Tag Archives: kabbalat shabbat

Beth El week 2, now with more chazanut!

I was back at Beth El for Shavuot and again tonight. Tonight was similar to last week’s Kabbalat Shabbat, but more remarkable for its differences.

Last week’s was led by Rabbi Francine Roston, who conducted the service with a minimum of commentary and uncomplicated music (I called it boring in last week’s post, which may have been a tad strong). I can’t recall if she gave any sort of devar. And she led the whole thing standing on the same side of the shtender as the the congregation–that is, she faced the ark, her back to us, which I prefer. When you face the congregation, you sing at them. When you face the same direction that they are, you are leading them, as their representative.

Tonight’s leader was Cantor Perry Fine. Fine, as it so happens, has taught Russ Jayne at JTS. (Russ is a cantorial student and the beloved musical leader of Chavurat Lamdeinu.) So Fine and I had a nice chat about how great Russ is on Shavuot.

Anyway, Fine led this service with a tad more commentary than I’d like and more varied–though, as you’ll see, sometimes more overpowering–music. He also faced us, which may have been part of what encouraged him to talk to us so much.

I also have some new observations about the set up of the smaller chapel space at Beth El. The chapel is wider than it is long, so the chairs face each other in a wide semi-circle facing the ark, with a podium/shtender in the middle. If you have any more than 25 or 30 people in there, as we did on Shavuot, the chapel is a good size. It feels neither vacant nor packed with that sort of attendance.

However, on Friday nights–based, mind you, on a sample size of two weeks so far–it’s too big for the crowd, which is closer to a dozen than to 20. It’s big enough at that point that everyone can sit with several chairs between them and the next person in each direction, which is not good for ruach. My guess is that setting up chairs in a close circle that excludes the podium thing might be a better setup for Friday nights at Beth El.

We were also using an odd little siddur tonight. I borrowed a copy–with Fine’s permission, of course–so there I’ll have more on the siddur later, hopefully tomorrow.

  • Accessibility vs. musical prowess: Fine conducted most of Kabbalat Shabbat in a manner similar to Roston, in that it was first-line-last-line nusach for most psalms. However, Roston’s simple approach to the nusach made it  possible for me to sing along, while Fine’s chazanutasticness became overwhelming at times, preventing me from mumbling along. Accessibility vs. musical prowess shouldn’t be a trade-off, though it unfortunately often is.
  • Nusach vs. Carlebach: I loves me some Carlebach, so it was nice to have some in this service for some of the usuals like ps. 29. Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out where the syllables in the words fit within the melody with Carlebach and there were times when Fine let the melody fall on a different syllable than I’m used to, which tripped me up.
  • Unfamiliar, slow and hard: Lecha Dodi was the first of several things that Fine sang beautifully, but to slowish tempo and unfamiliar tune, making it hard to follow.
  • Mourners: As with Roston last week, Fine took the unexpected step of actually pointing out an individual mourner at the end of Lecha Dodi and having us all say “Hamakom yenachem… etc” to them.
  • English? Fine added some of the sort of commentary I quite like for ps. 29, explaining why it’s there. Which was nice. Then we read it in English, which was 100% unexpected.
  • Lewandowksi? Lewandowski is one of those composers I could never match with a tune until tonight. Before singing Tzadik Katamar from the end of ps. 29, Fine talked a tad a bout Lewandowski and how he composed this famous Tzadik Katamar. It was neat.
  • More weird tunes: With Ahavat Olam, we started to reach a fever pitch of slow, unfamiliar hard to follow tunes. This continued with Hashkiveinu and got real bad at Mi Chamocha.
  • The Bat Mitzvah girl and a bizarre Shma: Tomorrow’s Bat Mitzvah girl (she’s have hers at mincha/maariv/havdalah tomorrow) led the first to paragraphs of the Ve’ahavta, then we continued silently for the third one and then we actually read the fourth one out loud, in Hebrew. Not chanted, but read. It was quite unexpected.

That’s extent of my noteworthy observations about services tonight. Overall, twas good and I’m still enjoying getting to know Beth El.

