Sunday, April 09, 2006

Just Do It

It seems that no matter which minyan I daven at, there are only a limited number of people that daven for the amud (those who lead davening). While these minyanim are teeming with people, it’s always the same people. What’s the reason the same people daven over and over and over, oh yes, and over again? It’s not because of lack of good voice. But why is that these people that frequently lead have horrible voices? The reason, I believe, is because people view davening for the amud as a burden – and possibly below them.

Davening for the amud is a kibbud (an honor). Why would people continuously turn down a Kibbud? I have very rarely seen people turn down an aliyah to the Torah…so why turn down being Shaliach Tzibbur? It’s clear that for whatever reason, leading davening is no longer considered such. At most minyanim I frequent, I can see the perpetual annoyed look on the Gabbai’s face due to the fact he simply cannot find someone to daven Shacharis (forget Pesukei D’Zimra – people avoid that like the plague). Usually this leaves him in a bind, asking someone that he knows will do it at the last second – which, unfortunately, is often not someone with the greatest voice. It’s not his fault he has a bad voice and davens every week – he realizes that it is a Kibbud and he accepts.

Who’s to blame? Clearly those who daven at a minyan every week, have good voices, and continually turn down davening for the Amud. A good shatz can make or break a minyan – someone with a good voice can make davening a truly uplifting experience, while someone with a bad voice can make it a thoroughly miserable experience. Just step up once every couple of months, daven for the amud, and you’ll make everyone’s davening experience much more meaningful than just hearing the same Joe Shmoe every week.

And for all of those who think that this, or other tasks are below you, a quick story: There was a kollel guy that after being in kollel for a number of years, had become a well-learned man. However, when his wife asked him to take out the trash, he said no, explaining that this task was below his stature. The wife went to R’ Gifter and explained the story. The next morning, after Shacharis, there was a knock on the kollel guy’s door; it was R’ Gifter. The kollel guy invited the Rav in and asked him if there was anything he could get the Rav. Rav Gifter responded something along the lines of: “No thank you, I’m only here to take out the trash.”


Blogger Jewboy said...

Not so sure people turn it down because of lack of kovod for the job. I think many people don't want to be pushed to go at the pace of the congregation (which at the shul we attend, is often quite fast), and feel that davening from the amud will disturb their kavanah. I daven sometimes, but don't always feel like doing it for those reasons-I feel my kavanah is better when I don't daven from the amud. Also, people probably don't think they have good voices and are embarrased.

11:12 AM, April 09, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


I should probably be judging more dan l'chaf zechus, but alot of people that turn it down there are, often times, people that talk alot during davening, so I'm not too sure how concerned they are with their kavanah.

11:17 AM, April 09, 2006

Blogger aishel said...

Are you saying that Jewboy has a bad voice?

But seriously, I can't recall the source, but aren't you supposed to turn down a kibbud the first time you're asked, be a bit hesitant to take the kibud the second time you're asked, and finally take the kibbud the third time you're asked?

2:54 PM, April 09, 2006

Blogger aishel said...

I forgot to add, I actually find that I have better kavanah when I do daven for the amud, as I now don't have anyone to talk to, and I in fact try to tune everyone else out.

2:55 PM, April 09, 2006

Blogger Jack Davidov said...

Alanlaz - I agree with Jewboy. A lot of people would love to daven for the amud, but wouldn't appreciate seeing the angry glares that they get when they can't keep the pace of the minyan.

By the way, I spent Yom Tov with Rav Gifter's daughter who told me that that very story was not true. She did say, however, that it is in the spirit of something that he would do if it was possible. She said that a lot of stories that people would tell her about her father, she knew were not true. Well, someone once told me - they don't tell these stories about you and me.

3:20 PM, April 09, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


The source is the Shulchan Aruch. Again, maybe I should be dan lechaf zechus more, but I really don't think these people are turning it down for this reason.

I don't think you know the clientelle of the specific minyan I am referring to. I would highly doubt these people would be afraid of possible angry glares if they couldn't keep pace with the minyan. I think we're being a bit nieve here...

4:42 PM, April 09, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that story with Rabbi Gifter is one of those "made up" stories that go around the Jewish circles.

8:58 PM, April 09, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

I have confirmed that the story is not true. However, I did verify that he was asked about the story, said it didn't happen, but that he would've said it had the situation arose.

