Despite a Rabbinic comment that verses in the Bible should not be used as common songs, many such passages, along with words from the prayers appear regularly in both contemporary Jewish religious music and in the music of past generations. One of the arguments in favor is that this music inspires and draws people to Judaism who might otherwise be estranged. The same is true for the concerts you mention and so most people accept them as fine.
Answered by: Rabbi --- Not Active with JVO Suspended
Is it true that music sung for Shabbat services should not be sung for a concert?
Liturgical music is often sung in concerts by musicians and cantors of all Jewish denominations. This would include music associated with the Shabbat and holiday services. The only limitation on the performance of such music would be the recitation of berakhot, or blessings.
A berakhah is a special type of prayer. Generally these statements either open or close with the words, Barukh atta Adonai…, “Praised are you, Lord…” There are berahkot for all types of occasions in Jewish life: before and after eating food, when performing a Jewish ritual (such as lighting the Sabbath candles), or in the context of liturgy when reciting the daily services. There is even a berakhah when seeing a rainbow or upon exiting a bathroom. From a Jewish perspective, these are all moments when we can acknowledge the presence of God in our lives.
Conservative and Orthodox Jews feel that because of their importance, a berakhah should only be recited when performing a ritually required act or when it is appropriately recited in the context of either life experiences or prayer. To recite the berakhah frivolously is similar to “taking God’s name in vain.” If the berakhah is being recited outside of this context, then, we do not say these words. The name of God, Adonai, might be replaced by the word, hashem (literally, the name), so that the statement is not technically a berakhah. A berakhah by definition must contain the name of God. A berakhah that is recited frivolously or inappropriately is called a berakhah livatalah, an unnecessary blessing. For instance one would not say the blessing for eating bread Baruch atta ________elohaynu melech ha-olam hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz, “Praised are you Adonai our God sovereign of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth,” if one wasn’t going to eat a piece of bread. Instead, if one wished to make reference to the wording of the blessing one might say, “Praised are you hashem, our God….”
Often in the context of concerts and other nonreligious musical events, the performer will sing the liturgical piece but change the language of the blessing to make it clear that this is not a religious recitation.
Music is a form of worship that is elemental to Jewish practice, from the song of the sea celebrating God’s miracles during the Exodus to the Levitical choirs that sang Psalms of praise to God at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Today there is a major explosion of creativity in Jewish music coming from all parts of Judaism.Singers such as Danny Nichols, Matisyahu and others are following in the footsteps of and expanding upon a path laid by such great musicians as Debbie Friedman and Shlomo Carlebach.Given this surge in modern Jewish music it is unsurprising that some would raise concerns about singing Shabbat music in a concert setting.
Many of the songs that are in the genre of Jewish music fall in the category of prayer, and it is improper under Jewish custom to say a prayer without full intention.For some, especially among the more traditional, the way around this is to substitute words like Adoshem and Elokeinu when God is mentioned during a song that is not officially part of prayer.Others are fine singing the words that would be sung in prayer, feeling that the setting of a concert makes it so different from a service that there is no confusion.
Shabbat songs, however, are in a different category.Because of Shabbat’s uniqueness in Jewish life, I would advise caution on using songs that are based specifically on the Shabbat prayers at other times.While a camp or religious school song leader would be proper to use a weekday song session or music class to teach the special melodies that will be sung on Shabbat, a concert is not a teaching situation.
It is always good to sing Jewish music, especially songs that praise God, as Psalm 96 says “Sing on to God all the earth; sing on to God a new song.”The sacredness of Shabbat suggests that there are some melodies and some texts that are special only for Shabbat and we should refrain from singing those in a concert setting except on Shabbat.
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