ALSO, I hesitate to mention this because it confused the hell out of me, but Fine told me afterward how nice my voice is and asked if I’d ever been in a choir. I was flabbergasted. I know nothing about my voice and tend not to think too highly of it. More on this development later. I think.


OneShul. Yeah.

Without commentary–or editing–here are the notes I typed while “attending” the online Kabbalat Shabbat at OneShul.org.

30 second ad for the new james cameron film, sanctum.

there’s a logo up. the service has not started. unfamilar guitar-camp sort of music is playing. there are 9 other viewers. i can log in to chat. i refrain.

now we’re at 10. a minyan has arrived.

below the screen and the chat field, there is a siddur called “OneShul Community Siddur” it’s the same thing as indie yeshiva pocket thing. which i will be attempting to use. not that koren is far out of reach, but i’m making an effort here.

we’re down to 9 viewers. back to 10. back to 9. back to 10. up to 11! what is going on? and 13.

Google ads keeping popping up.

holy crap, the tune is country roads.

down to 12.

oooh. it’s starting. and it’s stopping. and it’s starting? and it’s stopped again.

it’s very choppy. there’s lots of discussion of how choppy it is. and it’s better. and now the whole thing is gone.

Well, in the midst of all the choppiness, we were all welcomed and they mentioned that they were about to do something involving a Shabbat dinosaur.

Thankfully, I think we missed that due to the choppiness and the outage because we’re back and this guy Michael is doing candle lighting. interesting, that we can all sort of light candles together, in a way. I already lit mine, which are now burning next to the computer.

The Shabbat dinosaur is back. It’s a little girl in a blue dino outfit.

And the nusach their using to light the candles is for Chanukah. *facepalm* Then Michael reads the bracha again in English.

After some puttering about and brief discussion, we’re singing Shalom Aleichem. I feel a little silly sitting in my dorm room singing along with this.

Patrick Aleph says, “Adonai Malach yirgzu amim.” Now Michael is reading it in English.

Now Michael is doing a devar and Patrick has joined the chatroom. “lets talk smack during the dvar” he says. AviEarnest says “Michael needs a dinosaur prayer shawl.” Goodness gracious.

Michael is talking about how Mishpatim takes slavery, a despicable institution, and tames it.

“michael is more spiritual than me in this way. he can take text and really work it well” patrick writes.

There are 18 viewers by now.

Michael is done now. Patrick says they’re gonna take some questions from the chat.

coco765: “How can you look for G-d?? I’ve been doing that all my life and I haven’t found G-d. Any ideas????”

Michael, apparently in Rabbinical school, answers.

I’m struggling to be open-minded right now. Realllly stuggling. Oh my goodness.

20 people now. comments are flying.

coco says, “PunkTorah=my new bff!!”

Michael is talking about Art Green. In theory, this goes from 7 to 8. (michael mentions reb zalman now.) It’s already 7:25 though.

can we get on with this service? one or two more questions, Michael says.

aaaand we’re on the barchu.

we’re halfway through maariv aravim. I’m gonna leave it there and tune out from the service. This is not Shabbat-conducive. The amount of judge-y in my head right now is no good.

Shabbat Shalom.

Limmud NY Notes: Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it.

I'm gonna go here on Shabbat. Who's with me?

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

The word Renewal arouses suspicion in me. At Limmud NY on Friday, there was a Renewal service being offered. It was led by David Ingber, the endlessly fascinating spiritual journeyman who founded the flagship Renewal outfit in New York, Romemu. The music was by Romemu Musical Director Shir Yaakov as well as Shoshana Jedwab on the drums.

