View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Times Does Prayer 

From today's New York Times Corrections:

An article on Aug. 29 about melodies for the prayers sung during the Jewish High Holy Days included an incomplete quotation from Debbie Friedman, a cantor who discusses nusach, the traditional mode of chanting the liturgy, in an unreleased documentary called "A Cantor's Tale." Ms. Friedman said in full: "We should preserve nusach, and I'm a firm believer that we should do what we can to preserve it. But if we do that exclusively, then we can forget about preserving it at all, because no one's going to show up." The abbreviated quotation read "Forget about preserving nusach. No one is going to show up."

Traditional Jewish prayer services are long. Shabbat morning runs abour 3 hours. Rosh Hashanah can go 5 or 6 hours, and Yom Kippur goes all day. There's a great deal of interaction, and the traditional nusach provides for some singing. But for long stretches, you're sitting there listening.

There's plenty of room for the traditional tunes to be mixed in with tunes that the congregation can sing along to, so Ms. Friedman's comments make sense: sacrifice a little of the cantor luxuriating in his own voice, and make some room for the congregation. The Times reporter completely butchers the quote, turning Ms. Friedman from a preservationist into a radical.

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