess that’s where we get into personal judgement. I think shopping services in service of a shorter service is not good enough nor serious enough. And since that’s apparently where I and the rest of the Reform universe part ways and since it’s a huge deal to me, that’s kind of why I’ve left the organized Reform universe.

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