The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors

[Apologies as this may seem like a repost for some readers. WordPress seemed to get confused, so I have re-published as a new article]

There is seemingly a trend that has taken hold in the last 12 months or more. We’ve seen it employed by Orthodox Jews, some Orthodox Shules, and the Conservadox Shira Chadasha. The trend is to move out of the Shule and into the outdoors, presumably for a heightened, perhaps more “spiritual” davening. To be sure, it’s not (yet) regular, and is something that is utilised at chosen times. Many of these services revolve around music, and “nature”.

I am a musician. I’m not a “mathematical” musician in the sense of analysing a score and declaring it a piece of genius. Rather, I was blessed (I guess) to have a special חוש/sense for music to the extent that I can play a piece after I have listened to it.

I am inspired by music. I find that it touches my Neshama. It’s something that can uplift me, or just as importantly it can solemnise my feelings to the extent that I’m “at one” with those ambient feelings. Feeling melancholy I may choose Rachmaninov, for example; I love Russian classical music as it seems to accurately reflect the oeuvre of the tragedy of much of Jewish history. On Yom HaShoah, when I hear the ‘Partisan Song’, it never fails to stir and uplift.

Halacha discusses what type of music is acceptable. Obviously, love songs, as mentioned by the Rambam, aren’t in the frame. Some, such as R’ Moshe Feinstein based on the fact that he felt the Pshat in a Gemora was more in tune with the R’ Yosef Karo, the Mechaber, than the Ramo) went as far as prohibiting pleasurable music all year around as an expression of זכר לחורבן. This view is not widely accepted.

As I always reiterate, my pitputim are just that. Ask your own Rov if you have any questions or concerns. Rav Ovadya also had interesting Teshuvos on this (I can’t recall whether it was in Yabia Omer or Yechave Daas). If my memory serves me correctly, he even permitted muslim prayer tunes to be set to Jewish words and used as part of Tefilla!

I’m a traditionalist, especially when it comes to authentic Jewish expressions of connection with Hashem and preserving the Mesora via modes of accepted expression, additions and location.

I’m lucky enough to also feel exhilaration when learning, and I prefer delving than more surface-oriented coverage. The latter is instructive and important, in the sense of המעשה אשר יעשון but it doesn’t perhaps titillate me when compared to the combination of intellect/neshama as elicited by חכמת התורה. That for me, provides a tangible connection to אלוקות. Your mileage will vary, of course, and that’s perfectly fine. There have always been at least two approaches. הרבה דרכים למקום

Many of our current youth seek tangible and immediately perceived connection through their senses. Some are limited in their ידיעת התורה armoury, and the soul-like, metaphysical connection through song, works effectively as a catalyst. A catalyst towards what, one might ask? Is it a means or an end? Effectively in my Weltanschauung, is when this leads one to the level that they can meditate on Shmoneh Esreh in the very least, and through that seek to “connect”. Shmoneh Esreh is Tefilla.

As Rav Soloveitchik always pointed out, Judaism has never been reactive or temporally focussed on modes of pomp and ceremony and new forms of worship: these cross the line of Mesora. We are bound, happily, through our Mesora. To Chazal, Mesora is Halacha, and it regulates accepted methods and modes of Tefilla and delineates the unacceptable.

We don’t make up new integral prayers (as opposed to תחנות and בקשות) or modes of prayer. We follow the Nusach of our Mesorah, and we do not deviate. It is, of course, well-known, that when faced with the rising influence of conservative temples in the USA, the Rav stood steadfast, and would only allow “innovation” that didn’t step beyond Mesora and Halacha. Sometimes, protective mechanisms were needed to entrench a barrier against a temporal but threatening breach. These need to be approved by an expert Posek. One does not innovate on the basis of a more academically inclined analysis of sections culled from the Bar Ilan responsa DVD. That does not a Psak make.

There is the story recorded by Mori V’Rabbi, Rav Schachter, of a Baal Teshuva who would have offended his family by not attending the Bar Mitzvah of his brother. The Bar Mitzvah was to be held in a conservative temple. The Rav, whose Psokim one may not generally extend to their own situation, ruled that the Baal Teshuva should attend so as not to cause Agmas Nefesh and Machlokes on the strict proviso that in respect of the conservative service he:

  1. Daven in a proper Orthodox Minyan beforehand
  2. Sit when they stood
  3. Stand when they sat
  4. Not answer Amen

In no way, should he give the impression that he was participating in davening per se at a conservative temple. Each situation is different, of course, and a Posek needs to be appraised of the complete circumstance before issuing their Psak Din.

R’ Shlomo Carlebach, a controversial figure, is in vogue, especially in sing/song style prayer. Allegations, about him, abound. Some are most concerning and sinister. Yet he was also proffered love by the Amshinover Rebbe שליט’’א, widely considered as one of the “holiest Rebbes” of our generation.

A young Amshinover Rebbe with R’ Shlomo Carlebach

At the same time, in Igros Moshe, Even HoEzer (in the middle of a Tshuva), Reb Moshe Feinstein intimated that nigunnim performed before a certain period in Reb Shlomo’s life were acceptable, but those after that date were not to be played or sung.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל personally told me that he was a chavrusa/learning partner of R’ Shlomo. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, after Reb Shlomo diverted to a more controversial path, how to interact with him. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should be Mekarev R’ Shlomo, but never under the umbrella or Mosdos of Chabad per se.

I once used a Carlebach melody at Yeshivah Shule in Melbourne, and Rabbi Groner advised me not to do it again, for these reasons. He, of course, told me this privately and quietly after Shule, as I walked out after ravening. I know that Rabbi Groner’s son, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi also adheres to this approach in the Chabad House where he is Rabbi.

Many of our youth seem to seek spirituality. Authentic Jewish spirituality can be achieved in a number of Masoretic ways. I’m not sure, though, whether home-grown techniques of spirituality lead towards מעשה בפועל or if they are all permitted anyway. One would hope so, even if contraindicated, as per Reb Moshe or others. We should assume that seekers are earnest in their quest for interaction with אלוקות. The method of T’filla and the place of T’filla however, must remain the mainstream Chazal-mandated approach. Yes, there is a place for התבוננות, reflection and meditation. The Breslaver Chassidim require it once a day, the Baal Shem Tov himself did it—each to their own.

Lately, I’ve noticed various Orthodox groups (I consider Shira Chadasha conservadox in my nomenclature despite spirited sound-bites on a Melbourne TV show attempting to convince us that they are Orthodox) seek to leave the sanctuary of Shules and Shteiblach, or even house-minyanim and seek the outdoors through the aegis of an open area/park or similar setting.

I am not enamoured halachically by house minyanim on a regular basis during, say, summer months. There are shules close by.

ברוב עם הדרת מלך

is not a platitude. It is a halachic requirement.

Sometimes, perhaps mostly, so-called alternate services are accompanied by a Carlebachian inspired sing-song. As a musician, I know this can stir the heart. The effect is amplified when there is a knowledge of Pirush Hamilos. [ I cringe if the wrong style of tune is used for a passage or chapter. I even cringe when commas are placed at the wrong places: a sure indication that a basic understanding of the structure of Tefilla and Pirush Hamilos needs serious attention. ]

But what does Halacha say about davening in an outdoor setting? I’m assuming that Dina D’Malchusa is followed and council permits are obtained. Parks are not normally designated as places of worship. Imagine if Muslims, Xtians and Buddhists also decided to utilise parks for their places of worship. I, for one, do not think it is appropriate.

The encounter with Hashem is a private one (in the sense of occurring in a house of God), that should be constructed through the agency of a quorum of ten males and a suitable separation of males and females. Dogs, children playing, plain schmutz and the like, do not appear environmentally appropriate. As summarised in Shulchan Aruch Siman 90 S

לא יתפלל במקום פרוץ כמן בשדה

Shulchan Aruch (‘סע’ ה) rules that one should not daven in an open area, for example, a field. The rationale he gives for this halacha is that when one davens in a place that is closed one will have more awe for the King and will have a broken heart which is advantageous for davening. Mishnah Berurah writes that if a place is surrounded by walls it is an acceptable place (ס”ק י”ב מובא דבריו בחיי משה) to daven even if there is no roof.

Shulchan Tahor maintains that l’chatchila, ideallyone should daven in a place that has a roof in addition to walls. However, if the walls extend ten tefachim higher than the average person’s height, one could daven there in a pressing circumstance.

Eshel Avrohom adopts a more lenient approach and contends that it is sufficient if there is a wall in front of the person davening even if there are no walls on his sides. He also adds that this requirement is only for shemone esrei but for pesukei d’zimra one may even daven in an open area.

Sefer Toras Chaim (סק”ז) asserts that this halacha applies when someone davens by himself but it is acceptable for a tzibbur to daven in an open place since the experience of davening with a tzibbur will cause him to have a broken heart and awe of the King. Kaf HaChaim (אות ל”א) cites Ritva who rules that if a minyan is davening together this issue does not apply.

