Musical Instruments on Shabbat


Table of Contents


By: Benjamin Maron

Different communities hold by different understandings of what is, abortion
and is not, medical
permitted on Shabbat. At Mah Rabu, pharmacy halachic (legal) issues pertaining to the use of musical instruments on Shabbat were explored. The post is prefaced with:

This post addresses popular misconceptions concerning classical halachic sources about playing musical instruments on Shabbat. The purpose of this post is not to promote a particular stance about halacha (what should and shouldn’t be done) or meta-halacha (how one should determine what should and shouldn’t be done). I’m not suggesting (chas veshalom) that the only (or the best) way to justify one’s practices is by finding a pre-modern halachic text that supports them; I’m just clarifying what those pre-modern texts do and don’t say. Of course, people may have all sorts of reasons for their practices, including aesthetic preferences, mimetic traditions, logical arguments, and cultural/denominational/communal identities. My goal is not to invalidate those reasons, but to knock them off their “halachic” high horse. The intended result is that when we’re discussing questions about musical instruments on Shabbat — in distinguishing one community from another, or talking about where we will and won’t daven, or determining policies for our pluralistic communities — we’ll have to be explicit about those aesthetic preferences, mimetic traditions, logical arguments, and cultural/denominational/communal identities, rather than simply playing the “I’m halachic and you’re not” get-out-of-jail-free card. (No, I don’t think such a card should exist in the first place, whether it’s the “forbidden” card of Stage 1 or the “uncomfortable” card of Stage 2, but I can’t change the world overnight.) If you find factual inaccuracies in the post, please post corrections in the comments (with appropriate citations), and I’ll update the post. If you have a stance on the issue that differs from mine, then that’s swell — I totally support your right to have different aesthetic preferences, mimetic traditions, logical arguments, or cultural/denominational/communal identities, or to come up with new and innovative halachic interpretations.

Read the full post for a point-by-point look at the myths and facts about using instruments on Shabbat if your community is considering using instruments, if your community wants to study the possibility, or if you have questions about the practice.

Does your havurah or minyan use musical instruments on Shabbat? Why or why not? What is your own preference?

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 28, 2009   No Comments

Further Reading: Havurot and Minyanim in the News

By: Benjamin Maron

The following is an incomplete, pharm and ever-growing, collection of articles about independent Jewish communities, havurot, and minyanim.

  • At a recent conference, there was a panel discussion on what role (if any) rabbis should have in an independent minyan or havurah, and a look at their impact.
  • JTA gives a general overview of independent minyanim.
  • Independent minyanim have become “the new darlings of the Jewish philanthropic establishment,” but the flow of money carries its own risks.
  • Joshua Avedon, looking at the new minyanim with regard to the non-Orthodox synagogues, warns: “If the mainstream Jewish community doesn’t get hip to what is driving the new start-ups soon, a whole parallel universe of Jewish communal life might just rise up and make the old structures irrelevant.”
  • Will the traditional, egalitarian, lay-led minyan become the wave of the future? Or will “those who create these community minyanim become a self-selected elite?”
  • A look at the “partnership minyan,” and some follow-up discussion: 1 [PDF], 2 [PDF], 3 [PDF], 4 [PDF], and 5.
  • A look at some havurot which have lasted for more than 20 years.
  • A specially commissioned Torah scroll is used by the Mesilat Yesharim Minyan which meets daily aboard a commuter train on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line.
  • As her minyan struggles with what the Prayer for the State of Israel should consist of, Sarah Margles observes, “the question became – How do we pray together even if we don’t pray the same?”
  • In a roundtable discussion, Elie Kaunfer (Kehilat Hadar), Rachel Milner-Gillers (Minyan Tehillah), Beth Tritter (DC Minyan), Sarah Lefton (Mission Minyan), Yehuda Kurtzer (Washington Square Minyan), and Ben Dreyfus (Kol Zimrah), discuss why their minyanim were started, how they do or do not characterize their minyanim and their religious services, setting forth policies (or not) on membership and leadership, and more.
  • Ilana Kurshan, a long-time organizer of an independent minyan, talks of taking up the task  again in Jerusalem: “my whole life becomes oriented towards Shabbat – which is indeed just what the rabbis mandate.”
  • Riv-Ellen Prell’s “Independent Minyanim and Prayer Groups of the 1970s: Historical and Sociological Perspectives” looks at the challenges these posed to the denominations structure of mainstream Judaism, and the dual focus on both prayer and the creation of alternative organizations within American Jewish life.
  • In “What Independent Minyanim Teach Us About the Next Generation of Jewish Communities,” Ethan Tucker looks at how such communities can accomplish critical goals: providing “a Jewish life of compelling and of excellent quality,” with a discourse “serious, honest, adaptable, deep and transparent” and the ability to empower, both at the individual and communal levels.
  • A self-described Jew, “who lived fully in the 1960s and have been searching for that lost Garden ever since,” finds himself, at age 67, making the “rounds of alternative synagogues, minyanim and havurot in Los Angeles, to see whether any spoke to me.” He finds a remarkably diverse group.
  • David Suissa describes the very unconventional “The Happy Minyan,” which has now found a home of its own in a neighborhood with several other Orthodox shuls.
  • The New York Times looks at non-synagogue based minyanim and havurot, including DC Minyan and Tikkun Leil Shabbat.
  • Another look at lay-led independent communities.
  • A synagogue agreed to create what becomes known as “The Library Minyan,” which eventually eclipsed the main sanctuary in attendance, drawing in some very well known Conservative Jews. But as it “gained a reputation as an intellectual sanctuary … some shul-shoppers have expressed concerns about the ‘cliquish’ feeling of the minyan. … For some, what once was spiritual innovation has now become rote.”
  • A havurah “community of learning, spirituality, experimentation, and political progressivism” reaches its 36th year, and is still going strong.
  • Shawn Landres analyzes the challenge to traditional shuls from “rabbi-led emergent communities and independent minyanimin” by borrowing language from different computer operating systems.
  • The Aquarian Minyan, the oldest Renewal congregation in the Bay Area, is not a rabbi-centered community, but now has a new “rabbi-chaver,” or “teacher among peers.”
  • The Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU has a large collection of articles on the subject of havurot.
  • This article, which appeared in CAJE Jewish Education News, discusses the NHC and the founding of Kol Zimrah.
  • DC-area minyanim in the Washington Post.
  • Hadassah Magazine on independent Jewish communities.
  • Independany minyanim in the Forward.
  • JTA on the use of the Internet by minyanim/havurot.
  • JTA article from 2006 about independent Jewish communities (the 1999 date at the top is an error).
  • Another JTA article from 2006 (not 1999), covering the NHC Summer Institute and the Havurah Movement.
  • For the 20th anniversary of their minyan, Dorshei Derekh of Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia researched and created a Wikipedia entry.

For extra reading, you might also want to check out the following works in print (try your local library or bookstore):

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 26, 2009   5 Comments

How To Do Hagbah

By: Lee Butler
This article was inspired by a workshop Lee offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

Hagbah is the lifting of the Torah. It is an honor to do hagbah; you would be called up after the Torah reading along with the person being honored with gelilah (dressing the Torah).

Hagbah is something that is often considered to be purely a matter of strength; that’s why, geriatrician even in egalitarian contexts, it’s almost always given to men (and big ones at that). But hagbah is not even mostly a matter of strength, it’s a matter of balance, confidence, and support. Below, you’ll find the tips I’ve collected over time (or figured out on my own) to help most people be able to do hagbah.

  • If you haven’t done hagbah before, try to be familiar with the sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) you might be called upon to lift. The weight of sifrei Torah can vary widely dependent on the wood used for the atzei hayyim (literally, trees of life, used here to mean the wood dowels), the height of the scroll, and the thickness of the parchment.
  • Before lifting, open the  sefer Torah (Torah scroll) so the atzei hayyim are about shoulder width apart. This will make it far easier to lift than trying to lift it closed.
  • Hold tension through the parchment. The parchment used for a sefer Torah is more like leather than paper; you’re not going to rip the Torah while lifting it. (Be aware of the seams in the Torah, especially if some of the stitching has come undone. You can always roll the Torah away from any weak points before lifting.)
  • Don’t try to dead lift the sefer Torah. Instead, pull the sefer Torah about halfway off the bimah or amud (reading table) and use the edge as a fulcrum. Get under the sefer Torah as it comes vertical by bending your knees and lift. Look, the Torah’s up!
  • Balance through the parchment, maintain the tension. Remember, you won’t rip it.
  • If you feel unstable, put the sefer Torah down. Better to thump it on the bimah/amud than to drop it. If you have to rest the sefer on your shoulder, do it. A sefer Torah cannot be “contaminated” by you touching it, so while you should avoid touching the parchment directly, if you do so, there isn’t any ritual consequence for you or the sefer Torah.
  • Communicate with the person doing galilah. The least stable time during hagbah is right after you sit down, and you need their help to roll up the scroll and get it dressed (and stable) again.

