Intro to John Ringer
Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 12 December 2015
Perhaps we do not stop often enough to recognise the importance of song in our lives.
In a community like this, we at times – nowadays at least – might take it for granted.
And in the world around us music and singing has become devalued. We are so surrounded by noise that sometimes we crave silence; and we are so concerned with image that singing is scary – one of those things that makes us feel vulnerable.
But singing is a sacred act. To quote the 20th Century American thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel – perhaps most famous for marching with Martin Luther King, “Song is the most intimate expression of man. In no other way does man reveal himself so completely as in the way he sings”
This is why singing has always been at the heart of Jewish life
It was part of the ritual in the temple, where, they say, there were 288 musicians and singers whose job was to accompany the services. When we sang hallel – celebration, jubilation – we were heirs to those temple musicians.
The centrality of music in Jewish life in the biblical period has been retained through the 2500 years that have followed. We sing melodies that are 1000 years old, we chant Torah using notes that have told us how to sing since the early middle ages.
It is one of the great sadnesses of archeology that we can know that our ancestors sang, but we can never hear their voices.
But we can feel their passion –
It is there in the Chassidic passion of joyful niggunim and song, the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach
We can know the way that music expressed their needs – It is seen in the way that the early Reformers of the 18th and 19th Century articulated their relationship with the world around them by claiming choral music and bringing it into synagogue life
We can understand the power of song – It is seen in the Reform Judaism of today, every time a songwriter picks up a guitar or sits at a piano to express their relationship with an ancient liturgy through new music, to build midrash through their voices and ours.
There is a tradition that the name Yisrael can be rewritten, if you change all the pointing to read Yashir El – God will sing. As the Cantor Ellen Dreskin has written, “We are God’s song in this world”
Singing is a sacred act. And so, too, enabling and accompanying that song is a sacred act.
And just as must never take the song for granted, so too, we must not take for granted the one who helps us to sing – who helps us to access all of those different types of music that are our inheritance…