Minhag Chavurat Lamdeinu

The Chavurat Lamdeinu Aron

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time. A perfect storm at Chavurat Lamdeinu of me leading two weeks ago, our usual shatz leading last week, a conversation with him and our rabbi about our minhag this week; a minyan last week, no minyan last week and then Hallel for Rosh Chodesh this week finally convinced me it’s time to do it. The info in the post is culled from almost four years of notes in my copy of Siddur Eit Ratzon and from my memory.

I’m going to attempt, in this post, to catalog the minhagim and nuschot of Chavurat Lamdeinu, the chavurah I spend Shabbat mornings with when I’m here at Drew. I won’t explain too much about the group. Mostly, I think our minhagim will speak for themselves. I think it’s enough to say that the group defies classification in almost every way. It meets in a Masonic lodge. We have a chazan and a rabbi, but, more than anything else, they’re the most knowledgeable among equals. Demographically, it skews post-parenthood, mostly grandparenthood, but we had a Bar Mitzvah last year.

Background reading for details, if you want them: C”L’s website (mute your speakers before following this link!)my post about Erev Rosh Hashanah at C”L from 2009a bit about Yom Kippur at C”L the year before that, a bit about our unique and beautiful Aronthe post I wrote after my first ever visit to C”L.

I’m gonna attempt to identify the origin of as much of what we do musically as I can, but I know I’ll get some of it wrong or leave some to speculation. If any other chaverim read this post and have correction, I encourage them to leave comments at the bottom correcting or elucidating.

So here we go:

