Reading Response

“Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Identity” provides an insight into the decline of the davening (prayer) phenomenon and the development of congregational singing. The discussion generally focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, putting into consideration that these two centuries are closer to the onset of the topics under discussion. The article skillfully discusses congregational singing in regard to its musical context during the specified period while the special focus is on the characteristics of congregational singing, and the role it played in the tefillah (prayer) larger entity context.


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Cantor William Sharllin provides a clear analysis of the impact of the view of various historical phenomena on congregational singing in the tradition of Ashkenazi. Namely, the latter was influenced by modernity, the period of enlightenment, and the liberalization period assimilation in addition to the security of both the open society and the free society.. Therefore, it would be fair to suggest that these historical phenomena played a significant role in the shifts that were witnessed in congregational singing. The changes were a result of the vacuum that was left after the decline of the Davening power and its demise. First, this led to the downturn in the tefillah discipline, besides the rise of the fragmentation of language with both reading and singing and pulpit fragmentation the decline of the liturgical and linguistic literacy followed by. Second, the shifts of congregational singing which stemmed from the above mentioned historical phenomena also led to the growth in the secularization of tefillah institution, hence clearly reminding the fact that religious spirit generally depends on continuity which is a true noted implication  during the period under discussion. The changes introduced by secular culture affected the musical aspect of the prayer, as well. Some of the changes may be perceived as positive, like in the case with Solomon Sulzer, or rather negative, when pop cultural elements are incorporated. The author argues that these new popular tunes which were initially designed to facilitate children’s learning, eventually influenced adult service, thus causing a more serious and permanent transformation. Eventually, all these little “novelties” distorted tefillah irreversibly.

Additionally, it is also true to say that prayer is a natural form of the expression of religion. It  is a process of personal communication with the creator, and it requires the isolation of an individual for good concentration. The literary piece provides  an explanation of the Jewish law according to which one must pray three times a day and do it in isolation . An individual did not necessarily require a synagogue for the completion of the prayer service. One can do this at any particular place provided where the individual is committed to have the prayers. However, it is wrong to state that one has proved prayer to be difficult for its transition  to the modern world. This is because prayers have nothing in common with modernity. In my point of view, modernity cannot influence prayers in any particular way. Since prayers are more of an individualized culture, one can be in a position of engaging in prayers without being interfered with the modernity phenomenon. All that is required during the  process is  commitment, strong faith and believe that eliminate the chances of interference of modernity in prayers.

However, it is true to say that  regarding  congregational singing, the task  concerning  the identification of the direction that this type of singing has taken has gradually become complex over time. Partially, this can be attributed to  the fact that there has been an increasing rate of diversity in regard to synagogue affiliation. Consequently, the mainstream of music in its various forms in the numerous synagogue practices has began to lose stability and  lack the ability to influence the process of searching for new relevance . Hence, various communities continually engage in the submission for fragmentation. Furthermore, some changes have been introduced. For example, one has made considerable efforts to reshape the prayer books that initially existed, therefore providing room for increased diversity of liturgical choice particularly for modern worshipers. Therefore, a lot of modernity is being introduced into congregational singing. Sometimes, these changes neglect the traditional forms.  of various synagogues of worship, which promote different ways of reaching spiritual fulfillment in line with congregation worship. As a result of the emergence of new synagogues as well as new temples, there is the continuous prayer elimination. However, it is crucial to note that there is no necessity of dwelling in these chances, rather, it is crucial to focus on individual commitment to prayer and elevate the power of prayer individually.

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In conclusion, the book “Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Identity” suggests that prayer and congregational singing have witnessed various transformations in the past as well as in the present. They appeared due to  the development of various synagogues and temples causing the transformation in the manner of singing. Obviously, communities assimilate secular elements and add them to their mainstream tradition. However, it is wrong to allow modernity to influence prayers negatively as long as prayer is a form of religious expression that is more individualized. The sheer strength of spirituality – “kavvannah” – has to be preserved. One should therefore ensure that they continue engaging in prayers taking into consideration all the aspects of prayers. Individuals have to build their relationships with God by committing themselves to meaningful prayers without being distracted by modernity. This is the only way to avoid fragmentation the synagogues have been facing.

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