Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Jewish Rain Dance

A reader has written in with a question regarding that Jewish Rain Dance called Tefillat Geshem:

From: "I Love the Nusach Freak"
Date: Oct 11, 2012 6:04 AM
Subject: Tefillat Geshem/Tal


Dear NF,

First of all, just discovered your blog, and it's amazing. Some of our nussachim are simply specimens of beautiful composition and totally deserve the respect you pay them.

Second of all, when on Shmini Atzeret the guy davening Mussaf used the Chatzi Kaddish from Yamim Noraim Shachris (or at least something very similar), I silently went a little crazy because I was expecting Yamim Noraim Mussaf (which I personally think is really, really beautiful). But after doing some research I discovered he was right. My question is, quite simply, why? How does it make sense to stick a Shachris Kaddish in a Mussaf?


Dear "I Love the Nusach Freak"
Thank you so much for your mail. You are so right: some of our nussachim are simply specimens of beautiful composition. Unfortunetly many others are complete dreck. But really who are we to judge? 

 Regarding Tefillat Geshem -- Let's start with some background regarding what to use when. In Ashkenazi nusach there is a concept of mi-sinai niggunim which of course means that they are not from sinai. Here is a link to an excellent article by Cantor Sherwood Goffin on the matter.
 In Ashkenazi nusach using the R"h/Y"k musaf kaddish for Tal/Geshem would kind of be like playing God Save the Queen instead of the Star Spangled Banner. Lhavdil, of course. I can only think what would happen should such a thing occur (mixing up the kadishim, not the anthems) and I'm pretty sure it would involve mixed dancing and inter-marriage. 
having said that, there are three distinct nusachim that all have 2 very similar attributes (and that are all mi-Sinai niggunim):
 1. Tal/Geshem
2. Neilah
3. the kaddish before baruch hu on R"H and Y"k (I'm not actually sure if this is a mi-Sinai niggun but since nobody is going to get hurt if we call it one, let's go for it). Listen to about 10 minutes in....  

Each kaddish starts with a declining scale for the words יתגדל ויתקדש followed by a sudden jump to a  higher note for שמיא רבה . This is followed by all sorts of ay yay yays. I never really thought about it before but I guess there are similarities between Shacharit and Tal.  So-So chazzanim are always getting confused between Tal/Geshem and neiilah and thus, one way to test  a chazzan if he knows his nusach is to ask him to sing both and identify which is which. I have alsways found that the way to remember the Neilah melody is that the melody on the initial words have a certain desperation while Tal and Geshem is a long slow decline which makes sense when we are in no hurry on chag (unless of course it is the first day of Pesach and the prunes that you had for breakfast finally did the trick right before musaf).  

I hope that answers your question.

    - the NF    

Shabbat Chol Hamoed - A guest blog

Editor's note: The NF is pleased to once agin host  a guest post from the Big Gong.

Yankel led shacharit, which I have to say, was surprisingly bearable. It was almost as if he was showing some sensitivity to the fact that we would soon have to endure 28 minutes of a man (editor's note: the same guy who led YK shacharit last year)  reading kohelet whilst his underwear was clearly too tight. They must have been very tight because he at least went at some pace.

The one foul up Yankel did make, IMO, was to use this tune during Hallel (as a bonus, the clip features both kol isha and some buxom seminary girls jumping up and down)

Just because a popular song has the same words as are included in Hallel, it doesn’t mean it suits the responsive nature of that particular part of tefilla. No one knew if they were coming or going --- and that was before they saw said clip of buxom seminary girls. (Editor's note: I take no respondibility for the Big Gong's humour).

The Torah reading was so slow, it was actually read backward. We ended up somewhere in Vaera for the Maftir.

When Ben Bollocks took the stage for Musaf an audible sigh was heard. I walked around the shul collecting everyone's belts so as to minimise the suicide attempts that would surely follow as Bollocks, showing no sensitivity to the time, proceeded to belt out his now obligatory “Avinu Avinu”. Shoot me now. Twice. And then hang me.

I just don’t get it.

thank you Big Gong.

The NF has recieved an intersting question from a reader regarding the correct nusach for the kaddish preceding Tal/Geshem....Hopefully I will respond in a post soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sukkot & Simchat Torah

shalom to the greater gonging community.

The NF was asked to lead Maariv the first night of sukkot....It's kind of fun being the shaliach tzibbur for a big (450+ people) minyan but it was a bit annoying that only a handful of people joined in for the English/German shalosh regalim kaddish before the amida. Here is a link to the sheet music.  I'm still working on getting a sound file....

A good time was had by all over Sukkot, .זמן שמחתינו----- that is other than an NF fan who wrote to the NF describing his disgust of an experience he had at his local hashkama minyan on the first day of chag....Yes, Shacharit was fine (even if the chazzan screwed up Hoshanot), our fan was even forgiving when the chazzan for Musaf forgot ותערב. However, when the chazzan for musaf used the Partisan's song for kedusha, our fan had had enough. As our fan wrote:
"Yes, I just love that joyous image of jews in ghettos fighting the Nazis and marching under the gates of the camps to liven up my yomtov"

(At some point we may need to do a post on inappropriate melodies in shul)

Another NF fan told me of his disgust when on the first night of sukkot  the baal tefilla in his shul used the pre-mussaf kaddish from the yamim noraim. If you don't know the nusach, don't get up there.

Simchat Torah
The NF happily spent some time in shul over Sukkot reading תולדות חג שמחת תורה by א יערי which identifies the origins (all in late antiquity) and various minhagim (very sketchy) practiced around the world on this awful day. I came across a minhag from E. Europe where the village melamed would lead all the little children through the village yelling out צאן קדשים to which the children would respond:


Yes. יערי  then dedicates 2 pages in his book breaking this minhag down mentioning in which towns the children would say, Mehh Mehh and which villages they just said Mehh.

So the NF brings the 4 little NFs to shul on simchat Torah night only to find an old guy yelling: צאן קדשים. Children responding loudly were rewarded with lots of candy.

All in all, hakafot were bareable at night...

In the AM, the NF davened at the 5:15 AM minyan, finishing at 7:45 AM. The problem: I ended up returning to shul at 9:30 with the children....At least kol Hanearim was very well organized (150+ children making their way  after their aliya to shake hands with the rav and get a bag of junk.)