  • Torah Study is at 8:30 and led by Rabbi Ruth Gais, who can scarcely get one thought out before the interjections and tangents begin. I used to go, but it’s just too early for me. When I started coming in the fall of 2007, C”L was in the middle of Nevi’im somewhere, reading as much as they could each week. They finally finished the entire Tanach last semester. They are know studying Pirkei Avot.
  • Services used to start at 9:30, but about two years ago, it was decided by the chaverim that we would start at 10, attempt to shorten the service, and lengthen Torah study.
  • At the end of Torah study, Ruth does Kaddish deRabbanan and then announced a bizarre and ever-changing period of time: “OK! Services will begin in 6 and 1/2 minutes!” etc.
  • About 15 chairs are arranged in a semi-circle facing a big Torah-reading amud and the Aron. Typically, the crowd ranges between 10 and 15. Sometimes it’s as low as 5, other times as high as 20.
  • Services begin like this: Russ–our usual shatz, who was quite knowledgeable in chazanut and nusach before he started at JTS, is a cantorial student at JTS now–puts on his talit and begins puttering around while holding a copy of our siddur, Siddur Eit Ratzon. Ruth and I join him. Everyone else is either puttering around in the kitchen shmoozing, or leaving after Torah study, or just arriving. Russ’ husband, also named Russ (I couldn’t make that up!) is often present, but just sits in the other room reading during service. Russ (the first one), usually prompted by Ruth’s impatience, abruptly begins with…
  • Mah Tovu, p. 10:
    • The first line of this (Mah tovu… mishkenotecha Yisra’el) is done in a round. Russ sings the first line through once, then the left half of the semi-circle–where I typically sit–follows him. Russ and Ruth sit next to each other in the middle of the semi-circle, Ruth on the right. Those on her side follow her. The pace of this is quick and it is done, like most things at C”L, quite loudly. How much of the volume comes from Russ and how much comes from the chaverim is unclear, but Russ is quite loud, the room quite echoing and the chaverim are quite active participants.
    • The round goes through about five or so iterations and then we lapse into silent recitation (Va’ani berov… Adonai osi.)
    • Using nusach, we come back together for the last paragraph, from Ps. 69:14 (Va’ani tefillati… be’emet yishecha.)
  • Mah Tovu when I lead: During my sophomore year, Russ was in Israel studying for much of the year. Much of the time, I would lead this part of the service. I would always start the round, but rely on Ruth to wrap it up and carry it through because I can’t grok rounds to save my life. Russ is now spending one weekend a month at a Conservative shul in Macon, Georgia as part of his JTS training. He was away last week, so I led. I forewent the round entirely, just singing the first line through once and then moving on. When Ruth asks others to lead, she often encourage us to change things up, but I feel odd doing that in a place where very little changes in the music week-to-week.
  • Talmud Torah, p. 10-11:
    • We flow straight out of Mah Tovu and into the berachah for Torah study, using matching nusach. It is quite seamless, like much of Russ’ style.
    • SER has an odd assemblage in the section, the only thing I can think of that bothers me about the siddur’s liturgy. I’ve written about various problems with the passages different siddurim include for study at this point in the service here and here. It includes, in this order, following the berachah:
    • Deut. 6:5–also the opening line of the second paragraph of the Shema
    • Ve’eirastich li le’olam etc.”–Hos. 2:21-22
    • Ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha“–Lev. 19:18
    • Eillu devarim… vetalmud Torah.”–Pei’ah 1:1 and the only piece included in this section in SER that is in the traditional liturgy for this section
    • Higgid lecha… im Elohecha.”–Mic. 6:8
    • Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.”–Deut 16:20.
    • We do this all silently.
    • Before fall of this year, Russ chanted Eillu Devarim and then went back to silent for the remainder, but he stopped doing that for reasons I don’t know. When I led last week, I chanted Eillu Devarim.
  • Asher Yatzar, p. 11: We read this aloud with no nusach. It is the only prayer we do in this fashion. Last week, I just had us do it silently.
  • Elohai Neshamah, p. 12:
    • We chant the first line through several times to a melody that I don’t know the origin of, though I’ve heard it elsewhere. We do it about twice the tempo I’ve heard it anywhere else.
    • The rest is silent until “Ribbon kol… lifgarim meitim,” which we chant.
    • SER offers two options for the chatimah: “hamechayeh neshamot bechol yom” and “hammachazir neshamot lifgarim meitim.” We opt for the more traditional second option.
  • Berachot, p. 13-15:
    • This is chanted to a nusach that involves alternating the melody slightly for every other berachah.
    • Though I have no trouble with it when Russ leads, I had trouble leading it last week. With me at the helm, we were doing two or three at a time the same way. It was a tad messy.
  • Vihi ratzton… gomeil chasadim tovim le’ammo Yisra’el,” p. 16:
    • Silent until “Ut’neinu hayom
    • The rest is chanted to nusach through the chatimah.
  • Lefikach anachnu… mekaddeish et shimcha barabbim,” p. 16-17:
    • Lefikach anachnu… vehodayah lishmecha” to nusach
    • Ashreinu mah… yafah yerushateinu” to a melody that is similar to, but not the same as the one I grew up with–no idea where it’s from
