Editor’s Wrapup: Tones of Voice
Closely observe any Jewish congregation in the world and, sooner or later, you’ll notice all the shades of Jewish literacy. Whether the synagogue is Orthodox, Conservative or Reform, you’ll see people who are entirely at ease with siddur and ritual, others who are clearly beginners and still others in between.
Nowhere is this lesson in the nuances of Jewish practice more evident than in the largest Jewish society in the world, Israel. Between those who are observant and those who go to the beach (or the Greek islands) for Yom Kippur, there are Israelis who feel a spiritual hunger during the High Holidays but are uncomfortable entering a synagogue. To meet their needs, a group of organizations are jointly sponsoring holiday services for beginners in community centers and other “neutral” venues. Rochelle Furstenberg describes the phenomenon, beginning on page 8.
One thing newcomers often find discomfiting on Rosh Hashana is the reading of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. If learned Jews have been debating the meaning of the chapter in Genesis for 3,000 years, what is a novice to think? Shelley Lanzkowsky enters the discussion with a commentary (page 11) suggesting that the angel who stayed Abraham’s hand is a metaphor for his inner voice. The passage, she argues, describes not a near homicide but, in fact, the day the rite of human sacrifice came to an end for at least one people.
One thing many Jews still sacrifice is their identity. But, as Gaby Alter writes (page 28), there’s a burgeoning New York club scene in which performers and consumers are insisting on musical variety with a healthy dose of Jewish content. From Matisyahu, who blends Jewish lyrics with reggae and hip-hop, to Pharaoh’s Daughter, whose latest album puts traditional Jewish texts to Asian and African melodies and rhythms, a new Jewish rainbow has emerged. Observe closely and you’ll notice all the shades of the Jewish musical palette.