I took a lot of notes. By way of a review, here they are, polished a bit:

  • Kirtan Rabbi: We began with Hareini Mekabel Alai by Kirtan Rabbi, which I love. I hadn’t expected tunes from KR to show up here, perhaps because I’ve never heard them anywhere except on his albums. I suppose it shouldn’t have been too surprising, given that I’m on KR’s e-mail list and I know that he plays at Romemu pretty regularly. It was a very nice beginning to the service.
  • Things that make me suspicious: Shir says things like, “Breathe in the first breath of Shabbat. Breathe out the previous week.” OK. What is this Kol Haneshama?
  • Things that make me downright uncomfortable: Shir says, “Don’t worry about the recipe book. Enjoy the meal we’re making together.” Don’t worry about the siddur? Fat chance. Also, a curious thing for him to say, as we’ll see later. This is the attitude that makes me suspicious of Renewal.
  • Liturgical health check: Most present are using the copies of Sim Shalom provided by Limmud NY. Joe Rosenstein is in the front row and looks like he’s loving it. Not surprisingly, he’s using Siddur Eit Ratzon, which he edited. Also, Shir Yaakov created Joe’s website, newsiddur.org. I’m using Koren Talpiot. There’s one Koren Sacks in the crowd. And my friend’s girlfriend, rather curiously, has brought Gates of the House with her.
  • Seriously, though. Buy this CD.

    But the music is good: Shir then leads Higale Na, a tune from his album, “Zeh.” I can’t dislike it.

  • And then the dancing starts: We move into the Carlebach Psalm 96 (Shiru lAdonai, shir chadash etc.), skipping 95. When the Psalm ends and the nigun begins, people are out of their seats dancing. We’ve gone from zero to ecstatic dancing in less than half the time and liturgical space it takes Kol Zimrah or B’nai Jeshurun. In a conversation with Ingber later, he’s pretty proud of this. Between the clapping, the stomping and drumming, the floor is shaking.
  • I’m into it: We go into Psalm 29 (Mizmor leDavid etc.) with more Carlebach. Somewhere around this point, I decide to visit Romemu in person.
  • Kid Friendly: This is not a kid’s service. But it is a forceful refutation of the idea that such things necessary. Right before the service, I heard to kids bargaining with their mom about how much time they’d be in the service. They Jewed her down to 20 minutes without much trouble. And then they stayed for the entire service.
  • Ana Bechoach? I don’t know from Ana Bechoach. I rarely see it done at the places I go, but we did a tune that I’ll assume was a Shir Yaakov tune for the line from Ana Bechoach “Yachid ge’eh le’amecha feneh zochrei kedushatecha.” Again, it was nice. I like his music in a liturgical setting. There’s thinking to be done this week about guitar liturgy, given Debbie Friedman’s recent death.
  • Kab Shab: Generally, I prefer that we do all of Kabbalat Shabbat, but I don’t feel as strongly about that as I do about some things. In a conversation later with Ingber I tell him I find Kabbalah and mysticism suspicious. Then I tell him I prefer a full Kab Shab. He rightly calls me on this and I have no answer.
  • About that cookbook: The injunction to ignore the siddur is a curious thing from a guy like Shir Yaakov, who is reaching into relatively obscure pieces like Ana Bechoach, which is otherwise untouched by contemporary guitarish Jewish songwriters. The service is interestingly inaccessible to some. Given that we have no transliterations and there isn’t a lot of page number announcing going on, one friend–far less liturgically literate than I–is having a lot trouble keeping up. She doesn’t sing at all until we hit Lecha Dodi–is that another Shir Yaakov original we’re doing?–because it’s common enough in liberal Jewish liturgy that she knows a lot of the words. Musically, the service is accessible, textually it isn’t. One with out the other is not enough. The problem of access to text is too important to push aside with a quip about cookbooks.
  • Krakow! I was beginning to wonder when we’d get to the Krakow nigun. At the sixth paragraph of Lecha Dodi, we begin to use the Krakow nigun melody, which is novel to me. It works. One woman in the front row is dancing again. Later, a lot of people join her. Can you spot Romemu regulars by how quick they are to start dancing during services?
  • Shmooze fest: Between Kab Shab and Maariv, Ingber asks everyone to say Shabbat to people around him that we don’t know. “Careful though,” he says. “I don’t want it to become a shmooze fest.” Yeah, OK. It quickly becomes a shmooze fest.
  • Call and response: Barchu is done with an unfamiliar tune. People often have a hard time discerning what to do during Barchu when it’s a tune rather than nusach because the call and response nature of it is hard to parse. That happens here.
  • Shma: One, two, skip a few… aaaaaand Shma. We do the long, breathing, slow, ponderous version of the first line of the Shma. I’m impatient. We chant the second paragraph and the rest is silent.
  • Rain Stick? During Mi Chamocha, Jedwab starts in with a rain stick. After two goes with the stick, I’m done with it and–thank God–she cuts it out.
  • Chanting and whatever: “Ufros aleinu sukat shelomecha” in Hashkiveinu to that tune I like. I don’t know whose it is, but you know what I mean. Then we chant Shalom a bunch. Then we chant Salaam a bunch. Ingber occasionally interrupts with things like, “Peace in every heart… peace in every mind… peace throughout the world… peace out the wazoo… etc.” Then we chant, “Let there be peace” for a while. And then there’s the chatimah.
  • And then the Christians show up: Oddly, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary” cropped up. In this instance, we did Yihyu in English to the tune, then we sang the chorus of “Lord prepare me etc,” then we niguned it for a while, then we did “Ve’asu li mikdash etc.

