web analytics
September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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
Israeli soldiers and security personnel protect Jews in Silwan Valley.
Jews Enter Six More Buildings in Silwan Secretly Bought from Arabs
Latest Indepth Stories
FE_PR_100112_22Learning_CableTV425x282

Can teenagers seriously be expected to behave properly when they are surrounded by so much suggestive material? Is it fair to expose them (and ourselves) to so much temptation and then tell them, “Just say no”?

Narendra Modi

Washington remains ignorant of the need to dismantle alliances with various Muslim countries.

ISIS terrorist

Defeating IS requires bombing its strongholds and recognizing the violent nature of Islam.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas speaking in Ramallah, July 1, 2014.

Abbas again used the UN to attack Israel, distort history, and undermine prospects for peace.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot even agree to move their clocks back on the same day.

Shemita is about relating to each other by temporarily eliminating gaps of wealth power & status

David transcended adversity to become a leader; Who are we to make excuses for a lack of greatness?

sympathy: Feeling sorrow or pity for another’s tribulations; Empathy:sharing an emotional experience

Last week the president announced a four-point plan. Unfortunately, there’s little buy-in from our European and Middle Eastern allies. Here’s my own four-point plan that may be more palatable to our allies.

Rosh Hashanah has an obvious connection to God’s Kingship. We constantly refer to Him during the Asseres Yemei Teshuvah as Melech/King. The nusach of the tefillah, referring to Rosh Hashanah as “a remembrance of the first day” (of Creation), implies a certain dimension of divine kingship operating at the time of Creation and replicated every […]

Yes, God judges, but His judgment is that of a loving father who longs for his child’s quick return.

Anti-Semitism has returned to the mainstream of European society and Israel has become its focus.

Home is Milwaukee where their congregation, Beth Jehudah, and community always await their return.

A murderous uprising is taking place in Israel; On the roads, In the mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

“It’s a lousy column and a dishonest one,” Halberstam wrote. “So close it. Or you will end up just as shabby as Safire.”

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: