April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Most synagogues have a rabbi but only some have an official, full-time chazzan. Those that do often struggle with clearly defining congregational expectations regarding the chazzan’s weekly performances. Consequently, the chazzans often are left to their own devices to gauge how best to balance davening vs. delivery, shaliach vs. showmanship and spirituality vs. spunk. This can be very tricky because some congregants might want the chazzan to put on a spectacular show and to deliver a jaw-dropping Broadway-esque performance, while others might prefer a more efficient and modest approach without all of the bells and whistles. Either way, the key consideration is that the chazzan is expected to be the voice of and for the congregation.

One fair question is whether a person with a below-average singing voice should serve as the chazzan. One side of the argument is that everyone who wants to daven for the amud (the congregation), should do so and should be encouraged to follow their dreams and desires regardless of whether they can actually carry a tune. In other words, being tone deaf should not preclude someone from taking the stage or, in this case, taking the bimah, to serve as the mouthpiece for the masses. The other side of the argument is that only the vocally-gifted among us should be assigned lead vocals. Everyone else, especially the musically-challenged, should drop back and blend into the larger choir where no single voice, no matter how awful, is readily discernible.

Believe it or not, there is Jewish law arguably supporting the latter opinion. The Shulchan Aruch (a/k/a Code of Jewish Law), authored in Safed by Joseph Karo in or about 1563, actually has plenty to say about who should serve as the chazzan:

“The chazzan must be a worthy person… Who is considered worthy? One who is free of sin and who is respectful, that is, his reputation is untarnished, and was unblemished even during his youth; and one who is humble and acceptable to the congregation so that they agree that he lead the prayers. He should have a pleasant and a sweet voice, which draws [appeals to] the heart, and he should be one who regularly reads the Scriptures, so that the verses in prayer are fluent in his mouth. If a person cannot be found with all these attributes, [then] they (the congregation) should choose one among them who excels in wisdom and good deeds.“ (Kitzur, Shulcan Aruch 15)(Emphasis supplied)

Notice that even the Shulchan Aruch suggests that the chazzan should have a “pleasant” and “sweet” voice. So, how do you know if you have a voice that is pleasant and sweet enough to become a chazzan? Here are some signs that your vocal skills may not be up to snuff:

1. When you sing, only dogs can hear it.

2. The audience would much rather listen to nails scratching a chalkboard.

3. Whenever you daven in shul, congregants wear earplugs, earmuffs and personal cones of silence.

4. Physicians have offered to remove your vocal chords, free of charge.

5. When you start to sing, children cry for two reasons. First, because of how you sound. Second, because they are scared that your condition is contagious.

6. Before every date that you go on, your mother pulls you aside and sternly warns: “Now remember, no singing! In fact, don’t even hum a note until after you get married.”

7. The Pentagon believes the threat of your voice might be more effective than a nuclear deterrent.

8. In the state in which you live, legislation has been passed making the sound of your voice a legal and valid ground for vigilantism.

9. After hearing you sing, social services is questioning whether living with you is in your children’s best interests.

10. Everyone you meet strongly suggests that you take a vow of silence.

11. You have been offered millions of dollars not to sing.

12. When you had your DNA tested, the results showed that you are 54% banshee.

13. Insomniacs would rather sleep than be awoken by the sound of your voice.

14. People are constantly handing you a big stick to carry and telling you to speak softly.

15. Your friends will sing “Happy Birthday” to you only if you promise that you will never return the favor.

16. During the Passover Seder, there is the adult table, the kids table and your table.

17. Your siblings beg you to give them the silent treatment.

18. Hollywood is releasing a movie about you titled “Off-Pitch.”

19. When you try to hit a note, the note hits back.

20. You’ve been asked to sing at a nursing home filled with those suffering from severe presbycusis.

Final thought: For some people, carrying a tune is harder than carrying a ton.

By Jon Kranz


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