I'm out of tune with modern ways

May 10, 2012
A synagogue choir or a recital in a concert hall? Close call

A synagogue choir or a recital in a concert hall? Close call

Sadly, There are very few opportunities for lovers of choral music to attend recitals on a Saturday morning, but at least we Jews have a viable alternative to offer: the nearest Reform or Liberal synagogue. This is where you will invariably find a group of mixed voices adding an all-important terpsichorean accent to the proceedings.

It happens that this country prides itself on perhaps the most vibrant amateur choir scene in the world, and it should be a source of equal pride for our community that Progressive synagogue choirs count among the vast number of British singing societies.

However, I do have a bit of a problem with shul choirs. The problem is that I am expected to sit back, enjoy the show and keep shtum. The service is not an opportunity to step aside from the mundane, corporeal week and into the spiritual realm. You're at a serious concert performance and you are there to appreciate how hard the choir has worked on singing in tune.

I attended a barmitzvah at a Liberal synagogue recently. Regular readers will be aware that visits to shuls other than my own are not made in order to deepen my understanding of Anglo-Jewry - they are made in order to placate Mrs J, for whom any opportunity to see behind the doors of someone else's ark is not to be missed. Personally, I'd be much happier going to my own place of worship and sending the kid a £10 book token.

Apparently, I should be flattered. Mrs J tells me that she enjoys talking to me when we sit together in a Progressive synagogue. She has completely failed to pick up on the fact that an Orthodox service separates men from women for one very good reason. That reason is not, as commonly perceived, to stop men from being distracted by women. On the contrary, it is to enable men to be distracted by women without being distracted by their own women.

Nonetheless, on this occasion the choir was sufficiently busy that Mrs J was forced to shush whenever they stood up for a bit of warbling. Better still was that she was given an honour. In general I find it disconcerting that men are excluded from participation in any religious aspect of the Reform or Liberal service. However, I understand that this is what is meant by "egalitarianism".

You may find it hard to believe but I can't honestly claim to hold the most modern of views. Nonetheless, I cannot tell you how delighted I was to see my wife up there opening and closing the ark, taking a good look at the silverware in the process.

Whenever I write about Progressive synagogues in this column my mailbag overflows with one letter from someone complaining about my lack of tolerance towards Liberal and Reform Jews. So, just to show that I'm not completely against them, I want to end on a positive note about progressive services: they're thankfully very short. If only they'd start at nine o'clock instead of 11, I'd have time to search for that elusive choral recital.

Last updated: 2:38pm, May 10 2012