Larry Kaufman, the most prolific of commenters here at The Shuckle, is fond of pointing out that a lot of what I write about here is of concern only to people he likes to call “specialists.” Most people, he often writes here, just don’t care about the liturgical minutiae that make me excited agitated. I, on the other hand, think that if no one else cares, control should just be given over to the specialists.
So here’s a metaphor that I think explains what I mean. In this metaphor, we are concerned with Person A and Person X. Person A goes to services regularly, but is not very knowledgeable about them. Person X is comparable to Person A. Person X uses a computer every day for a variety of things, but doesn’t know much about their computer.
Person X might continue to use their computer every day and not know that much of what they encounter while using it could be easier. They may not know that they could be browsing with no popups or dealing with a simpler email system that sorts spam better. But if Person X hands over their computer to Person Y–someone who is very knowledgeable about computers–so that Person Y can optimize it, Person X will find their experience improved, even if they don’t know exactly how it was improved.
Person A may continue going to services every week not knowing why there is a blessing for Torah study right before an odd little prayer called Eilu D’varim or why half of something translatable as The Standing Prayer is recited sitting down in their synagogue. In the case of Eilu D’varim, Person A doesn’t realize the elegance of the order of the prayers, though this not much of an obstacle to them. In the case of The Standing Prayer, they encounter something that doesn’t make sense, perhaps without even knowing that it doesn’t make sense.
Now imagine that Person A encountered a new service created by Persons B–a group of people very knowledgeable about the content, structure and order of the service. In the new service, Person A might encounter a siddur with commentary or even live commentary during the service from Persons B about why Eilu D’varim is preceded by a blessing for Torah study. They did not know before that an elegant piece of liturgical logic was passing them by, but now the experience is enhanced by knowing that Eilu D’varim is meant as a symbolic period of daily study and that’s why there’s a blessing for study before it. Person A did not know before that The Standing Prayer was meant as a single unit with many parts, but now that they have experienced a service in which they rise just before it and are seated just after, they see for the first time that all of its pieces are related and that it is a unified section of the service.
My point here is that if you let a specialist fine-tune something you do regularly, you may find your experience of that something improved.
Of course, I can feel Larry just itching to tell me why my metaphor is imperfect. There are emotions involved. People are attached to the way they do it. Or they just don’t really care.
That’s why we have the lucky added advantage–not included in the metaphor–of having congregational rabbis and cantors. These people are where the specialists–who, I should point out, don’t have to be rabbis or cantors–and the Jews in the pews intersect. Their concerns definitely have weight here. But I think my point stands.