If you can practice outside of service time with someone who typically does hagbah in your community, I would take advantage of it. When everyone’s watching you, it can be high-pressure. Remember, the only thing that matters in hagbah is getting the sefer Torah off the bimah/amud and into its clothes without dropping it; anything else is nice, but not necessary. When you’re first doing hagbah, try to take the honor in the middle of the year or the holiday maftir Torah, when the scroll is in the middle. That’s when it’s easiest to balance, and won’t be too heavy on either hand.

Good luck, and happy lifting!

Lee Butler attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2008, and is co-chair for 2010.

December 26, 2009   6 Comments

Gabbinical School

By: Adam Levine
This article was inspired by a workshop Adam offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

This is intended to be a brief guide to the responsibilities of the gabbaim (managers or assistants) during the Torah service. It is far from complete; there are many complicated details that cannot be covered here. There are many more comprehensive guides, sickness including Rabbi Ethan Tucker’s excellent Tefilah Bizmanah: A Gabbai’s Guide or many luchot (guides). This guide is aimed at providing some helpful suggestions that could improve the general running of the Torah service.

Mechon Hadar has compiled a great collection of sheets and handouts to use during the service. In particular, check out the “Torah service supplements,” which contain everything for the gabbai rishon (first assistant or manager) to say during the service.

Gabbai responsibilities

Correcting leyning (Torah reading) errors: Many people assume that one gabbai (assistant or manager) is responsible for calling people to the Torah and the other is responsible for checking the Torah reading. This is incorrect. Both gabbaim should correct mistakes that they hear during the leyning; to have two gabbaim is to provide an extra safeguard. Sometimes it makes sense to give one gabbai the primary checking role, but the other one should still be prepared to correct any mistakes that first one misses.

  • If you hear a mistake, point it out, and make sure the reader repeats the word. In some communities, it seems that the gabbaim just follow along with the reading and don’t correct anything, and that’s not good. If a reader is ignoring your corrections, you should remind him/her in between aliyot that you’re not chopped liver.
  • The best way to be good at this is to practice. Have someone read from a chumash and deliberately make mistakes so that you can correct them. Another thing to do is to review the Torah portion before Shabbat, just as if you were learning to leyn it. Ultimately, though, the best way to become a good corrector is to be a good leyner; it’s probably not a good idea to have people who aren’t experienced leyners serving in the gabbai role.
  • Knowing which errors to correct and which to let slide can be difficult. The general rule is that an error that changes the meaning of a word should be corrected, while one that doesn’t does not have to be corrected. However, unless your Hebrew is very strong, it can be tricky to figure out on the spot whether an error changes the meaning. The guide below provides some guidelines; there are plenty of exceptions, but these rules of thumb should be helpful.
  • Exactly how strict to be about corrections is a tricky question. There’s always the possibility that too many corrections can cause a leyner to lose confidence, leading to more mistakes. Also, with certain subtle errors, some less experienced leyners may not understand what’s being corrected, resulting in confusion. The real solution is to work on educating leyners so that they understand what the mistakes are.

Calling people to the Torah: This is the responsibility of the gabbai rishon (G1). See below for some details on how to do this correctly and grammatically. Calling people up efficiently is one of the best way to keep the Torah service from dragging. Here are some suggestions:

  • The gabbai rishon should know who has what aliyah. If your community has someone other than the gabbai assign the aliyot, you should check in with that person before the Torah service. Granted, it can be hard to remember even if you assigned the aliyot yourself, but it’s worth making an effort.
  • Especially in a big room, encourage people to start coming up to the bimah or amud just before their aliyah begins. Also, a good way to get people moving quickly is to say “Ya’amod…” or “Ta’amod…” before they actually get there, so that the onus is on them to move quickly.
  • Hand out aliyah cards. This is a good way to prevent people from forgetting which aliyah they have. Some samples are available on Mechon Hadar’s resources page.
  • Be aware of any special aliyot in the Torah portion. For instance, major aliyot such as the Ten Commandments are often considered special honors. Also, the curses in Bechukotai and Ki Tavo are usually given to the leyner, the rabbi of the community, or someone else well-respected in the community; you don’t want to give such an awful aliyah to a guest or someone random.
  • If you know in advance that someone is getting an aliyah (e.g., the maftir, or someone celebrating an aufruf), write down that person’s Hebrew name in advance so you don’t need to ask for it. Some communities even keep a list of everyone’s Hebrew names so that everyone can be called up easily.