    • Ashreinu she’anachnu… Adonai echad” to nusach
    • Baruch shem… shimcha be’olamecha” silently
    • Uvishu’atecha tarim… shimcha barabbim” to nusach
  • Ps. 30, p. 17-18: We skip this and Russ tells us to rise for…
  • PESUKEI DEZIMRAH, which we do in a fairly abbreviated fashion
  • Baruch She’amar, p. 19: We chant this.
    • I had trouble leading this last week because I still cannot dislodge the *ahem* unique version of this I grew up with from my brain.
  • “…ha’Eil ha’av… mehullal batishbachot,” p. 19:
    • …ha’Eil ha’av… malkeinu Eloheinu” silently
    • Yachid chei… mehullal batishbachot” to nusach
  • Ps. 136 “Hodu lAdonai ki tov…” p. 26: We used to do this in the response fashion that I’ve seen it done at Hadar and that I assume is miSinai. We only did it for a semester. Russ stopped because Ruth didn’t like it. Usually, Ruth likes to engage with difficult texts, but doesn’t like this one for whatever reason. I like it.
  • Ashrei, p. 29-30:
    • This one of only three things we do in English. It is done in a rather byzantine fashion. I have no idea how this particular minhag developed.
    • Bill Zheutlin, our elder statesman, typically rises and says: “Happy are those who dwell in your house, for they can always praise you. Selah.” The chavurah responds: “Happy the people with this heritage, happy the people whose God is Adonai.” When Bill is not present, someone else “plays Bill,” as we call it.
    • Russ then chants the first line in Hebrew–the one that Bill just did in English!–and we respond with the second line–which we also just did in English!
    • Then Russ chants the words “Tehillah leDavid.”
    • Then we chant the rest responsively, in English. We used to consistently have the left side of the semi-circle responding to the right side, though it now sometimes ends up being Russ and one or two others alternating with the rest of the chaverim.
    • After chanting the end in English, we chant it together again, this time in Hebrew: “Va’anachnu nevareich… olam haleluyah.”
    • Although, we have also done it differently.
  • Ps. 150, p. 33: There is a note in my SER that indicates that we used to do the Taubman tune, which is itself an adaptation of a Sufi melody for chanting “Allah hu, Allah hu, Allah hu, etc.” I can’t actually recall us doing this, but we must have done something different at some point in the past.
    • Here are the rest of my notes on this page:
    • “First Shabbat for senior yr. Phyllis stops Russ and asks for ‘the Israeli one.’ He does it. It’s the one I grew up with @ CBI!”
    • “As of Shabbat in Sukkot 5771, he’s doing it every week.”
    • “Oct. 23 – Dad and Lauren visiting. Dad reminds me it’s not Israeli, but Yemenite.”
    • End notes. Though the tune is one I know well, we do it differently than I’ve heard it anywhere else. The tempo is noticeably quicker and we don’t repeat the opening word several times. As with a lot of things at C”L, the melody and the feel are energetic and fun, but no-nonsense–which is perfect, if you ask me.
  • Odds and ends from Ps. 89, 135 and 72: Following the suggestion of the layout and commentary in SER, we treat this section as a call-and-response. We do this in English. It goes like this:
    • Russ: “May Adonai be blessed forever!”
    • Chavurah: “Amein ve’Amein!”
    • Russ: “May Adonai be blessed from Zion, the God who dwells in Jerusalem!”
    • Chavurah: “Haleluyah!”
    • Etc.
  • Nishmat Kol Chai, p. 35-39:
    • Nishmat kol… Adonai Eloheinu” to nusach
    • Veru’ach kol… anachnu modim” silently
    • Ilu finu… kahamon galav” this is one of a number of lines in this section that Russ and/or Ruth often sing or chant slightly audibly.
    • …ve’evyon miggozlo” silent up to this point
    • Mi yidmeh… ka’amur leDavid” to nusach
    • Barchi nafshi… ram ve’nisa” we chant this together to a melody that was unfamiliar when I first came to C”L. I have now also heard it used at Hadar and elsewhere. I’m not sure where it comes from, though I don’t think that it’s traditional nusach of any variety.
  • Shochein Ad, p. 39-40:
    • When Russ was in Israel and I led, I would lead up until Shochein Ad and then either Ruth or another guy, Bruce, would take over beginning with Shochein Ad.
    • We chant the entire section.
  • Chatzi Kaddish, p. 41: We rise for this.
  • Barechu, p. 42: Still standing. We always chant this in the normal fashion. There is never any of that song crap that drives me nuts with Barechu.
  • Yotzer Or, p. 42-48:
    • Baruch atah… et hakol” read aloud together, no melody or chant, while still standing. By the end of this bit, we’ve all sat back down.
    • Hakol yoducha… domeh lach” silently
    • Ein ke’erkecha… lit’chiyat hammeitim” Russ started chanting this bit aloud in the spring of 2010 to a slightly ponderous melody that no one joins in for.
    • Eil adon… leyom haShabbat” is sung.
    • Zeh shevach… umelech olam” silently
    • Kulam ahuvim… kadosh hu” Russ started sing this to a lovely, slower melody 4/5/10. By the beginning of last semester, he was doing it every week.
    • Vechulam mekabbelim… Adonai mimkomo” is done partially in Hebrew and partially in English. We read the bulk of it in English, such that we read the line “…to declare in unison God’s holiness:” before switching back to Hebrew for “Kaddosh kaddosh… ha’aretz kevodo.” Then, back to English for, “One choir of angels sings of God’s holiness and glory. With a resounding echo, another choir responds:” followed by Hebrew again–“Baruch kevod Adonai mimkomo.” I’m not partial to the English, but I like the way this works out with the angels calling out and everything.
