Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A tale of two perspectives

It was Shabbos Chazon, and I was in a new shul for Friday night services. The Kabbalas Shabbos proceeded as usual, but when we reached Lecha Dodi something unexpected happened. The Chazan used the wrong tune.

The Shabbos Chazon custom I know from childhood camps and shuls is to chant Lecha Dodi to a hauntingly simple dirge-like tune, that heaves like a sigh in (what I think is) minor key. This tune is also used for Kaylee Tzion, the final dirge (kinah) recited on Tisha B'Av morning. Using it on Shabbos Chazon sets the mood for the entire week, and announces that the day of great mourning is on the horizon.

In this shul that custom was unknown. Instead of using Kaylee Tizon, the chazan chose a bouncy Calbachian song. I'm sure my features registered some disapointment, but the faces of the congregation as they clapped and tum tum tumed told me this selection was not unexpected.

Afterwards, I cornered a shtreimal-wearing old-timer, and asked him about the Kaylee Tzion custom.

"Bah," he said. "That's a modernishka custom. You want that, go to a Young Israel."

Ok, so a few years later, on another Shabbas Chazon, I did.

After that Kabalas Shabbas the rabbi, a YU grad with a black hat and a trimmed beard, presented a little talk. His topic was the parsha, but before he got going, he had a few words of introduction.

"I'm sure I speak for many of you," he said, "When I tell you that sitting in shul on Shabbos Chazon singing Lecha Dodi to the traditional tune of Kaylee Tzion is an emotional experience. As I sing, I think of the years gone by, and how my father and grandfather before me, and their fathers and grandfathers before them -stretching all the way back to the beginning - all sang this song on this night. I think how it means we're back again at another Shabbos Chazon, and how we still have so much more work to do."

Too true. Let's start by teaching our friends and neighbors the truth about Jewish customs, in particular the custom of using Kaylee Tzion on Shabbos Chazon. The little lies people know and tell each other about the origins and development of customs -- bah modernishka; oooh it goes back to creation -- is the source ofway too much Orthodox sectarianism. If you wish to eliminate baseless hatred, you can begin by eliminating the errors that propel it.

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