Nussach HaTefillah

16 Jun 2016

The role of the Nussach HaTefillah Initiative, spearheaded by Cantor Chaim Dovid Berson, Cantor of the Jewish Center in Manhattan, is simple and focused:

 To make Nussach HaTefillah resources easily accessible to everyone.

What is this Nusach Hatefilah?
Cantor Joel Kaplan, Congregation Beth Shalom of Lawrence, NY & Honorary President of the Cantorial Council of America.

Nussach HaTefillah is how we daven to Hashem.

We thank Hashem and make requests  multiple times a day,  as we rise in the morning, perform our daily ablutions, eat, travel, eat again, work, daven,  snack, work, daven,  eat again, learn,  prepare for bed…. And beseech Him to keep us all safe and secure.

In these days of great peril for Am Yisroel and Medinas Yisroel, these tefillos are ever more crucial. Could we envision a surgeon performing surgery, without knowing anatomy? Or an attorney arguing his client’s case without knowing the law underpinning his position?

Then we too must know how to daven to Hashem utilizing the acceptable nussach.

For hundreds of years, using the correct musical mode has not been just a choice, or a best practice, or a preferred way of davening; it is the Halacha.

The Maharil, Rabbi Jacob Möllin (1365-1425 CE), decreed  that there are rules, parameters and musical guidelines that must be followed and that dictate the use of any and all melodies in our tefillot. This was codified as part of our halachic tradition. One should not digress from the customs of the place, even with regard to tunes and piyutim that are used. The Rema codified this ruling of the Maharil as normative halacha.

Some of these nigunim are described as Misinai, not because we have actually traced their origin back to Sinai, but because of their authenticity and tradition. Yet, with the advent of contemporary music into our society and even into our shuls and our davening, and the absence of resources through which the average layman can learn the authentic melodies, nussach has slowly but surely been disappearing from our shuls. It is not that singing a pop tune is bad; it might be quite sing-along-able. Shlomo Carlebach’s melodies are quite “catchy” and uplifting. But If you came to shul on Kol Nidrei eve, and the baal tefilah got up for Kol Nidrei, and sang his own composition, would that be acceptable? Or if someone went up to laen, and substituted his own set of trop, would that be acceptable?

We need to regain the authentic tradition of nussach hatefillah.