8:59 PM, April 09, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

>>forget Pesukei D’Zimra – people avoid that like the plague

Being basically unfamiliar with the morning routine (I do go for the Shachrit Megillah Reading early, early, rather than the later women's reading), I am now understanding why the Rav thinks my husband is a tzadik. My husband is the go to guy for pesukei dezimra! (and, well, nearly everything else).

The tzibbur's only complaint. . . he should slow down a little. Sephardim are known to say every word out loud.

10:40 PM, April 09, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

First of all, Jewboy, you have a standing offer to daven anytime. Particularly when there is a long kirah. In your case, we're not concerned your going to go too slow. And there ain't no such thing as too fast, in my opinion.

As the scowling gabbai in question, I'll add my thoughts. It's not that hard to find someone for shacharis (it's harder for me to find someone that I want to daven, but I try to keep my personal feelings out of it). Pesukei D'Zimrah is the problem. At the risk of being a bit self-righteous, I did PZ for SEVEN years pretty much straight, because no one would do it. Still, I have to beat people over the head to do it (there are people who have told me that it is beneath them to do it). I have finally resorted to a combination of intentionally showing up 5 minutes late (forcing someone to take the initiative if they want the minyan to be on time), and falling back on the same people, who, in my opinion, will all get into Heaven, no questions asked.

I make it a point to ask anyone, regardless of vocal skill, if they would like to daven; perhaps it's my upbringing, but I see these types of things as a sort of accomplishment, and naturally assume most people would want to do it. Most don't, but not for the reasons you mention. Most people either dont feel comfortable singing in public, aren't comfortable with their voice, etc. It has nothing to do with kavannah, etc., from what I can tell. I have no problem with this, because, as you bemoan, there are people I know I can always go to at the last minute that will do a good job (I don't know if this past week's ba'al shacharis is what spurred on this post, but I personally like his davening very much).

There are weeks where I intentionally don't ask those that have exceptionally good voices, because, well, they take too long. If there's a long kriah or something like that, we often have to be sensitive to the time and pass on hearing R. Dave that week.

Then there's the additional problem that some people, who do a very good job, refuse to dress appropriately to lead the tzibbur. I have no choice but to shun them until these rebellious individuals see fit to lower themselves and conform to the standards set by our community. Hopefully one day they will settle down and rejoin the kehillah, and we can all enjoy their beautiful tefillos. ;)

11:56 PM, April 09, 2006

Anonymous Yasher Koach to the Lady Terps said...

two points:
1. Does Greg have some inside info on the world to come? Seems like he is really in the know regarding who is in or out of heaven. (he is sort of like the Peter Gammons of hot stove heaven)
2. On a more serious note.I think you are way off here, alan in your analysis of why people turn it down....You said you think people turn it down cuz they think it is beneath them but I am pretty sure it is for the very opposite reason. Leading a service is not a simple task like opening an ark or wrapping a torah. You are up there for a while, singing/chanting in front of everyone and responsible for setting the pace. And I think it is much more likely that people are turning it down because they are not comfortable with these responsbilities.

10:26 AM, April 10, 2006

Anonymous Mitch117 said...

Hey Alanlaz, first of all, great blog.

I've really enjoyed reading your perspectives on a number of topics in the orthodox community, and typically, I agree with you on most of them. On this last point, however, I'm going to have to disagree.

I have yet to have had an experience in Baltimore where I honestly felt that a person who was asked to daven for the amud turned it down because he felt it was "below him." Very possible this happens in other cities, but I haven't seen it here.

To speak in defense of some friends of mine who are known to have very sweet voices but often turn down the amud, I have heard their reasons for doing so.

One issue is, often those who are most musicly inclined, are also the most critical of themselves. These people are able to pick up on certain nuances of a chazzan's davening or the performance of a singer, that others are not. With this ability to discern what others generally cannot, they often don't have as much confidence in their own voice as others may. They know they will inevitably not be able to hold a note the way they would like or they will go flat at certain points of the tfilah. This person obviously knows that the reason for davening for the ammud is not to put on a singing performance, yet he still may be bothered by his perceived ineptitude.

Another issue is, when one is known to be a "chazzan of choice", there is often a pressure that accompanies that. People expect a certain performance. This person is definitely more at center stage here than the average Shliach Tzibbur. For someone who is more of an inherent tznua, this may be uncomfortable.

Finally, though many people do appreciate a davening from a chazzan with a beautiful voice, myself included, many others will always, only have negative responses. No matter how simplified this chazzan may make his public tfilah, there are always those who will say he was "showing off." This could be due to feelings of inferiority or these people may simply believe their statements to be true. Whatever the case, some people would rather not be subject to these statements and will instead pass up the kibbud of being a chazzan for a more private, tfillah as part of the kehillah.

11:23 AM, April 10, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...


Thanks for reading. Do we know each other? You bring up very interesting points which, I'll be honest, I did not consider. Maybe the blanket assumption that people always turn it down out of feelings of superiority was a bit much - but my message stands for those (and I do believe these people exist) who do decline out of these superiority feelings.

A side note: I'd rather lead davening than do pesicha or gelila - inevitably, I'll ALWAYS screw them up.

11:29 AM, April 10, 2006

Blogger Danny the Manny said...

There is a hierarachy of bad jobs that people offer me at Shul to complete.  There is absolutely nothing worse on earth than having to carry the second Torah out of the Aron and having to transport it around as people kiss it, then having to hold it and sit with it through the entire Torah reading.  So I was picked out from the crowd, as soon as I walked in and hadn't even opened my siddur, to be the second Torah holder.  Now, I turn down glila because I consider it nebby, can never do it right, and a 10-year-old gets it in my stead.  But this, this nobody wants and to turn it down means that 30 people will after me.  So I just figured that I'll take it and do my duty and hopefully not be called upon to do it again for a long while.  Or maybe I'll be typecast as the guy who is willing to do it. 
So the time comes for me to go up and get it, and I manage to get the smaller of the two Torahs, which I was thrilled about.  Then we turn to the whole congregation for shma and I have to make sure to keep looking down at my siddur because if I looked up I would burst out into laughter.  And we do the whole circle, I sit, everything's fine.  My butt falls asleep, my tallis is from 1800 and has beer stains.  Then came the time to use my Torah, I was dismissed and returned to my seat to find it's been taken. Not only that, the entire congregation has arrived during Torah reading and I am left with no seat at all.

Then I got summoned back a couple minutes later and go to recover my lighter Torah.  Only the gabbai demanded that the ba'al mussaf get the smaller Torah and I get the bigger one.  Not sure why this is our custom, but I couldn't help but think that how I got the short end of the stick.  I had to carry the heavier one for a longer period of time all around the entire Shul, when I thought I was in the clear because earlier I had taken the smaller of the two.  Still, I used my powers to prevent people from getting to reach the Torah to kiss it.  This included women, little girls and men I don't particularly like.  I am not making this up; I angled the Torah toward and away from people that I cared for and disliked. 
I put the Torah back in the hands of the psicha guy, everything's wrapped up and we're singing Eitz Chaim Hee.  Only I don't know where to go.  I want to get back to my seat, return the tallis, which by now is in shreds and be on my way.  I opted for the worst possible scenario:  I went halfway.  I decided I couldn't leave back to my seat and dishonor my position as neb for the morning, but I also adamantly did not want to be standing all the way up on the platform next to everyone as if I was on a stage.  So I stood in no man's land, a no flying zone, and eventually found my way back. 

You can tell everyone knows it's a horrible job because when they give it to you, there's no card.  Everything else gets a card, where some people occasionally give donations.  This has nothing of the sort.  Someone suggested we make one out of construction paper and donate it to the Shul.  Not a bad idea.  A visual representation of how you feel when offered this card.



12:29 PM, April 10, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

To "Yasher Koach to the Lady Terps": Yes, I happen to have inside information on who does and does not make it past the pearly gates. And let me just say, things aren't looking so good for you right now.

1:38 PM, April 10, 2006

Anonymous Yasher Koach to the Lady Terps said...

I thought I had some solid connections but I guess unless I shape up I won't be joining the pesukei dzimra leaders....Oh well, it would've been cool to chill with you in the next world though, Greg.

1:57 PM, April 10, 2006

Anonymous Erica said...

Obviously I cannot comment on the chazan thing but I did want to say to Danny that I'm sorry that you have such a negative feeling towards carrying around the Torah. I do not know what it's like to carry around the Torah so I am not judging, I'm just saying that I feel bad that you can't view your "kibud" as a true kibud. The congregation should really be thankful that they have you as a "go to" person and you, in turn, should be thankful that you have the opportunity to do this mitzvah for the congregation.

2:13 PM, April 10, 2006

Blogger Jewboy said...

Greg-Need someone for Shir Hashirim?

To all those who don't think glila is a kovod, check out the end of Gemara Megiallah. It says that the one who does glila is "Notel schar culam" (takes the reward of all of them. Not sure what it really means, but it sounds like glila is choshuv.

3:37 PM, April 10, 2006


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