by Cantor Sherwood Goffin
It is an immutable requirement for the Chazzan of every shul and minyan that our traditional musical nusach hatefillah cannot be changed. This comes from the Psak Halacha of the Maharil, as quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (619:1) and the glosses there of the Rama: “One may not change the custom of a community, even as to its customary prayer-melodies.” The Rama adds: “(Maharil)”. Who was the Maharil, and how did his psak become the rule for all Ashkenazic synagogues in the world?
The Maharil, Rabbi Yaakov HaLevi Möllin, (b. Mainz, 1356, d.Worms, 1427), the first to bear the title of “Moreinu,” was the Chief Rabbi of the Rhineland. Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz writes that, “also being one of the great prayer leaders of his time, he traveled from one community to another, reestablishing the traditional prayer melodies. By virtue of his great authority, the Maharil succeeded in laying the foundations for the prayer rite (ed: and customs) accepted by all Ashkenazic communities.” He then sanctified those melodies with the title “MiSinai,” to emphasize their ancient and immutable quality. He also standardized the musical modes required for each tefillah around the year. Our Baalei Tefilla must be well-versed in the MiSinai melodies that nurtured the souls of our fathers’ generation, our grandfathers’ generation, and the generations before them. No one has the right to discard even one of these sacred melodies of our tefilla. This requirement to keep the traditional nusach is especially true for the holiest days of the year – the Yamim Noroim, but applies throughout the year, for every prayer, at every service. It also applies to the choice of sing-a-long melodies, which must fit into the given musical mode of the Tefilla. You can rest assured that your Chazzan is exceptionally fastidious in respecting and preserving these guidelines of the Maharil that have governed our Tefilla for the last 600 years!
DAVEN WELL, DON’T TALK, BUT SING ALONG!
© 2009 Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin