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So What's This Rock Hashanah?

March 2013


Talmud teaches the following story:

While Moses was watching God write the Torah he asked why God made the letters with fancy crowns on them, and God responded that in several generations Akiva would use those crowns to interpret Torah Law. Moses asked to see this man, so God sent Moses into the future where:

Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 29B


Moses went and sat in the back of Rabbi Akiva’s class, and had no idea what they were saying.  He became weak and disoriented.  Soon the class reached an issue and a student asked, “Rebbe, what’s your source for this ruling?”  He said, “It’s a law of Moses from Sinai.” Moses was relieved.

From this we learn that what Rabbi Akiva (one of our greatest teachers in history) teaches is foreign and unknown to Moses. Moses “has no idea what they were saying, he became weak and disoriented.” But Moses finds relief when Akiva backs his interpretation and ruling by saying “it is the law of Moses from Sinai.” With this Moses realizes that the religion of Akiva and the laws of Akiva may not look like the religion Moses believes he is bringing to the Israelites, but it does not matter how changed and interpreted it has become over the generations. It still goes back to the Torah, back to Moses himself.

The same is true, I hope, of our new Rosh Hashanah service. We are calling it “Rock Hashanah.” Last year in September people started asking me, can we make High Holidays more like Rock Shabbat? To which my answers were: “not this year” and “yes, with money.” And to myself, “oy what does that mean?” While it was too late to change the plan for holidays 2012, the seed of the question was planted. People like Rock Shabbat, they feel more connected to worship, more connected to God and to Judaism with the aesthetic created by Rock Shabbat; what does this mean for High Holidays? And of course, not everyone feels that way; there are many people who are uncomfortable with the live music, who like the “old melodies” and with High Holidays this longing for the music we know, the traditional music, is even stronger.  How do we as a temple make sure we can have both?

So here is our solution: the grand experiment. On Rosh Hashanah morning (Thursday, September 5th, 2013) there will be two services. The 8:30 a.m. service will be a traditional Rosh Hashanah service looking almost identical to last year, and the 11:00 a.m. service will be our new experiment called “Rock Hashanah.” You will not be divided by alphabet, but by choice, so you can decide if you want traditional or if you want to see what Rosh Hashanah feels like with a different musical aesthetic.

So what will Rock Hashanah be like? The truth is, we are still trying to figure that out. I’ve never even attended a service like what I envision so I don’t know what it will look like yet. What I do know is we will have a mixture of traditional melodies and Rock Shabbat melodies, and melodies not yet heard at TRT. We will also have a band playing. So even when we are singing our traditional Avinu Malkeinu, it will have a different feel to it by being played with drums and guitar rather than being sung acapella or with just piano. There will also be more music and less reading, and this means there may be more unfamiliar Hebrew as we assign melodies to prayers we have usually read in English. The service will be an experiment because truly we don’t KNOW what will work; we can only try it, and change it for the following year.

I hope you will come on this journey with us, and celebrate the birthday of the world with a Rock aesthetic, but know, like Moses, it may be disorienting at first to try something so new. But we are approaching this change with the honor of God and Torah in mind. We know that the worship of God has always been interpreted and changed according to the times we Jews lived in, and so this music may not be how your grandparents worshiped God, but the prayers are. And the intentions of your cantor and rabbi are to lift your prayers to God, and connect you to the Jewish People and to the Rosh Hashanah missions of celebration and T’shuvah (return or repentance).

Thank you for coming on this journey with us.

                                                                                 Cantor Joanna Alexander

P.S. We will not have a Rock aesthetic to any service on Yom Kippur, but we will be trying an experimental worship experience involving live stream texting during Yom Kippur afternoon. Read more about that in future Newsletters!

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