Sha’arei Teshuvah (סק”א) implies, however, that this issue applies to a tzibbbur the same way it applies to an individual.

So, while there is room to be lenient I would think, and this is borne out by opinion, that praying in a park/field is perhaps a stepping stone to the ideal, which is to pray in an ascribed place, viz, a Shule with all its concomitant Kedusha (ironically) and regulation. At the end of the day, it is the iconic Mikdash M’at, a miniature of the Beis Hamikdash itself. See especially the Kitzur Minyan HaMitzvos from the Rambam where he clearly describes this as a D’Orayso, a Torah imperative. We are enjoined to simulate the Beis Hamikdash through both the prayer, the behaviour and the building structure!

A certain man rushed to daven Maariv but missed borchu. Naturally, he wished to daven with a minyan that was just beginning so that he could answer borchu in the beginning of the tefillah. There actually was another Maariv which began a few minutes later but the minyan was outside the sanctuary, in a place without walls. This man wondered what he should do. On the one hand, he knew that it is preferable to daven in a place with walls as we find on today’s amud. On the other hand, he was loath to miss borchu. When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled that davening in the shul with walls is preferable. “Even if you will miss borchu it is still better to daven with the minyan inside. Even though the davening outside is complete with borchu, davening without mechitzos is less than ideal.” אבני ישפה, תפילה, פי”א, ס”ו, ובהערה ז

In another place they would pray Minchah in a largish stairwell. Although a minyan always stayed inside, some of the people would wind up joining them outside the building. Since there were no functional walls out of doors, one of the group protested. ”The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is forbidden to daven in a place without mechitzos. It is therefore b’dieved to daven outside.” But those who stood outside disagreed. “As long as you are part of a minyan which davens inside it shouldn’t matter what you yourself do. It is not as though I have less kavanah, so why assume that inside is superior for every individ- ual?” When this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, he ruled that they should indeed pray with the minyan inside. “Those who daven in a stairwell should remain together inside, and not have some people davening inside the building while others are outside.” תפילה כהלכתה, פ”ב, הערה פ”ה

Pardon the pun, but we need to see the wood from the trees. If it is desirable in our age to enfranchise those who would otherwise not seek to daven, through Carlebachian/Breslav, outdoor or “spirit grow style” techniques, then that is an intermediate level, and an expert Posek must be consulted. However, it should always be understood that this level is a stepping stone to the ideal. The ideal is to daven in a Shule or Beis Medrash and to be become a Doogma Chaya, a living example, of how one should comport oneself in a Mikdash Me’at, a miniature version of the Beis Hamikdash. The laws of a Beis Knesses and Beis Medrash are directly derived, according to many, such as R’ Chaim Brisker, from the Beis Hamikdash itself. The Rav gave many examples of this in his Torah.

In a tangential way, even though there is leeway to innovate in respect of melodies during the Nusach HaTefilla, one must remember that some elements are inviolate. Can anyone imagine singing Kol Nidrei to another tune? Cantor Be’er from YU’s Belz School of Music has written a wonderful article where he delineates the Tefillos and categorizes those which one may innovate, tune-wise.

I remember as a boy that both L’cha Dodi and Kel Adon were sung, but this took place in the Masoretic mode of the Chazan and congregation pausing between stanza in the form of “saying and answering” (Davar Shebikdusha, as expounded by the Rav)

Mesora must be protected and cherished.

שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך

Mesora must be protected and cherished. It alone provides the protective borders within which we can serve through an authentic Jewish service.

Carlebach in prayerful bliss: From Ha’aretz

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

5 thoughts on “The Shule/Beis Medrash/Shteibel vs the outdoors”

  1. How does this work with such changes and additions in the past century in the form of tefilos to Israel and Tzal, the removal of BAHAB selichos. The removal of Yotzerot and piyutim from davening on yom tov.. The way we lain on shabbos with Shnei mikrah ve’Echod targum etc….

    I tend to agree that it would need to be a specific a special event that would warrant davening in a park, but what of all the other mesoratic changes that have been made in the past 60 odd years across the board.

    Like

    1. Tefillos can be said according to Mesora. The issue is precisely when.

      Bahab has waned because people aren’t often at the level. It was, I believe always that way

      Yotzeros and piyutim form a category of optional sections. In some places they are still said. I don’t believe they came from Anshei Knesses Hagedola

      Shnayim Mikro is still done, sometimes in a different mode, but they aren’t part of davening per se

      Aim Hochi Nami. I’m not sure how any give license to new forms of Tefilla that were not BeMatbea shel Chachomim

      Like

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