Leynen In English
Haftara in English for Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av
a setting by Hazzan Jack Kessler
Director of the ALEPH Cantorial Program
The teaching that follows was developed decades ago, among a circle of us around Reb Zalman. I then further developed it, and it is now taught to ALL our ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP) students as well as through labs at the Davven’n Leadership Training Institute (DLTI).
We teach our Torah and haftara readers to do three innovative things:
1) to leyn expressively, to vocally communicate the dramatic power of the narrative or Torah and haftara, and not just mechanically sing the trop,
2) to alternate leynen in Hebrew and in English directly from the scroll when leynen Torah, and likewise use Hebrew and English for haftarot, staying inside of the drama of the language and the melody of the trop.
and even more radically
3) to develop creative English haftarot, both ones that interpretively deliver the core message of the Hebrew text of a traditional haftara, but also to create new haftarot – especially English haftarot drawn from the growing legacy of modern “prophetic” literature.
In the service of this endeavor, I have created and set to trop excerpts from the most passionate speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, and other poetic and prophetic texts.
It is my intention to periodically offer some of these experiments through ALEPH. Here is a haftara in English for Shabbat Chazon. All interpretive liberties in the translation are my own. Do feel free to adapt for your own needs.
This is not in any way to diminish our hope that literacy in Biblical Hebrew might become widespread. We have been doing this for years, and teaching this widely. We are dedicated to making Torah and haftara reading come alive, and have found that this is working for us and our hevra.
But the experience that people have when the Hebrew and English seamlessly blend, and an evocative translation is happening right in front them – inside the melody of the trop which is such a powerful carrier wave for the emotional power of the text, is so palpably powerful. The same is true of haftarot, whose Hebrew is often far more complex than Torah Hebrew, and which are often speed-read at a pace that would defy comprehension for all but the most unusually fluent. The power of the prophetic message is important to communicate. Let it ring out!
An article about my work in this field is here Kerem Magazine: Creative Explorations in Judaism Final Issue: #14English Leyning: Bringing New Meaning to the Torah Service kerem.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Kessler-Final-PDF.pdf
May this Shabbat of Vision bring us the vision to move closer to the best of what can be.
Hazzan Jack Kessler
Hazzan Jack Kessler directs the Cantorial Program of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and is the author of Leynen in the Fast Leyn. He was ordained as a Cantor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, and went on to have a twenty-year career serving Conservative congregations. He instructs at the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Program (DLTI) and directs two touring ensembles: ATZILUT– CONCERTS FOR PEACE, a ten member ensemble of Arab and Jewish musicians performing together, and KLINGON KLEZMER, which does Jewish music from other planets.