web analytics
August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

The Shabbat Morning Service: Like an Opera, Only More

shabbat service

A sonorous voice fills the cavernous room as rapt onlookers gaze from their seats. A dramatic story unfolds on stage about love, betrayal, and other universal and timeless themes. Soaring melodies – some jaunty, some melancholy – flow through the room with accompanying poetic praises and hopeful importuning.

Pathos, plaintiveness, buoyancy, exuberance all pour from the hearts of the lead players whose incandescent renditions tug at the emotions of those present.

No, this is not a production of Verdi or Puccini or any other opera. It’s a Shabbat morning service.

Like a great grand opera, the Shabbat morning service is a great grand dramatic work. It contains sundry prayers, psalms, recitations, readings, and blessings that together constitute a single body, a unified whole, a Jewish religious service version, if you will, of a work of art.

Indeed, from start to finish, the Shabbat morning service has many of the elements of that noble art form known as opera: grandiloquent language, serious messages, dramatic underpinnings in its text and subtext, featured “performers,” dynamic singing, emotional arcs, denouements, and effusive energy.

It even shares the A-B-A structure (theme, ancillary theme, first theme repeated with ornamentation) of the Italian serious opera with its three basic components – the pre-Torah segment (akin to an overture), the reading of the Torah, and the post-Torah segment (akin to the denouement and conclusion).

There are, however, some differences between an opera and a Shabbat service. The Jewish service has a stage of sorts, called the bima. Here, on this elevated platform, the key “players” stand – the rabbi (who may be deemed the protagonist) and the cantor (the main supporting player and featured “musical artist”).

Another essential “cast member” is the gabbai, who helps run the service. There is a supporting cast too, but unlike in opera it is not made up of members of the regular “troupe.” Rather, it comprises members of the “audience,” that is, the congregation, who come up to the bima to participate in the service in the form of aliyahs and other roles or functions.

To paraphrase the old show biz adage, “The show cannot go on” (at least in a religiously certified way) unless the lead players and supporting cast number at least ten, the required quorum for a Jewish religious service, called a minyan.

Each week, the Shabbat morning service tells a different dramatic story through the readings of its Torah portions. Here, a great many stories can be found that people everywhere today can relate to. The Torah reading is sandwiched between segments that essentially extol the Almighty with occasional pleas by congregants for sustenance and blessings. There is both talk and chanting in the service.

Operas are commonly dramatic musical works that are sung in their entirety, although some have spoken dialogue. An orchestra or some form of instrumentation accompanies the performers who sing and act on stage. Some of the songs, or arias, stand out and become well known on their own. With their absorbing stories and music, operas can launch audiences into another world. Some of the more famous operas include Madame Butterfly, Aida, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Barber of Seville.

The Shabbat morning service shares many of the components of an opera, but it also has much more. An opera is not just entertaining but usually presents touching themes and messages, as does the Shabbat morning service.

But while an opera may tell a poignant story and be fascinating and memorable, religious services have these components but also a spiritual dimension. Religious services nourish one’s soul with prayers, readings of the Torah, and affirmation of faith. Other elements of a religious service may include the rabbi’s sermon, and there is also the convivial post-service meal, the Kiddush.

About the Author: Harvey Rachlin is an award-winning author of thirteen books including “Lucy’s Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein’s Brain,” which was adapted for the long-running History Channel series “History's Lost and Found.” He is also a lecturer at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “The Shabbat Morning Service: Like an Opera, Only More”

  1. An entertaining attempt but it strains a bit too much trying to make the analogy, But,,,sei gezint. :-)

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
UN Troops look at smoke rising from Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Aug. 27, 2014
Irish UN Troops Free Filipino UN Troops
Latest Indepth Stories
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

TorahScroll AoT17

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

Troodler-082914

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

Eisenstock-082914

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

We risk our lives to help those who do what they can to kill to our people .

Twain grasped amazingly well the pulse of the Jewish people.

The entertainment industry appears divided about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

More Articles from Harvey Rachlin
'This is the Torah'

Everything I imbibe is with my inimitable fervor for being Jewish.

For our purposes, we will focus on Jewish-related subjects and call it “What’s Your Jewish Perspective?”

the observant individual has the seeds of self-discipline that can be applied to nonreligious endeavors

Each week, the Shabbat morning service tells a different dramatic story.

Of course, believing in God doesn’t make one Jewish. Many people identify themselves as Jews for a host of reasons other than believing in the God of Israel, and they are just as Jewish as the most pious Jew. Being Jewish is a birthright, not a belief right. According to halacha, anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. Period.

When you laugh, you are promoting good health in your mind and body. And that is no joke

The davener stands, sits, stands, bows, straightens up, turns, takes steps backward and forward, sits, stands, sits, stands, bows, and so forth.

Divine affirmation is the foundation of Judaism. Everything else comes after.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-shabbat-morning-service-like-an-opera-only-more/2014/02/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: