Sunday, April 20, 2008

Prayer in song

The Jewish Reform movement recently issued a new official prayer book. This new book, the rabbi tells us, is closer to the traditional Jewish worship form. Compared to the previous service guide, it is less influenced by American Protestant Christianity. Major differences with the Orthodox movement remain reflected in the worship service, but the shift is an interesting one.

When following the new service, I was most struck me by the emphasis on sung prayers. There aren't that many new songs, but there is also less spoken text: the result is that the service is now primarily singing. My understanding of the importance of song to Jewish worship and rituals was aided this weekend: my partner and I attended the congregational seder (Passover celebration) on Saturday. Again, the important role of the songs stood out to me.

I like singing, so it's nice to have such opportunities. But not everyone likes to sing; such a worship format seems like it would be an imposition on some people. To be sure, the benefits must outweigh such disadvantages for this to have become the traditional worship form. What are these benefits? It's an interesting question to ponder.


Jennifer F. said...

I also used to be confused by why there was so much singing in our services. Then I came across this quote from Pope Benedict that made it start to make sense to me:

"[Music] has the power to lead us the Creator of all harmony, creating a resonance within us which is like being in tune with the beauty and truth of God, with the reality which no human knowledge or philosophy can ever express."

Though there are definitely some forms of music that have more of this power than others. :)

lyrl said...

Another (of I'm sure many) reason may be that for much of history written text was rare - no printing press, no cheap paper. When largely restricted to oral transmission of knowledge, songs may be a reliable way to retain the information of oral tradition than just memorized words. I have always been amazed at how long stories like the ''Odyssey'', and the story of Eric the Red discovering North America (now proven true by archaeological evidence), were transmitted from generation to generation just as songs.

Jennifer F. said...

That is a great point.

I've been reading up on oral storytelling traditions lately. I feel like modern people often don't understand how to interpret ancient stories since concepts and ideas were transmitted so different before the written word.

Thanks for pointing that out!