N.Y. rabbi will initiate Asian Indian-style chanting to Jews and non-Jews here
BY LOR VAN INGEN, Intelligencer Journal Staff
May 6, 2006 – Lancaster, PA
Rabbi Andrew Hahn of Manhattan, N.Y., will introduce Lancaster to an Asian Indian-style Hebrew mystical chant, called a kirtan, at 7:30 tonight at Congregation Degel Israel (sic!), Duke Street.
“Many Jews these days are not finding in regular Jewish worship services the kind of spirituality they are seeking,” Hahn said in a telephone interview this week.
“So many are turning to Hinduism or Buddhism to find something that is lacking in normative Jewish practice. This is called the Hin-Jew phenomenon or the Bu-Jew phenomenon,” said Hahn who has a doctorate in Jewish philosophy.
Hahn also has no problem with seeking spirituality in other traditions, he said, because “Judaism has had a lot of lost or repressed traditions, especially after the Enlightenment with its [emphasis on] rationality. Something has been missing. I’m trying to help fill that gap. I’m drawing on resources of Jewish traditions to re-excite Jews and non-Jews to chant in Hebrew.”
The kirtan is an Indian-style music form of chant with a call and response – “I sing a line. You sing a line,” he said. “the idea is to do it again and again to get momentum going. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes, building up a kind of excitement in speed, pitch and energy.”
Although the kirtan is usually chanted in Sanskrit, Hahn said, he uses the Hebrew language. The kirtan also is not just for Jews who can read Hebrew because the language is transliterated in short snippets of text, he said.
Hahn also practices the Hebrew kirtan a little differently than others. While others chant Hebrew words to Indian music, Hahn uses both Hebrew words and Hebrew/Jewish/Hassidic melodies – native Jewish notes, Hahn said.
The chants are sung to music that Hahn plays on a harmonium, an instrument that functions as a reed organ with a double bellows system.
“Most of the music a Jewish audience knows, but I’ve [transformed] it into different modes that sound eerie,” Hahn said.
Besides the chanting, Hahn adds teachings, a lesson or a moral story.
Hahn reiterates that the kirtan is not entertainment, but meditation. “You don’t have to be great singers, but I request that you come ready to participate. Join the group. Let go of inhibitions and express yourselves,” Hahn said.
Ken Firestone, director of education at Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, said he attended a kabalistic kirtan Philadelphia. “The whole ambience is so enriching. And the vocalization, even if you don’t know Hebrew, the synergy flows together,” Firestone said.
The Jewish people have a “lot to learn from [Eastern meditation practices] that we can mix with our own traditions,” Firestone said. “The Jewish tradition of mysticism has been a repressed tradition. It’s now much more popular,” he said.