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Saturday, May 12, 2007


Was it Davening?

In January, Batya of Shiloh Musings posted a piece called, "It was beautiful, it was thrilling, but is it dovening?" Although I empathized with her and even left a comment there, I somehow felt that this couldn’t happen to me. Well, I was wrong.

This past Shabbos, one of the "big names" on the Chazanus scene was to be making his appearance at one of the shuls in my neighborhood. I had seen this man at some Chazanus concerts, and enjoyed his talents immensely. Being a mere five-minute walk away, and being that it was Shabbos M’varchin [when we bless the upcoming new Jewish month], I figured, why not try it? Many of my friends were planning to go as well, and indeed when I arrived there this morning, a few minutes late, the shul was quite full.

Pesukei d’Zimra, the opening part of the service, was usual [ordinary, but fine], led by a regular member of the shul. Then, for Shochen Ad, the chazan went up, accompanied by a choir of about ten men, with the full range of voices, from soprano to bass. Indeed, both the chazan and the choir sang beautifully. BUT, as Batya indeed expressed it, it was not a Tefilla, it was not davening – it was a performance. In fact, the congregation basically “mumbled” their prayers in a rushed way for about 30 to 60 seconds, before the next part of the performance came – a 10-minute interlude of the chazan and the choir performing the next piece from the Siddur [prayer book]. After this went on for quite a while, I realized that I was not davening, but anticipating "what would be the next piece they would perform." Once I caught that thought in my mind, I decided I had to leave. Looking at my watch, I decided I could go ahead of the "davening" through Shmoneh Esre, and then make it to my regular shul in time for Kriyas HaTorah [the Torah reading] and the rest of davening.

But of course, I didn’t want to embarrass anyone, including myself, by davening Shmoneh Esre in a corner or the back of the shul. Fortunately for me, there was another minyan in a downstairs room of the same shul’s building, so I went there, intending to daven Shmoneh Esre by myself in the back. Again, a smile from Above descended upon me, as they were in the midst of Shmoneh Esre! When I finished that part, I made it over to my shul in time for Kriyas HaTorah.

I guess I’ve learned my lesson – chazanim are performers, and while they may give wonderful concerts, if you want your davening to be davening – well, stick to the simple. But as I indicated in my comments on Batya’s post, for me at least, this is not the same as a Carlebach or Modzitz davening. There, even though there’s a lot of singing, the congregation is very involved in singing along. They’re not sitting silently in their seats, waiting for the next part of the performance.

Yitz, I'm glad that my post stayed in your memory. And this may sound funny, but I'm sad that you say I was right.
So many Jews haven't a clue of what real "dovening" is. They are only familiar with the performances but not the words of the prayers.
Shavua tov
Thanks, Batya. Actually, I had remembered you wrote something similar to what I wanted to write, so I did a search for "chazan" at the top of your blog, and found the post easily.
i was there too this shabbos and had a different experience. for me, the performance was inspiring and my own davening was indeed enhanced.
incidently, like yourself, i am familiar with rabbi freifeld and now that i know we're in the same neighborhhod, i am curious to meet you.
Carlebach used to put on a performance, too, but I don't think anyone can deny it was tefillah.

IMHO, "tefillah" and "performance" don't have to be mutually exclusive.
Anon: I can understand that it was different for you, but when a Chazan begins to repeat words, skip around the Siddur, etc. [for me & probably many others] becomes a performance & not davening. Perhaps I should have davened earlier & come for the show. If you want to meet or talk to me, e-mail me with your phone number - if you do so soon, I have a great way for us to meet.

CH - Any Baal Tefilla can be considered a "performer", but it depends on what your main intention is, & how much you're into davening, or how much into "pleasing the crowd" with another spell-binding performance. I don't think Carlebach did the latter, even at his concerts!
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