Friday, October 07, 2005

Pro Piyutim

I think it's amusing that the frum thing to do nowadays is to complain about the High Holiday piyutim Some say they are boring, others argue they should be dropped from the service. None of this makes any sense to me. Also confusing is the claim, often repeated, that davening is not a show.

Oh, really?

Of course it's a show (some of it is anyway) and this is what the composers of the tefillah intended. Aside from the silent Amidah, which was set aside for silent reflections and meditations, and the Torah reading, the tefillah has been designed to sweep you up in the mood, a mood that is set by the liturgical readings (piyutim) and the sacred music (chazanut.) Every so often, you are even called to participate in the pageant - during modim at oleinu, for example, or during the avoda when everyone becomes an actor in the events the Reader is describing.

The strange, new idea that you're supposed to sit with your forehead scrunched in rapt concentration for the full service would be foreign to those who composed the tefillah, imho. They designed tefillah to be enjoyed. From where I sit, the philistine complaining about music and poetry sounds a lot like the griping you get when you accompany a small child to the symphony or the opera.

And that analogy about the opera is meant to work on many levels because, as I have said before, the piyutim need to be appreciated as art. What else did those who elected to include them in the davening expect us to do with them? There's not magic spells, or kabbalistic formulas. They're poems that are meant to be appreciated as poems, and that are meant to have the affect on you that is realized by all good poetry.

If a poem doesn't mean anything to you - especially a poem that chazal thought appropriate for Yom Kippur davening - don't you owe it to yourself to find out what you are missing?