In a new article in Kerem Magazine: Creative Explorations in Judaism, Hazzan Jack, dean of the Aleph Cantorial Program, challenges us to “discover and implement ways to make the Torah service come alive”.
A friend who is an active officer in a large New York synagogue attended a ritual committee discussion about the quality of services at the shul, and proposed that the Torah service be dropped. The shocked worthies wanted to know how he could suggest such a thing. He replied that Shabbat morning services in this shul were indeed engaging, emotionally and intellectually satisfying experiences. Everyone sings, discusses, participates…that is, until the Torah service. Then, he observed, the energy in the room drops dead. Yes, the columns of Hebrew are nicely chanted and melodically correct, but hadn’t everyone present on the ritual committee seen for themselves how during the Torah Service the participation and engagement dropped to near zero, how people zoned out, drifted to the back to chat…and disengaged? Yes, the aliyot are called, and those chosen dutifully or cheerfully march to the front to recite the blessings, but as a whole, what might in earlier times have been a highlight of Shabbat morning was now deeply dull. All in all, it was not working. And if that was so, perhaps it should be dropped.