    • Le’Eil baruch… le’olam chasdo” silently
    • Or chadash… meheirah le’oro” to a rather mournful melody
    • The chatimah is then read.
  • Ahavah Rabbah, p. 49-50
    • When Russ leads:
      • “Ahavah Rabbah… toratecha be’ahavah” silently
      • Veha’er Eineinu to the jaunty tune that I grew up with
      • Vehavi’einu Leshalom and chatimah to nusach
    • When I lead, we chant Ahavah Rabbah up until Veha’er Eineinu and then continue the same as when Russ leads.
  • Shema, p. 51-53
    • Seated for the duration
    • First line to nusach
    • Second line silently
    • “Ve’ahavta et… beitecha uvisharecha” together to the trope
    • “Vehaya im… al ha’aretz” and “Vayomer Adonai… zonim achareihem” silently
    • “Lema’an tizkeru… Adonaei Eloheichem” together to the trope
  • Emet and Mi Chamocha, p. 54-57
    • Throughout this portion, most times the word “emet” apprears, Russ reads it audibly enough that I, sitting usually two-four seats away from him can hear it.
    • “Emet veyatziv… magein yisheinu” silently
    • “Ledor vador… la’ad kayamet” to nusach, as a brief place-marker
    • “Ud’varav chayim… tzur yeshuateinu” silently
    • “Podeinu umatzileinu… Elohim zulatecha” to nusach, as a brief place-marker
    • “Ezrat avoteinu… shavam eilav” silently
    • “Tehilot le’Eil… ve’amru chulam” to nusach
    • “Mi chamochah… le’olam va’ed” I’m not sure what we do this to. It’s a melody, pretty upbeat. Don’t know if it’s nusach or what.
    • “Tzur Yisra’el… ga’al Yisra’el” to nusach
    • We do what is known as a Heiche Kedushah, the fancy name for what Reform Jews do–meaning that we do Avot V’imahot, Gevurot and Kesdusah together and the rest silently. We do it for Reform reasons: cutting down on length and redundancy.
  • “Adonai sefatai… yagid tehillatecha,” p. 58 to nusach
  • Avot Ve’imahot, p. 58-59 to nusach
    • SER provides standard imahot stuff without comment and we follow suit.
    • In brackets, SER offers the user to option of “go’eil” or “ge’ulah.” Russ and the chaverim generally opt for “go’eil.” My Reform upbringing has “ge’ulah” so firmly lodged in my head that I tend to read “go’eil” as “ge’ulah” even in siddurim that don’t give me the option. Whatever.
    • SER offers an innovation that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The line that precedes the chatimah, “Melech ozeir umoshia umagen,” is amended in SER with the word “ufokeid” in brackets. This way, “magein,” used in the chatimah to describe God’s relationship to Abraham, is joined by “pokeid,” used in the chatimah to describe God’s relationship to Sarah. Though this is a clever addition, we tend to ignore it.
    • But then the chatimah is a whole other story. The usual imahot amendment for the chatimah is “ve’ezrat Sarah,” which joins “magein Avraham.” “Ve’ezrat” was the addition originally proposed by American Reform liturgists and is the most common in gender-egalitarian siddurim. The Israeli Reformim, however, went a different, and much more clever route, adding “ufokeid Sarah” instead. SER, unique in this regard, offers both options. At C”L, we opt for “ve’ezrat,” though I personally prefer “ufokeid.”
  • Gevurot, p. 59-60
    • SER offers “mechayei kol chai” as an alternative on each instance of the phrase “mechayei meitim [or hameitim],” as a unique blend of American and Israeli Reform liturgy. We ignore this and opt for “meitim” each time, which is offered in brackets alongside “kol chai” throughout the prayer. This used to unsettle me, but I’ve gotten over it.
  • Kedushah, p. 60-61 to nusach
  • Kedushat Hayom, Avodah, Modim, Shalom, p. 62-72
  • Yihyu Leratzon, Oseh Shalom, p. 73
    • Russ leads these both in a rather quick tune. I used to find it jarring, given that most people try to come out of silent Amidah with ponderous melodies, but I’ve grown to like it.
    • SER offers “ve’al kol yoshvei teivel” in Oseh Shalom. According to my notes, Russ began integrating this line into the melody we do in the fall of this year.
  • Kaddish Shaleim, p. 74 to nusach
  • TORAH SERVICE By and large, the liturgy of the Torah services bores me, so I’ll be less exhaustive here.
    • We do some singy things.
    • Someone seated toward the left of the ark peels the curtain back and holds it there. This is usually me or this one other guy.
    • The person who is sponsoring kiddush that week gets the aliyah and the hakafah.
    • We do one aliyah, but we’re on the triennial cycle.
    • Russ generally reads Torah. Ruth or someone else does so very occasionally.
    • After reading, Ruth drashes quite casually and we all interrupt willy-nilly.
    • We dress the Torah and there’s another hakafah. Using Etz Chayim and JPS we read haftarah in English. Each person reads a verse and then passes it to the next person. We go around until the haftarah is finished.
    • There’s generally some chaos as things get put away and we move on to…
  • We used to do a Heiche Kedusha here too, but we stopped doing that a couple of years ago after we decided to lengthen Torah study and shorten services. I can’t imagine that this did much to shorten at all, but there it is.
  • The rest of the service is really nothing special, although there is a weekly call for agreement on an Adon Olam tune by acclamation.
  • Then there’s kiddush, which is always fantastic. White fish salad. Yeah.
  • Whew.
  • There’s probably a lot of typos in this.