Calling page numbers: It’s usually a good idea to announce the chapter and verse every few aliyot, as well as perhaps the page number in one or more chumashim. Just one guideline: Nothing looks worse than saying “The Torah reading is on page, uh, umm, does anyone know what page it’s on?” Plan ahead, especially if you’re trying to call pages out of multiple chumashim. Some people actually make a cheat sheet in advance that has all the page numbers written down. This is usually a job for the gabbai sheini (second gabbai) (G2).

Directing traffic: Both gabbaim should make sure that people are standing in the right places during the Torah service. When someone comes up for an aliyah, a gabbai should show him/her where to stand and point out the b’rachot (blessings) sheet. The person taking the aliyah is supposed to follow along in the scroll, so he/she should be standing right up close, preferably holding on to one of the handles of the Torah. (In fact, the leyner and the two gabbaim should also all have a hand on the Torah – one person per each of the four handles.) After the aliyah, remind the person to keep standing at the amud for the next aliyah, and don’t forget to shake his/her hand!

Covering the Torah: Out of respect, the Torah should be covered any time there’s a substantial pause, such as a mi shebeirach (blessings that start with “May the One who blessed”), long announcement, or even just waiting for someone to come up to the amud, put on a tallis, etc. This is a good G2 job. (Also, don’t put siddurim or handouts on top of the Torah when it’s covered.)

Checking the spot: After each aliyah, a gabbai should look in the scroll and make note of where the next aliyah starts, in the interest of moving things along more efficiently. Having to wait to find the spot every time is a big tircha d’tzibura (burden on the community). This is especially true when a lot of different people are reading.

Saying mi shebeirachs: In some communities, G1 says a mi shebeirach for each oleh/olah (person receiving an aliyah); in others, they’re reserved only for special occasions such as aufrufs and baby namings. Typically, the way to do this is to say the mi shebeirach right after calling up the next person, but before he/she says the blessings. As mentioned before, be sure to cover the Torah.

Helping out during the lifting and wrapping of the Torah: You should spot the person lifting the Torah, just in case, and then help him/her to a seat. Also, help the person dressing the Torah, but be sure to let him/her do the actual work. If your minyan’s custom is to sing something (usually upbeat) during the wrapping, a gabbai should be the one to start it. Also, if you don’t have a stand for the Torah, a gabbai should make sure that the lifter has a chumash and siddur so that once seated with the Torah, he/she can follow along during the haftarah and the end of Torah service.

Saying Kaddish: Usually the person who chanted the seventh aliyah says the chatzi kaddish that’s between the seventh aliyah and the maftir aliyah, but G1 should be prepared to say this just in case. Again, be sure to cover the Torah. On days when two Torah scrolls are used, place the second scroll on the amud before saying the Kaddish, and then call the lifter and wrapper for the first scroll (l’seifer rishon).

Calling people to the Torah grammatically

At the beginning, G1 reads the first two lines:
V’ya’azor v’yagein v’yoshia l’chol hachosim bo v’nomar amen. Hakol havu godel lEloheinu utnu chavod laTorah.

If your minyan gives the first aliyah to a Kohen or bat Kohen:

M: Kohein k’rav, ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ hakohein.

F: Bat kohein, kirvi, ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ hakohein.

(Ordinarily, it doesn’t matter in which order people give their parents’ names. However, for kohanim and l’vi’im, you should say the father’s name second, since “hakohen” is part of the father’s name.)

If you ordinarily give the first aliyah to a Kohein or Bat Kohein, but none are present, some say that you should give the first aliyah to a Levi; others say that you specifically should give it to a Yisrael. In either case, you say:

M: Ein kan kohein. Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ bimkom kohein.

F: Ein kan kohein. Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ bimkom kohein.

If you don’t give the first aliyah to kohanim, you just say:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, rishon.
F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, rishonah.

