A form of individual Jewish spiritual practice and communal worship, the repetitive chanting of simple biblical Hebrew verses from psalms or other sections of siddur is being incorporated into congregational worship services and the pratices of contemporary Jewish seekers alike.
Accessible and Participatory
For Jews and other seekers who have minimal or no traditional or religious Jewish background but want to embrace a Jewish spiritual life and practice, sacred Hebrew chanting is simple and immediately accessible. The repetition of short, individual Hebrew verses renders liturgy far more approachable than lengthy Hebrew prayers that fill the traditional siddur (Jewish prayerbook). Shorter prayers that contain single themes make it easier to maintain kavannah, spiritual intention during prayer.
Rather than being overwhelmed or intimidated by the liturgy, those who lack basic Hebrew fluency can quickly learn the meaning of the Hebrew words and the pronunciation of these verses. While initial experiences of Jewish communal worship may feel daunting or inaccessible, chanting simple Hebrew verses in sacred community offers an opening to the larger world of Jewish spiritual practice. These chanting services are therefore much more participatory. Everyone’s voice is invited into the mix and the blend create a harmonic chorus that envelopes the group and shapes everyone’s prayer experience. A sense of connection and spiritual community is felt immediately as each individual’s experience is enhanced by the group.
Melodic, Harmonious and Rhythmic
Traditional nusach, melodic scales for reciting long Hebrew prayers are employed less frequently in communities where congregational singing of prayers and guitar and keyboard accompaniment has become more common. But songs written in the folk or rock style, or classical choral pieces do not appeal to all worshippers. New musical compositions bring a revitalizing and energizing dimension to communal and private prayer. Exciting chants often used in sacred these services have been composed by Rabbi Shefa Gold, Yofiyah, and Rabbi Andrew Hahn and others. These chants fill the worship space with layers of harmony and rhythm. As was historically true of Jewish music, some of the new chants borrow from musical worship of other cultures and spiritual traditions, such as kirtan, a Hindu form of musical worship which utilizes a pattern of call and response. Accompaniment by drums and other types of percussion makes chanting services more celebratory and uplifting.
Embodied, Contemplative and Integrated
Some sophisticated spiritual seekers may have already explored movement forms from zikhr or Dances of Universal Peace from Sufism or the ananas and flow sequences of Yoga. These seekers want a less “heady” and more “hearty” spiritual practice. Inviting the embodied self into prayer makes chanting more spiritually fulfilling. Those who are accustomed to contemplative practices like meditation and mindfulness will appreciate the periods of silence that follow extended chants with dramatic rhythmic and harmonious waves of sound. The balance of active ecstatic outpourings of song (with or without accompanied movement) with periods of quiet receptivity allows time for integration and reflection.
Join us at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco, at 7:30 PM on the fourth Friday of each month, for our Erev Shabbat of Sacred Hebrew Chant and Drum Service. Please bring a treat for the Oneg Shabbat Shmooze that follows. Check http://wwww.bij.org for more details.