This MLK Weekend, we’re calling attention to a valuable resource that was featured last year at the AOP OHALAH Shabbaton and here on Kol ALEPH. This article by Hazzan Jack Kessler, director of ALEPH’s Cantorial Program: English Leyning: Bringing New Meaning to the Torah Service (Kerem, 2014), is again on our minds as Martin Luther King weekend approaches.
Hazzan Jack writes:
Twenty years ago I first heard Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l, leyn/publicly read Torah in a flowing combination of Hebrew and English. His leyning in the traditional trop — the Torah melody — moved seamlessly from Hebrew into English translation and back into Hebrew without breaking the melody. Moreover, he used the English — which he was translating on the spot from the open scroll — to interpretively and dramatically teach the text. It was stunning. A tour-de-force! The text practically jumped off the page. I had never heard Torah so passionately alive, so powerful. I’d been leyning Torah my whole adult life, and I know the Hebrew reasonably well, but others around me, for whom the Hebrew would typically be a blur without meaning, were riveted too. They heard the ancient Hebrew, its inflections and rhythms, but interspersed with English in a way that brought them inside the experience. The public reading of Torah had come alive! The words leapt from the scroll into their hearts. We could hear the song of Torah become the carrier wave for the emotional power of the text. People who were hearing Torah read from the scroll, and understood it for the first time, wept.
As the article continues, he describes how he began experimenting with setting contemporary prophetic texts in haftarah trope.
Click here for Hazzan Jack’s setting of quotes from Martin Luther King’s speeches set to haftarah trope: mlk-haftara_trop [pdf]