Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 14 February 2010

A Casualty of Change

I may have mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of chazanus.  For me, a chazzan warbling and dragging out davening detracts from my prayer experience.  Not that I'm the kind of guy who's out the door as fast as possible but for me, the person leading the services should be inspiring people to raise their own level, not be putting on a show.
From my limited experience in the area, it also seems chazzanus isn't that big a deal in the Orthodox world.  This isn't surprising given that most frum people are in shul to daven, not for the theatre experience.  A good chazzan would prolong the time to dinner/lunch and is therefore more an annoyance than anything.
(One of my beliefs: the length of the davening by the shaliach tzibur is inversely proportional to the quality of the meal awaiting him at home)
Therefore it is with little sadness that I read of the downsizing of the Jewish Theological Seminary's cantorial school.  In many ways the only surprise for me was that such a school still exists in the non-religious world.  After all, with the changing of the siddur to meet secular liberal standards, the expansion of the use in English in their prayer services and the egalitarian concept in which anyone, regardless of actual qualification or (sometimes) knowledge base can go up and lead services, it's a surprise that cantors can actually find work outside of the High Holydays.
The cantor, for me, speaks to a bygone era when people went to shul to feel inspired by the cantor instead of trying to generate that internal feeling through their own efforts.  Yes, a good chazzan could move you to tears with his rendition of Kol Nidrei or a dramatic kedusha, but the point of praying is to move oneself to tears, not to rely on someone else to bring it out in you. 
So as a tribute to the soon-to-be-defunct program, I'd like to share a joke with my reader(s):
God is busy creating the world.  He creates the horse and brings it before him.
"What am I?" asked the horse.
"You are a horse," answers God.
"And what is my job?"
"You will be man's most important tool.  You will carry him into battle and help him expand his civilization by transporting him everywhere."
"And how will he treat me?" asked the horse.
"He will beat you with a stick," answered God, "to make you run faster, and make you sleep outside and when you get sick he won't try to heal you but will just kill you to turn you into glue."
"That sounds awful!" exclaimed the horse.  "How long will I live?"
"Thirty years," replied God.
"That's too long," declared the horse.  "Let me only live for fifteen."
God agreed, sent out the horse and brought in the dog.
"What am I?" asked the dog.
"You are a dog," answers God.
"And what is my job?"
"You will be man's best friend. You will help him hunt, guard him and his children and give him companionship and support."
"And how will he treat me?" asked the dog.
"He will beat you with a stick," answered God, "if you don't do everything he's say, and make you sleep outside and when you get sick he won't try to heal you but will just abandon you."
"That sounds awful!" exclaimed the dog. "How long will I live?"
"Thirty years," replied God.
"That's too long," declared the dog. "Let me only live for fifteen."
God agreed, sent out the horse and brought in the chazzan.
"What am I?" asked the chazzan.
"You are a chazzan," answers God.
"And what is my job?"
"You will lead services for Jews in their synagogues.  You will inspire their prayers, bring tears to their eyes and leave them spiritually inspired."
"And how will I be treated?" asked the chazzan.
"You will be constantly feted," answered God.  "People will constantly praise and celebrate you and you will be the certain of attention wherever you go."
"That sounds wonderful!" exclaimed the chazzan.  "How long will I live?"
"Fifty years," replied God.
"That's too short," declared the chazzan.  "Can't you make it a lot longer?"
So God thought about it and then took the fifteen years he'd take from the dog and the fifteen years he'd taken from the horse and gave them to the chazzan.
So now when you see an elder chazzan eating like a horse and wailing like a dog, you know he's living on borrowed time!

3 comments:

N said...

My take on chazanus is that if the dude is there to perform, he can take a hike and I would spend the tfila planning a killing spree.

If he's the type who sings a niggun that everyone joins in for, I love it and find it really enjoyable and inspirational. You don't get too many of them though.

Yosef Greenberg said...

Chazzanus has quite a weak and negative history in Jewish tradition, as well as halachah.

David said...

I have a major problem with anything that makes our already drawn-out services take longer. More importantly, someone who doesn't have the voice for it but can't quite restrain himself from doing the "chazan" thing is very close to my idea of Gehinnom. That said, if someone has a genuinely good voice and can lead the prayers effectively, it's not so bad, is it? If I could hear Richard Tucker or Jan Peerce on Shabbos, I might have a slightly higher tolerance for the whole business...