In any case, G1 continues:

Baruch shenatan Torah l’amo Yisrael bikdushato.

The congregation says:

V’atem hadveikim bAdonai Eloheichem chayim kulchem hayom.

And G1 repeats that line.

For the second aliyah, if you give it to a Levi or Bat Levi:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ haleivi.

F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ haleivi.

If not:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, sheini.

F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, sh’niah.

NOTE: The feminine form of the adjective sheini is sh’niah, NOT sheinit. (The latter is an adverb that means “again.”)

Subsequent aliyot are called as follows:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, sh’lishi / r’vi’i / chamishi / shishi / sh’vi’i / maftir.

F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, sh’lishit / r’vi’it / chamishit / shishit / sh’vi’it / maftirah.

In communities where multiple people are called for a single aliyah, the best way to call them up is to say Ya’amdu (or ta’amodna for a group of women), then their names, and then la’aliyah harishonah / hash’niah / hash’lishit / har’vi’it / hachamishit / hashishit / hash’vi’it. (However, many would say that there are halachic problems with this practice.)

To call up the lifter and wrapper:

M/M: Ya’amod hamagbiah, ya’amod hagoleil or Ya’amdu hamagbiah v’hagolel.

M/F: Ya’amod hamagbiah, ta’amod hagolelet.

F/M: Ta’amod hamagbihah, ya’amod hagoleil.

F/F: Ta’amod hamagbihah, ta’amod hagolelet or Ta’amodna hamagbihah v’hagolelet.

Some communities call the lifter and wrapper by name, which is fine. However, do not say something like Ya’amod hagbahah or Ta’amod g’lilah. This is meaningless Hebrew: “May the lifting stand.” The subject of the verb ya’amod/ta’amod is meant to be a person.

A Guide to Correcting Mistakes in Torah Reading

The overall principle is that any mistake that changes the meaning of the word should be corrected, while those that do not change the meaning should not be corrected. However, it’s often hard to judge in the spur of the moment whether a mistake changes the meaning. This guide is intended to provide rules of thumb to address many common types of errors.

Errors in the consonantal text, such as replacing one letter with another, are always corrected. Shin and sin are different letters.

Bet and vet, kaf and chaf, pay and fay (and, for some people, tav and sav): At the beginning of a word, don’t correct them. In the middle of the word, there are a few instances where it can change the meaning: e.g., the imperative verb kabeid (honor) vs. the adjective kaveid (heavy). So you should probably correct these any time they’re in the middle of a word.

The most common mistakes involve vowels.

  • Always correct – v’ (vav with sh’va) vs. va (vav with patach) in verbs, since it can change the tense.
  • Always correct – b’ (bet with sh’va) vs. ba (bet with patach) and l’ (lamed with sh’va) vs. la (lamed with patach), since “a” and “the” mean different things.
  • People frequently mix up el (aleph lamed, to), al (aleph lamed, do not) and al (ayin lamed, on). Always correct these.
  • Don’t correct et (aleph tav) vs. eit (aleph tav): they are pronounced differently, but they are the same word.
  • Don’t correct pausal forms: aretz vs. eretz (both aleph resh tzadi), vay’hi vs. vayehi (both vav yud hay yud), etc. Two other examples are l’cha vs. lach (both lamed chaf) and it’cha vs. itach (both aleph tav chaf). All of these are masculine forms, even though the pausal forms look the same as the feminine forms, so you don’t have to correct them if they’re talking about a male character.
  • You don’t generally need to correct kamatz katan versus kamatz gadol. However, pronouncing a patach like a kamatz katan should definitely be corrected.
  • Vowel mistakes that change the mood, voice, or tense of a verb should always be corrected, such as ya’aseh vs. yei’aseh (both yud ayin sin hey) and dabeir vs. dibeir (both daled bet resh).

Correcting the accenting of syllables is a tricky business. There are instances where the accent can change the tense of a verb. However, they can be hard to correct on the spot, so it may not be worthwhile except with very proficient readers.

The only trop that you really need to correct is sof pasuk, i.e., when the reader puts a verse break in the wrong place or skips over a verse break. (Some say the same holds for etnachta.) There are a few circumstances where a trop error can substantially affect the meaning of the words, but we won’t go into them here. However, you should be ready to provide a prompt if the reader is fumbling for the correct trop.

Adam Levine attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2009.

December 26, 2009   9 Comments