Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Great Synagogue

I have written here and there about the shaliach tzibbur (communal emissary) and the importance that that role has in the experience of Jewish prayer. If you go back and read my post about Yom Kippur, I wrote that the shaliach tzibbur for musaf did not have the most magnificent voice, but that his presence, passion, and command for the t'fillah far surpassed any his vocal shortcomings. To draw a contrast, last night I attended kabbalat Shabbat at The Great Synagogue, pictured above.

The chazzan, accompanied by an award winning choir, delivered rousing renditions of the Friday evening t'fillot. It was an impressive display of what I think comes to mind when people think about classical European chazzanut. Any attempt at recounting the beauty of the music would fall woefully short of its true grandeur. At one point, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be transported to the "old world," where daveners would pack the shul to hear the magnificent voices of Europes finest chazzanim.

I would be remiss if I did not inform you that it was not a participatory experience. There were very few opportunities to sing along. As such, many of those in attendance, tourists and daveners alike, turned to side conversations which detracted from the power of the music. Unlike my Yom Kippur experience, which was highly participatory, this was perhaps akin to a concert, which while beautiful did not fulfill my desire to sing the Psalms of kabbalat Shabbat.

I hope this helps others in considering what kind of davening they wish to seek and build.


Anonymous said...

I think it is interesting to hear that this is the 'old school' way of European Jewry, but do you think that this was Orthodox Jewry in Europe, perhaps a number of Orthodox shuls were like this, but i think that mostly it was the reform movement of Europe that brought this about to Reform and later Conservative (mostly in America) congregations. Didn't most Orthodox minyanim look like little shdieblach?
I've davened there once on a Shabbat morning and couldn't stand how it resembled a choir. I never leave during the middle of shul, but i left that time during the Torah reading because i could not continue to sit there.
I realize, as does everyone i'm sure, that the world of this kind of shul is dying and more participatory services are becoming the norm, do you think there is still value in this?
p.s. i know someone who sings in the choir there...hope he won't see this

Daniel said...

I'm not sure about the numbers as far as what was 'old school' and what wasn't. Perhaps I should have been less general in my claim, but I suppose it stems from an image of the large Orthodox congregations that were found in Poland before the War.
Regarding the second half of your comment, I think there is still value, as it provides a window into highly refined hazzanut.