Then I had to run out to do announcements somewhere else, but ended up coming back and doing them at the Renewal service anyway when I got back. I missed the rest of the service though.

I’m curious to see more. I’m strongly considering attending Romemu on Shabbat morning this week.

And I’m gonna go with 3 1/2 Ballpoint Pens for this service: |||-

But I wanna be very careful in pointing out that this isn’t a rating of Romemu. It’s a rating of a thing that a group of people from Romemu did somewhere else without their core group.

Shir Chadash–a new egal minyan in Crown Heights

Crossposted to Jewschool. More liturgical minutiae from the first meeting of Shir Chadash here.

We were planning on heading out to the Kane Street Synagogue on Friday night, but a last-minute email from Jewschooler Kung Fu Jew had us heading out into unfamiliar territory–Crown Heights–for the first ever meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan. I called KFJ to ask for details. He didn’t have many. He didn’t know if musical instruments would be allowed. (He didn’t even know if my ballpoint would be allowed–luckily, no one seemed to mind.)

For future reference, my answer to the question, “Do you want to go to the first meeting of a new egal minyan?” is always yes.

A perfect storm of Jewschoolers, former leaders of Kol Zimrah and some former leaders of at least one DC minyan are now living way the hell out on the far reaches of the 2 and the 3. For a long time, folks have been talking about starting a new traditional egalitarian minyan for the area.

Finally, last week, after a lot of talk, one guy–Brian Immerman, a fourth-year Reform rabbinical student and a former teacher of mine–decided to just go for it. He e-mailed some people and by the middle of Lecha Dodi, about 20 Jews were in his living room to daven.

My notes on the first meeting of Shir Chadash: Continue reading

Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week. (And yes, Larry, I’ve also been thinking about your admonishments about creating vs. criticizing).

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

Mishkan and the Messiah

Someone recently claimed on the iWorship listserve that among other generalizations one could make about Reform Jews, one could say that Reform Jews don’t believe in Olam Haba–The World to Come.

This used to be a big cornerstone of what I believed all Reform Jews must believe, as evidenced by a lot of the nonsense I said on this blog back when I was actively working on a new sidur.

I now know that most Reform Jews don’t believe in a personal Messiah. Many prefer the ill-defined “Messianic Age” (like me, for instance). I would say that many, if not most, believe in some sort of Olam Haba, whether its physical or spiritual and whether it involved the Messiah at all or not. But I have met a handful that openly acknowledge a belief in a Messiah or at least a high degree of openness to the idea.

So how does Mishkan come into this? Reform liturgy, it seems, is still replete with the Messiah, whether we really want him/her/it or not. Take Havdalah, for example. NFTYites and participants in Reform camps often cite Havdalah as their favorite ritual experience. And at the end, we sing all about hastening the arrival of Messiah, Son of David.

And then, in Kabalat Shabat, we’ve got L’chah Dodi. Gates of Prayer knew what the Reform Jews in the pews still know–most of us don’t believe in a Messiah. That’s why GOP and many of its Reform liturgical predecessors lacked two verses of L’chah Dodi that referred explicitly to the Messiah. (Never mind that they tossed out a few other totally inoffensive verses as well.)

