Monday, September 21, 2009

Why are we so liberal about our liturgical music?

Riddle me this: Why is the chazan allowed to use any music he likes? We permit our prayer leaders to take tunes from just about anywhere. If the chazan likes Carlbach, that's fine. If he likes D'vaykus, that's also ok. He's even allowed to use melodies that sound for all the world like they were originaly composed as peasant drinking songs. In fact, my father claims he once heard the same tune twice in one weekend: On shabbos in shul, and then on Sunday at the Russian circus. None of this is verboten, and no one questions the chazan's right to use whatever songs he likes best. The question is why? Or, more specifically, why is the music treated differently then the liturgical selections? Though we once gladly -even eagerly- accepted new material from Jewish poets, that era has ended.  Nowadays its impossible to change the davening script. Were a modern Kolynomous to report a dream in which a maimed Rabbi instructed him to introduce a new Yom Kippur prayer he'd be laughed out of town. Not one shul would obey the dream directive because, for better or worse, the words are set in stone. The music, however, is not, and if your congregation is like mine, it swayed happily this weekend to melodies that were composed by questionable characters, and men of low repute, yet no one objects.

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