hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 25th, 2008 07:54 pm)
Listening to BBC Radio 4, as per usual; yesterday was, of course, the Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Cambridge. Later, listening to the Christmas Midnight Mass from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, and it was an interesting contrast between flavours of liturgy.

I was especially struck by a prayer in the Liverpool service which observed that in 2009 Liverpool will no longer be an European City of Culture, and seemed to be requesting strength to deal with the spiritual darkness which must inevitably follow, but in general it wa noticeably more Reform/Renewal in tone and vocabulary; the congregation speaking in its voice to God and the Church speaking in the same voice to the congregation.

Myself, I prefer more traditional liturgical forms, as represented in the King's College service. In not attempting to match the pace of change outside, they achieve the impression of timelessness, which to my mind is what high liturgy is for; by performing apparently timeless ritual, you connect with the eternal infinite.

In not moulding to the contemporary voice of the congregation, a liturgy heavily influenced by tradition risks appearing remote and uncaring, yes, but that suits me; the eternal infinite is remote and uncaring, it seems to me. The genius of liturgy is to expose its beauty by moving the congregation, meditation-like, from focus on the specific to a transcendental focus on totality.

Practically, the challenge is to elevate divine service sufficiently that it does not become mundane, but to moderate the elevation such that it remains within reach of the congregation. Kings no longer gives service in Latin, it uses English, but it is still quite High Church in style and tone. Very elevated - hopefully very elevating, but perhaps the Liverpudlian cathedral's prayers, coming as they do to meet the congregation where it is, are more within reach.

It's rather lovely how it all matches up. I happen to be writing this about two Christian congregations because they happen to be what're on the radio, but obviously this particular aspect of the liturgy transfers smoothly into the Jewish realms. Right now, I like my liturgy traditional-flavoured, which means largely Hebrew and Aramaic and no European Cities of Culture, but when prayers in the Aramaic vernacular were introduced into the service, they spoke in the voice of the congregation, and talked about Babylonian Cities of Culture.

As they say, בצאתי לקראתך, לקראתי מצאתיך - when I went out to meet you, I found you coming to meet me. We do rather tend to forget that it's a dynamic relationship, not a static one. Not that I'm suggesting anyone should do anything drastic - quite the contrary - but nonetheless, to those who do Christmas, have a good one.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 27th, 2006 09:28 pm)
I got up at 5am today to catch a bus to Philadelphia. The 5am part wasn't so great, but the Philadelphia part was fun. I was assessing the Torahs in a shul, which means taking a whole lot of notes regarding the conditions of the sefer with an eye to estimating how much it'll cost to restore them.

They had six Torahs - three bad, three good.

One was in basically good condition but for the seams, which someone had stuck together with duct tape. People, please - if your sefer's seam breaks, either use artist's or archivist's tape, or don't tape it. The duct tape had not only dried up but had left hideous, hideous stains, which probably contain elements of non-kosher animals as well as being a ghastly orange-yellow - and the seams still need to be fixed. Overall gain negative.

Two were hugely satisfying, because the text and klaf were in lovely condition, really fine quality, and nicely written - but very, very, very dirty. So dirty that they looked to be in awful condition and perhaps beyond restoration, but hurrah! the dirt will almost all come off, and they'll look like new Torahs by the time I'm done with them. I was very happy about this, because it was such a nice surprise for the shul! Instead of two Torahs headed for retirement, two high-quality sefarim which won't cost too much to repair...nice!

One was in a terrible condition, but it was a Czech Memorial Scroll, so you'd sort of expect that. It would be fiendishly expensive to repair - it had extensive flaking, which I'd guess came from being stored in a damp warehouse by the Nazis - but those scrolls are terrific educational tools, there's all kinds of history/geneaology/shul-twinning things that can go on. Sometimes they have enough sentimental/historical value that repairing them is worth the expense. After all, these were scrolls that the Nazis collected up to put in their museum of Jewish stuff - they were supposed to be the last things that were left after the Jews had all been killed. So restoring them to use carries a pretty powerful message.

Two were in truly terrible condition, really beyond repair from a financial perspective. They had been designated Junior Scrolls, which meant they were hanging out in the Hebrew school area. It's not clear what they're used for; they can't be being read from since they're largely illegible. One of them had crumbs and sesame seeds in it. I'm a little bit concerned by this; it seems to me that these scrolls ought to be retired, because it doesn't seem to me that the educational benefit outweighs the indignity. What do you think - am I over-reacting?

There was a collection of Russian cantors visiting the shul - mostly Russians who got here and became cantors (some of them had been opera singers in Russia) - they were doing choral stuff for fun. I listened to them for a bit; they were very nice to listen to indeed. Unusually for a choir of cantors, they had excellent blend. Every other cantorial chorus I've heard has had simply awful blend - prima donnas all trying to out-prima-donna the rest. So to hear a choir of cantors singing like a choir was a treat and a half!

Philadelphia seemed very pleasant, the bits of it I saw. Another nice city to add to the list of Nice Places I've Seen. My favourite bit was the statue of Mr Penn on top of the city hall, because it used to be against planning laws to build higher than his hat (this was revoked twenty years ago to encourage business growth). I found this charming.

Journey back marred by the movie - the screens were not showing anything, but the soundtrack was playing: a mixture of very loud music, indistinct speech, screams, and gunshots. At 5pm! It doesn't seem appropriate to be showing people getting killed for fun on public transport, especially during the day. This is basically why I prefer taking the Chinatown buses when I can - no nasty movies.

But when I got home, my W had made supper and it was ready and yummy. A good day.


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