13 responses to “Minhag Chavurat Lamdeinu

  1. “We do what is known as a Heiche Kedushah, the fancy name for what Reform Jews do”

    Probably 90% of Conservative services I’ve been to (other than Ma’ariv, of course) have done this, too. Orthodox minyanim do it sometimes, too, but I bet rarely, if ever, on Shabbos morning. The history of chazaras haSh”atz is crazy. I recall hearing that the Rambam abolished it for his kehillah. I’m pretty sure that the Rambam would be considered a heretic if he were around today (for many reasons).

    “Ps. 30, p. 17-18: We skip this and Russ tells us to rise for…”

    The G”RA strikes again!

    “PESUKEI DEZIMRAH, which we do in a fairly abbreviated fashion”

    Not uncommon, but before I got to this, I was marveling at how much time you must spend on Mah Tovu, Asher Yatzar, Talmud Torah, and Elohai Neshama, ALL of which I’m used to seeing skipped entirely.

    “Then there’s kiddush, which is always fantastic. White fish salad. Yeah.”

    We too had Whitefish salad yesterday, for the first time in a while. Score!

  2. David,
    Sounds like Russ is adding some Reconstructionist language “v’al kol yoshvei tevel” (V’ezrat Sarah is also from the Reconstructionist liturgy). I may come to the Chavurah for Shabbat services some Saturday to hear the melodies and daven.


  3. Barechu, p. 42: Still standing. We always chant this in the normal fashion. There is never any of that song crap that drives me nuts with Barechu.

    Who dares to sing Barechu?

    Anyway, we do this “Heiche Kedushah, the fancy name for what Reform Jews do” at my Conservative shul too. I didn’t even know there was another way. Although, the days when we have pre-Bar Mitzvah kids read Kedusha, I sometimes wish there was another way.

    • Who dares to sing Barechu?

      If you think there’s only way to do Barechu, you’ve got another thing coming. I’m not fan of it, but it exists. It’s not like a whole big song that goes on for a long time, but it’s a song nonetheless. I can think of two versions off the top of my head.

      Anyway, we do this “Heiche Kedushah, the fancy name for what Reform Jews do” at my Conservative shul too. I didn’t even know there was another way.

      Yeah, I always forget that Conservative Jews have by and large given up on the repetition. The other way, though not in the evening, when there is no repetition, is that the kahal does the Amidah on their own and then the chazarat hashatz, the leader’s repetition, occurs.

    • BTW, as a part of your study for conversion, I would recommend highly attending a wide variety of shuls other than your usual shul so that you have a good idea of where other Jews may be coming from.

      There is nothing that makes me crazier than the ludicrous things that Reform Jews think about other Jews–the Orthodox in particular–and the things the other Jews–the Orthodox in particular–think about Reform Jews.

      • Hey, I agree with you. We only have two here, and I’ve grown to really dislike our Reform temple.

        I did go to some minyanim when I visited New York though; that was fun.

        Oh, I know what you mean—during Hebrew class at the Reform temple, they were talking about the Conservative shul that I go to, and I got the impression that they think we’re crazy maniacs over there with peyos and wave chickens.

        • Which minyanim did you visit?

          • Well, I admit they were both Conservative, but in my defense I was about to go to a Reform one too—what was it called….Central Synagogue—but by that time, my sister pretty much hated me and my minyanim.

            Anyway, I went to Town & Village Synagogue for Shaharit, which was on East 14th Street, then we went to the East 55th Street Synagogue for Ma’ariv.

  4. One of the things I like best about Chavurat Lamdeinu is the truly portable ark. It’s fantastic.

  5. Pingback: Stowing my pen and covering my head | The Reform Shuckle

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