Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Vitality To The Printed Letters

(Picture by Wayne Brasch)

The absence of instrumental music during these days of Sefira once again led me to ponder the topic of music and made me recall two people with gorgeous voices.

I have often joked that the reason why no one listened to the prophets was because they spoke to the people in the same monotone chant in which the weekly Haftorah is often read in most shuls.

The Haftorah did not come alive for me until a few years ago when a Persian man at my shul recited it with a incredibly beautiful Sephardic cantillation. Rather than sounding like a grade school teacher taking attendance, his melody renewed the words of the prophets in such a way that it resonated deeply inside me. Instead of flipping the page ahead to see how much longer the Haftorah went on for, I found myself closing my eyes and relishing every second. I lament the times when another person is called up in his place since in comparision their delivery often sounds like the continous hum of a power generator. Every fiber of this Persian man's being is intertwined in the melody; his pain, his longing, his tenderness. His words soar upwards with a real power behind them.

His voice also makes me recall a man named Yosef, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, who was the chazzan at a shul I once davened at. Yosef had been an opera singer in Budapest before the war, and today devoted his amazing voice to the words of prayer. His beautiful voice now most certainly gave merit to his father, mother, and sister who were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. His repetition of the Amidah was a masterpiece even to those who did not particularly care for chazzanus. Upon hearing the first note, one could immediately recognize that the emotion in his voice was not the showiness that characterizes some chazzanus, but rather drawn from all the things he had been through in his life. The sincerity in his voice could leave you speechless and in tears.

Today, I thank Hashem for the opportunity of being able to hear these people whose voices gave vitality to the printed letters and propelled them to the highest heavens.


At May 2, 2007 at 6:57:00 AM EDT, Blogger Cosmic X said...


Personally I love the regular Ashkenazic haftarah melody. A "grade school teacher taking attendance"? Come on!

At May 2, 2007 at 10:03:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too was a bit baffled when I read "monotone chant in which the weekly Haftorah is often read in most shuls.".

The Ashkenazic haftarah reading, when done properly, can be enjoyable and inspiring.

Perhaps where ASJ davens they don't do it well ? In many Hassidic places one cannot hear and appreciate it as the haftarah is read quietly, en masse. In that case the non-Hassidic places seem to generally come out far ahead, though they can sometimes have problems too, whether talking or someone not knowing how to lein it. In some places the regular baal kriah leins it for whoever has maftir, who only recites the brochos (which should also been done properly, with the right tune, which gives them a fine taam).

On another note, this also brings to mind the importance of selecting a good shliach tzibbur or baal kriah generally. Let us not delude ourselves. The person leading things has a big effect on the quality of the services and should be chosen carefully.

At May 2, 2007 at 1:26:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

Although I basically agree with Cosmic & I, it is also true that the Sefardic cantillation can be very moving & beautiful. Having lived many years in Israel, around many Sefardim, I must admit that many of them appear to be more "connected" to the words of Tefilla and Torah than us Askenazim. And of course, there are exceptions on both sides.
But in any case, thanks ASJ for an inspiring Sefira post!

At May 7, 2007 at 3:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

I like the ashkenazi tune for sefer Yonah on yom kippur.. or at least the one my british uncle always reads it in..

on a separate note, now would be a good time to point out that we used to have (and probably still do in some pocket-communities) niggunim for learning mishnayoth and gemara and basically every other part of Torah. Not only do the Ta'amim come from the highest spiritual roots, but also how else could everyone remember all that Torah Sheh'be'al Peh without a tune?


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