Verse four of L’chah Dodi says:

At hand is the Son of Yishai (Jesse, David’s father), of Bethlehem.

Another verse puts it like this:

At hand is the Man, the Son of Peretz (Peretz being another of David’s ancestors).

It’s not too easy to metaphor-ize these verses. Either because of that or because no one wants to bother learning the “new” verses, I have yet to attend a single MT-using Reform service in which all verses of L’chah Dodi were sung.

Is this evidence of a new approach to the theologically distasteful in Reform movement liturgy? I think not. If it were, we’d find references to the restoration of Temple sacrifice in MT and mentions of the imahot out of it.

Yet, here’s the Messiah. Back in Reform liturgy. He’s not wanted in L’cha Dodi (except, apparently, by its editors). But he is wanted at the end of Havdalah.

What gives?

WUPJ Kab. Shab. review, part V (Modim and lessons learned)

Parts I, II, III, and IV.

Today I’ll cover this service’s truncated and strange treatment of Modim.

Normally, Modim goes like this:

Modim anachnu lach, she’Atah hu Adonia Eloheinu vElohei avoteinu (in standard Progressive these days: v’imoteinu) l’olam va’ed.

Tzur chayeinu, magein yisheinu, Atah hu l’dor vador. Nodeh l’cha unsaper t’hilatecha, al chayeinu hamsurim d’yadecha, v’al nishmoteinu hap’kudot lach, v’al nisecha sheb’chol yom imanu v’al niflotecha v’tovotecha sheb’chol et, erev, vavoker, v’tzoharayim. Hatov, ki lo chalu rachamecha, v’hamrachem, ki lo tamu chasdecha, me’olam kivinu lach. V’al kulam yit’barach v’yitromam shimcha malkenu tamid l’olam va’ed. V’chol hachayim yoducha, selah, viyhal’lu et shimcha be’emet, ha’El y’shu’atenu v’ezratenu. Selah.

Baruch Atah, Adonai, hatov Shimcha, ul’cha na’eh l’hodot.


We thank you, for you are our God, God of our mothers and fathers, forever.

You are the rock of our lives, the shield of our salvation, from generation to generation. We thank you and tell of your praises, regarding our lives, delivered into your hand; regarding our souls, entrusted to you; regarding your miracles, performed daily; and regarding your wonders and favors, with us every moment, evening, morning, and noon. You are good, never-ending in mercy. You are merciful and your kindnesses never cease. Our hope is always with you. Regarding all of this, we bless and exalt your name always and forever. All living things will thank you, and they will praise your name in truth, God of our deliverance and our help.

Blessed are you, Adonai. Your name is good and to you we give our thanks.

Normally, when we see a Progressive service include a prayer, but reword, there is some objectionable material in the original. Unless we throw out the entire premise of prayer, I’m not sure we can find anything objectionable in the prayer. Yet, the WUPJ Kabalat Shabat service I’m writing about today massively truncates the prayer and inserts a new sentence of little consequence.

Throwing out all of what I’ve chunked out as the middle paragraph above, this service gives us one sentence in its stead:

Nodeh l’cha al kol hatovot v’hachesed v’rachamim shegamaltanu v’she’asita imanu v’im doroteinu sh’milfaneinu.

Meaning, I think:

We thank you regarding all the favors and the kindness and the mercy that you benefit us with and that you do for us and for our generations.

Okay. So effectively, all that the editors have done with this prayer is massively condense it and introduce some tongue-twister words sure to trip up anyone whose Hebrew reading skills are less than excellent.

So. Concluding thoughts on this whole service. From what I can tell, this service was used only once, as part of a large WUPJ convention. It was designed to showcase the poetry and the litrugical innovations of worldwide Progressive/Liberal/Reform/Reconstructionist Jewry. And as showcase of that, the service does a fine job. I am simply let wondering what many of the “innovators” whose work was borrowed for this service were thinking.

[EDIT: The comments to this post are required reading. Some very enlightening stuff there.]