Friday, May 25, 2007

Chad Mi Yad'ei? Who knows Ein?

I was thinking the other day about Echod Mi Yodea. Now, not all the verses rhyme. However, some do, and do so by switching Aramaic. The numerals are Hebrew, not Aramaic, and the first 6 items listed are in Hebrew: Elokeinu, Luchot Habrit, Avot, Imahot, Chumshei Torah, Sidrei Mishnah.

Then you get
  • 7 "yemei Shabata" Hebrew-Aramaic hybrid (Ar. would be yomei)
  • 8 "yemei milah" is Hebrew again.
  • 9 "yarchei leida" Aramaic yarchei not chodshei, which would scan just as well, but I think "leidah" is Hebrew.
  • 10 "dibraya" From here on in, the nouns are all Aramaic.
  • 11 "coch'vaya"
  • 12 "shivtaya"
  • 13 "midaya".

Is it known who wrote it? Why the shift from Hebrew to Aramaic? It starts Hebrew, then has a hybrid section, and finally switches to Aramaic. Might it symbolize the shift from Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew into Aramaic for rabbinic dialogue and writing? Or is that just post-facto hermeneutics?

It doesn't only seem to be for poetic reasons such as rhyme or scansion. While the last four rhyme and scan, they would scan just as well with two syllables for the Hebrew plurals. 9 doesn't seem a necessary switch, as noted.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Jewish Imperative To Sing, Part VIII

Musical Note By Cantor Sherwood Goffin

As we say before the Psalm for each day, the Levites were required to sing the Daily Psalm as well as at every sacrifice and at other various occasions in the Holy Temple. As the Rambam says, (Hilchot Klei HaMikdash), some of the Levites were appointed to be watchmen while others were appointed to sing. (Perhaps it depended on whether they had pleasant voices).Both thereby fulfilled their requirement to to participate in the Avodat HaKodesh - the Holy Duties of the Temple service. Aminmum of 12 Levites would sing the service and a group of Levites and talented Isrealites would accompany them - at all times- with instruments. The Rambam also states that each Levite, at age 25, had to study singing for 5 years before he joined the choir at age 30. Later on, when his voice failed, he then became a watchman.

In shul, each congregant is like a Levite and must join in song with the Chazzan. Since this not the Holy Temple, no one - voice or not- should take the role of the Watchman. Don't sit back and "watch". Join in with us! Good or bad, every voice counts! As we are bidden: "Shiru Lashem Shir Chadash" - sing to G-d a new song. It doesn't say "only those with good voices" We accept all voices and all prayers. G-d only wants you to pray. Let us hear you!

Daven Well and Sing Along!

(c) 2007 Sherwood Goffin

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Turning in Lecha Dodi

Does an abstraction need a door?

(paraphrasing Capt. Kirk: Does God need a starship?)

On an email list, a member noted that in some shuls, people face the back for the last verse of Lecha Dodi, even when there's no door there.

What they are actually doing? Turning away from the Torah to greet an abstraction.

Is there perhaps a greater problem in turning one's back on the Torah? R' Riskin once reprimanded a founding member of his shul who, following his personal (I had been told German, but other correspondents say not) custom, turned completely away from the Kohanim during duchening, thereby also turning his back on the Aron, containing the Torahs. Said member thereafter turned away, but not completely around.

And also, what are we doing in turning for L'cha Dodi?
- turning to the door to greet the Queen?
- turning away from the Aron, if the queen approaches the Aron?
- turning to the West, since the sun sets in the west, which signals the beginning of Shabbat?

Moshe Hallamish, in his recent "Kabbalistic Practices on Shabbat", considers the question on pp. 228-230.

It seems to have started with the Tzfat group, with the terse notation "they go out to the field to greet the Shabbat, facing west." Later, that seems to have glommed onto just the last stanza of Lecha Dodi.

By 17th-century Galicia, a source notes "they turn towards the western door". Other late teshuvot note "turning towards the door" or "turning to the west, because the Shechina is in the west".

