Monday, June 17, 2013

Cardboard Leining

Please note: I am not writing this about any particular leining or baal keriah I have ever heard. That's not an empty disclaimer; it's serious.

People who listen to kriat haTorah [the public reading of the Torah in the synagogue] value different elements:

Some listen for ivra, the proper pronunciation and accenting of letters and words.
Others listen for accurate and pleasant musical renditions of the notes.
Some look for a pace and an enunciation that will allow them to hear each word clearly.
And still others listen for a pattern of emphasis that indicates an understanding of the words being read.

For me, the most important aesthetic [as opposed to halachic] element of leining is Passion.

I am disappointed when I hear "Cardboard Leining", when the words are pronounced and sung properly, according to halachah, but without heart. Torah should be exciting, emotional!

I want to hear a baal keriah who reads the words in a way that shows the emotion behind them – the anger, the joy, the fear, the humour of a particular passage.

This is not confined to the "story" parts of the chumash, either; many of the Torah's laws can also be read with emotion. Think, for example, of Shemot 28:29, "And Aharon will carry the names of the children of Israel upon his choshen hamishpat breastplate when he enters the sanctuary, as a memorial before Gd." Or Shemot 29:45-46, "And I will dwell among the Children of Israel, and I will be their Gd. And they will know that I am HaShem their Gd, who took them out of Egypt to dwell in midst; I am HaShem their Gd."

Perhaps if we had a more emotive leining, the Torah reading would be less of an opportunity for people to read articles or step outside.


  1. The story goes that the Chozeh of Lublin requested a young man named Sholom Rokeach (later to become the Belzer Rebbe) read megillas Esther -- "I already know the story, but I like how he tells it."

  2. There was one Baal Koreh who I would wait all year to hear him chant "Mi Sam Peh B'Adam?". You could clearly visualize Hashem challenging Moshe with this...

  3. The chazan who taught me Eichah Trop always used to emphasize this. You're reading about death and destruction and misery. If you aren't brought to weeping while you're leining it then you have no clue what you saying.

  4. I just found this blog and couldn't agree more. I myself am an occasional baal koreh and there are times when I have gotten so emotional about the leining it was hard to continue. One of my favorites is Vayigash when Yosef declares himself to his brothers.

  5. Shalom-
    Nice; source?

    A baritone, I'm imagining.

    You bet. Ditto for Chazon Yeshayahu and Chasan Torah. And HaShem's recruiting of Moshe in Parshas Shemos, for me.

    Anonymous 4:34 PM-
    Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about...

  6. Rav Medan of Gush is a very emotional baal koreh.

  7. Shalom RosenfeldJune 18, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    Chozeh miLublin story -- ba'al peh from my rebbe R' Michoel Elias (son of Rabbi Joseph).

    Personally, "Ve-zeh dvar hashmitah" and "velana'ara lo saaseh davar" are legal portions -- but when read with trop, they tug at my heartstrings like poetry.

    "If the leining was better people wouldn't read other stuff or walk out" -- you're playing 'al tiftach peh laSatan' with the other thing that happens all-too frequently.

  8. There are parts of the laining where I don't need to force emotion; I get shaky & emotional everytime I lain both Tochachot.

    But I voice a warning about your premise. Laining in a manner that shows that the ba'al koreh understands what he is saying and adds some intonations and emotions that are appropriate to the section being lained is fine. But there is the risk of the laining turning into a Punch & Judy show if this is overdone.

    I've heard Megillat Esther read with humorous voices for each character. For Esther, that's fine, in line with the spirit of the day and "venafoch hu". But not for laining the Torah.

  9. Shalom-

    Good to hear from you - and I would take it one step further and ban it for Esther as well. I'm not into it.