Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Learning a Haftarah

AKSE had an interesting debate, or really discussion since in principle everyone was on the same page.  Our Cantor opted to depart with more than ample notice and we really could use the savings in salary.  Do we need a Cantor or do we need some or all the things the Cantor does?  What is the minimum purchase and should we do the minimum?  We do not have the capacity to get the Torah reading done by congregational volunteers.  That has been long established and therefore a reader is hired for most of the Cantor's scheduled vacations.  We already have a volunteer for shacharit most weeks and musaf when the Cantor wants to do shacharit instead.  Can we get two a week instead of one a week and can we cover the speicial times as the New Moon approaches each month or the yom tovim or rosh chodesh impose significant variations to liturgy?  And let's not even mention Shabbat Mincha where we have both a unique service and a Torah reading.  The word from people who assign the parts, which gives them great credibility is that we cannot.  This probably separates real Orthodox congregations where skill is abundant from the wannabes like us that promote the aura without really having the substance.  And so the decision was made to bring a real Hazzan aboard for Shabbat and Yom Tovim.  He began last weekend, a nice classically trained fellow from another era.  While I appreciate his talent, my enduring fondness for Jewish worship really developed amid the Hillel foundations that I attended, the epitome of grass roots participation where a threshold of competence was expected, show-off flourishes discouraged, and the ba-al tefilah varied from one week to the next as did the tunes imported from the various home towns.  As nice and adaptable as the new Cantor seems to be, I predict that those in attendance will tire of the experience in a relatively short time.

AKSE does have one remaining bastion of volunteers on its Bimah, the Haftarah readers.  Most people acquire the rudiments of skill through Bar Mitzvah preparation and given enough time the portion can be recycled many years later.  There are enough people, mostly alumni of the once grand Conservative congregations who can sight-read Hebrew sufficiently and have familiarity with trop to learn any Haftarah in a short time.  The cadre of readers has expanded, though rather slowly.

My latest assignment on this takes place the Shabbat after next, Isaiah Chapter 60, one of the Haftarot of Consolation following Tisha B'av.  The language seems rather difficult which challenges the fluency but it is these challenges that make the effort worthwhile.

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