Ma’ariv: The Musical

I didn’t have a problem with the piano. That was ok, we have one at my shul.
I didn’t have a problem with the guitars. Of course, I use one myself.
I didn’t even have much of a problem with the drumming. Sometimes it can be a nice rhythm during t’fillah.

The room was set up with theatre lights above and and orchestra in front.
Of course, I was the one who turned the lights on, but that is truly besides the point.
To be sure, I was also the one who ran the sound check before t’fillah. Yes, incredulously, this was the first time I ever had to run a sound check for t’fillah. Intriguing.

Our shaliach tzibbur informed us before davening that this evening’s service would be about joining together as a community. Nu? The community was temporarily fractured this evening. Thankfully, it was quickly repaired by some fast thinkers.

What would push twenty-five girls to retreat to a bathroom to daven ma’ariv? You’re not supposed to pray in a bathroom! What does that say about the t’fillah that they left? And what does it say about the girls themselves, who abandoned their peers? Moreover, what does this all say about how we approach t’fillah itself?

Once, just before I was about to serve as a shaliach tzibbur, I was asked what my goals were for the service.

Jesse: “Um…” (Pause) “To pray to God?”

Guy: “But what’s your goal?”

Jesse: “Um…” (Pause) “To use Hebrew?”

We can’t continue to treat t’fillah like a program. We can’t continue to approach prayer as an item on a schedule that needs abstract goals and objectives. Prayer has one goal: to communicate with God. It has one objective: to be done in way which is applicable to the person praying.

I’m sure that some people this evening were able to communicate with God. I’m sure that for some, it was done in a meaningful manner. But for many, the stated goals and objectives of the evening (to create a sense of community) were tossed aside recklessly. If the goal had been to provide a chance for the community to commune with God, perhaps it would have been much easier to succeed. Instead, what resulted was a musical performance.

And it wasn’t even good music.


One thought on “Ma’ariv: The Musical

  1. Prayer’s two functions. Connect people to G-d. Connect people to people. It wasn’t the music. It was the attitude of those leading it. You’re right. It was a performance. Not because of the microphones, or the jazz piano. But because of the way they acted leading the service. Music can serve to connect community. Nothing that I have seen can connect people quite the same way as singing and dancing together.

    I was at an orthodox shul about a year and a half ago for shabbat services with a friend who invited me along. Their service (at least the beginning and end of it) was a crazy festival of singing, dancing, and stomping of feet. The music connected the community.

    I’m all for creativity in services and pushing the envelope of what connects us as Jews to both G-d and to each other. If a variety of instruments and means are used to do so, I’m all for it. But no one should feel like the leaders are using the service to further their own agenda… or to show off.

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