This is an experimental Friday night service in which the entire kahal becomes the choir. Our premise is that music is not only an enhancement of tefillah, it is a requirement, and that the more beautiful the musical expression, the more powerful will be our tefillot. Beauty is not an end in itself, but a way of connecting ourselves to the Divine. The guiding principles are: (a) to bring to tefillah the hiddur mitzvah of beautiful music, sung unhurriedly and with the same attention to detail and quality that we value in other aspects of Jewish life, (b) to encourage full participation in communal singing; (c) to revive the tradition of the chorshul—artistic solo and choral singing, but adapted to the principle of total involvement of the kahal; (d) to provide an opportunity for all to experience the inspiring power of singing in harmony; (e) to establish an atmosphere that is warm and welcoming. The kabbalat shabbatis based on new arrangements of the Carlebach melodies, and the arvit incorporates some simple humming of chords under the hazzan, settings adapted from Lewandowski, and a few new user-friendly arrangements.
In order to make this happen, a core group of singers is identified, and they rehearse the music in advance. The mekom tefillah is set in a circle (or semi-circle), surrounding the ba’al tefillah. All attendees are given a booklet containing both the words and the music of the prayer service. The leader introduces the service, encouraging all worshippers to sing, whether it be the notated arrangements, or just the melodies, or creating their own harmonies.
This experiment was launched at Cong. Shaarei Tefillah, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton, Massachusetts, once a month in the winter and spring of 2012. It has turned out to be a beautiful and inspiring experience, a welcome alternative to prayers that are often rushed and performed without attention to kavanah or hiddur mitzvah.
Pro. Jacobson is available to lead such a service or teach how it can be done.
“Words are the language of the mind. Music is the language of the soul… The Torah is God’s libretto, and we, the Jewish people, are God’s choir, the performers of God’s choral symphony.”
—Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.