The Mishna Brura (turn to the west to greet the shechina which is in the west) and the Aruch haShulchan (turn to the door) (both c. 1900) differ. R' B. Zilber (Oz Nidberu) tries to reconcile them, in terms of synagogue construction. He brings a third opinion explaining the "turn to the west" as non-literal, rather practical, to signal the mourners who are sitting in the western doorway that they can come in. He notes that shuls in the North of Israel, which should turn from South to North, actually turn to the West. So the reason must be to greet the Queen, Extra Soul, etc. from the kabbalistic reasons.

(MB and AhS deal with this in ch. 262).

The Yad Beit HaLevi notes that Sefardim in Tzfat would go out to the courtyard and turn to the West; in Galut this doesn't happen, but they still turn to the West, so it's clear that the whole thing is symbolic.

R' Zilber notes that since the Torahs are more than 10 tefachim above the ground (I know shuls where they are not), and turning away is only prohibited to greet a friend, because it's like bowing to the friend (and away from the Torahs) it is not a problem to turn away from the Torahs for this (citing Levush 150; this Levush is also cited by R' Ezriel Hildesheimer, OH #22).

Hallamish concludes with a passage from the siddur Tikun Shabbat by R' Moshe b. Gershom of Zalshin, 1827, saying that one should say the last verse with great joy, facing west from which one gets the Extra Soul, and the Sabbath Queen, adornment of Her husband. This implies that the Shechinah/Sabbath Queen nourishes us with the Extra Soul.

(note: also posted to Mail-Jewish)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Repetition in Davening

According to R' Rich Wolpoe, repetition has been a long-time argument between cantors, who want to repeat ad nauseam, and rabbis who think it's problematic.

The Cantors Manual of Jewish Law mentions this tension, and notes a hierarchy of repeating.

  1. Don't do it.

  2. Repeat, but preserve word order:
    1. within a phrase: kah ribon, ribon olam.

    2. repeat whole verses: ein keloheinu verse 1 at end again.

  3. Worst: repeat words out of order, ruining the sense of the sentence.

Personally, I'm not that fond of repeating. However, if a) it's melodically necessary, and b) it's not a verse, particularly a verse with God's name, I don't have such a problem with it. In that, I seem to be following Cantor Sherwood "the Chaz" Goffin, my model for all things cantorial.

For instance, there's a tune for Ein Keloheinu, which is AAB (it starts out [& a c', c' d'-b c']), but the B tune ends on the third up from the key, so you have to repeat the A tune to finish on the key note. The Chaz repeats the first verse.

There's also the mishna in brochos warning against "modim modim" and one other repetition; IIRC the gemara derives that since it was only two examples, rather than a blanket prohibition on repeating, it's only those two which are theologically problematic.

Dr. Meir Levin, in R' Yitz Etshalom's series on Rambam's Hilchot Kriat Shema, has some interesting observations on repetition in the view of the Rambam:

Thus in Halacha [2:]11- Reading lemafreah is Lo Yatza. Reading a verse and repeating (1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4,) it or repeating a word, such as "Shma, Shma" is unseemly or we hush but is acceptable B'di'avad. (There is no Al Haseder of sequence but there is Al Haseder of Zman)
Note : [the repetition of] "Shma, Shma" and "Modim, Modim" is to Rambam an issue of Nusach Hatefila (the formulation/wording of Tefilla).

See our halacha and Tefila 9:4. Rambam does not quote the law of "Modim, Modim" in 9:7 or 10:5 where heretical leanings during Amida are discussed but in the context of Nusach of Shmonei Esreh. (But see Commentary to Megila 25)

Be careful, though, when davening with the "hippy dippy" heterodox. They may repeat phrases to fill up the space taken by phrases that they cut, thinking them theologically problematic.

For instance, in Mogein Avos, when it's done in C-nagogues, they may repeat "ki vam ratzah lehaniach lahem" to cover up for skipping "lefanav naavod beyirah ufachad", which contravenes their belief that the sacrificial order will not be reinstated.

So approach repeating with some forethought, and take into account your whole tzibur, rabbi and congregants.