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01/15/2023 06:11:17 PM


Communal tefillah  (prayer) is about responding to  and interacting with whoever is leading the tefillot (Prayers).The person who leads the tefillah is called "sh'liach tzibbur" - the messenger of the congregation. (A female is called a "shlichat tzibbur"). I know, it is a bit of a mouthful, but you can also use the shortened contraction "SHATZ". What is the idea of a sh'liach tzibbur or messenger of the congregation? In the early rabbinic period (until about the 7th century), when the common person did hot have their own siddur, the "shliach tzibbur" recited the prayers out loud and the congregation participated by responding AMEN. The word AMEN derives from the same root as the Hebrew word for "to be firm". When we say AMEN, we are  saying "it is firm": We are affirming our  agreement to the prayer that has just been recited. It is  as if we ourselves recited the prayer.(It is not proper to respond AMEN to a prayer or blessing we ourselves recite).

You may have noticed that some of our prayers, for example the "kaddish" includes the words "V'imru Amen". The meaning of  these two words is  " SAY Amen". These words are actually supposed to be chanted by the SHATZ as a cue or instruction to the congregation to respond with "AMEN".   However, these days in the modern congregation it is common for  the congregation to sing those two words right along with the Cantor. Think of the song Oseh Shalom...  the two words "V'imru Amen" is part of the composed melody. When I was in Cantorial School I remember our esteemed teacher, Hazzan Max Wohlberg (of blessed memory) teaching us to sing the words "V'imru Amen" in such a way as to  promote the response of AMEN rather then congregation singing along with us.  So the Cantor (or SHATZ)  singS "V'imru Amen" and then the congregation responds AMEN. You might notice me starting to do this in the future and it might sound strange at first... but it actually makes more sense than the congregation singing those words and in effect telling themselves to say Amen. 

I have also noticed that over my lifetime another congregational response is slowly disappearing. It used to be common that after the first three words of a b'rachah (blessing) the congregation would insert the words: "BARUCH HU U'VARUCH SH'MO". This phrase  which means "Blessed be He and Blessed be  His name". It acts as a congregational response to hearing the reference to G-D in the opening words of a b'rachah.   These four words are squeezed together during the short pause in between the first three words and the remainder of the b'rachah. About 20 years ago I noticed that the words got so squeezed together that only the last word (sh'mo) is heard. And I am pretty sure that in many congregations the response is omitted entirely. So, when you hear me make an intentional pause, please do jump in and respond: BARUCH HU U'VARUCH SH'MO".  

The call and response connection between the SHATZ and the congregation gives life to the prayerbook. Although the SHATZ might be compared to the "captain of the ship", it is the congregation that gives wind to the ship's sails. And this is the reason I titled this article "PLEASE RESPOND".   So, please, don't be shy... RESPOND! 

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784