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    


Elli Fischer said...

You may recall that a few years ago in the alter helm (Modiin, that is) someone used Geshem nusach for the Kaddish before barkhu on RH at a hashkama minyan. Lo and behold, it began to rain...

Yitzi Lindenbaum said...

Hi all -
"I love the nusach freak" here.
My cousin gave me an awesome way to remember the neilah kaddish: the first three notes are the same as the first three notes of "Happy Birthday."

the NF said...

Yitzi -
Wasn't sure if you wanted to remain anonymous....hope I answered your question.

your cousin's way to remember is great....never really thought of it.

-the NF

Anonymous said...

Not sure I would trust the opinion of a chazan with the first name, Sherwood....

Elli Fischer said...

He's an outstanding ba'al tefilla.
You don't have to trust his opinion, but I sure would.
[See what I did there?]

Anonymous said...

Only an amateur would go rising on "shemai rabba" to make those kaddeishim unnecessarily similar. For Pete's sake.

the NF said...

Dear Pete -
I'm not quite sure I understand your comment. No one is trying to make the kaddeshim similar --- but each kaddish has a jump from yitgadash to shemai raba.

-- The NF