The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Three More Points on Nusach

1. Kehilah-Freindly Nusach. I got the following email in response to yesterday's post on Nusach Carlebach:
I think the purpose of nusach is to help the person davening in the kehilla
to achieve a greater kavana. Think about the tune for Kol Nidre and your
heart should automatically beat faster. But here is the problem: if it is
sung nicely and close to how you remember it, it bring you to tears and your
kavana increases. If it is sung poorly or not how you like it, your mind
finds the mistakes, and you feel compelled to share your critique with your
neighbor. The same goes for nusach. If you know the tune, like it, or or
in the mood for it, it helps the emotional side of davening. Many times at
davening an excellent ba'al tefilla brings more ruach and kavana to the
kehilla with a well placed and sung tune You can hear it, and feel it, and
be swept up in it. But, that same tune, sung by someone else, or a
different tune, by that same person, or under different circumstances, can
yield only a lonely solo, atop an undercurrent of murmuring. Sooooo, a
good ba'al tefilla should try to get a handle on what it take to increase
the kavana and emotional/spiritual content of the tefilla and pick
tunes/situations accordingly.

I think the writer's point is excellent. Selecting ba'alei tefilah who are pleasing to the kehilah is probably the toughest job of a gabbai. Many ba'alei tefilah have unrealistic views of their own talents and think they are much better than they really are. That often leads them to 'perform' and go much more slowly than necessary. Also, these ba'alei tefilah will often pick niggunim that few in the shul know (or, if the ba'alei tefilah are really bad, few in the shul will even recognize). When this happens, rather than enhance the davening, it can become a source of great frustration and aggravation to the kehilah. (This principle also applies to those who try to daven nusach Carlebach and don't know what they are doing.)

2. Tradition. The HLML's email that I discussed yesterday regarding the importance of tradition in nusach leads me to a related topic. I've noticed that many MO shuls that daven nusach Ashkenaz has adopted minhagim (customs) that come from nusach sefard. Two examples: I have seen a number of shuls say "Shir Hayom" on Shabbos followed by kaddish immediately after the repetition of the Amidah of shacharis (rather than at the very end of musaf). And in a practice that I think has become widespread, on Succos, many MO shuls say Hoshanas immediately after Hallel rather than at the very end of davening.

I assume that the Rabbanim of these shuls have decided to make these changes in order to maintain better decorum. Is that a good enough reason for changing the mesora? I leave this one for Hirhurim and others. Are there halachic or hashkafic implications to changing practices in nusach that have been normative for hundreds of years?

3. Nusach and Decorum. The topic of the lack of decorum in most Orthodox shuls is a topic far too big to address at this time. But JewishFringe (who started this whole discussion), points out that there is much more kavod hatzibur and connection with the traditional nusach than at Orthodox shuls. He suggests that it may be because those who come to a Conservative shul are making a conscious decision to do so whereas MO mispalilim may just be going through the motions.

Interesting observations. I will have a lot to say about the decorum breakdown in the MO world in the future but I don't have any perspective on the Conservative shuls.


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