The European Academy for Jewish Liturgy (EAJL) was founded with the purpose of enabling Jewish communities to sustain themselves.
Many communities do not employ a professional Chazan (Cantor) and rely on the leadership of committed lay people. The special skills for this leadership need to be enhanced and sometimes taught, even from scratch. EAJL trains them to be inspiring, sensitive and knowledgeable leaders of prayer services.
Since EAJL is a pluralist ‘Academy without Walls’, people can apply to us from across the denominational divides.
Nusach Hat'filla -- What is it, and why is it important?
Nusach is Hebrew for formula. T’filla is Hebrew for prayer.
Jewish prayer text is carried on the wings of its musical expression. This is Nusach Hat’filla.
The term Nusach Hat’filla can apply to the liturgical text itself and refers to different textual rites according to variations of place and tradition.
When we refer to Nusach Hat’filla we also refer to the musical chants of those rites. Why is this musical formula so important? T’filla has always been chanted, from its roots in Middle-Eastern musical modes called maqamat, stemming from early times well before Western music was notated. The chants were like a time-and-place marker. In each of these traditions, all prayer services had their own specific modes of music which applied to the time of day, the time of the week, the time of the year. These chants created the mood of the service and were also special to the place where they were chanted. Different traditions developed, handed down from generation to generation and from community to community. These traditions prevail today.
Vital to human expression, music is a language in itself. As such, it has such an essential part to play in the life of the human soul. Therefore, we have a responsibility to transmit these traditions as faithfully as we can – and with love – so our people are enabled to enter their own devotion knowing they are linking back to generations before.
It is a holy responsibility and that is why EAJL stresses its importance, teaching and inspiring leaders of t’filla to be those who commit themselves to this sacred task with dedication and then pass it on.
About T'filla and Davening (from Yiddish davenen – the experience of praying)
Our t’filla comprises two well-known characteristics – keva which is the fixed text, the written words - and kavanna. Kavanna is the intention with which the davening is delivered. This is what gets to the soul of the people and enables and empowers them to enter their own davening. The sh’liach tsibbur has to be sensitively and deeply aware of people, human nature and the plethora of emotions that they bring to a room at any given time. It is a hugely responsible task and can only be effective if the leader has a deep love of God, t’filla and the community he or she leads. After all, it is the sincerity of the neshama – the soul – that is caught and communicated and its effect is with the people who are led in such davening.
We have to have the keva of course – the fixed liturgical texts, studied with the music upon which we carry them. But as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, the words are dead without the kavanna, the intensity of the soul with which we deliver them.
The Keva and Kavanna of text, though, need to be carried and this is on the wings of the music. Music is a language on its own. One more quotation from Heschel:
“The shattering experience of music has been a challenge to my thinking on ultimate issues. I spend my life working with thoughts. And one problem that gives me no rest is: do these thoughts ever rise to the heights reached by authentic music?”
(Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Insecurity of Freedom, Schocken, NY, 1972, pp 242-253)