By Israel Drazin
The Magic of Hebrew Chant
By Rabbi Shefa Gold
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013, 326 pages
I am not into chants, but I recognize that we need to respect all people, and a lot of people like chants. It brings them a sense of calm, otherness, a feeling of holiness, and an attachment with the “other.” Those who love chants will like this book.
Rabbi Gold describes the benefits that people can obtain with chants. She adds about ninety pages with examples of phrases that can be used for chants from liturgy, scripture, psalms, Isaiah, and other sources. She also devotes about ninety pages to chants and their musical notations. She concludes her book with a detailed listing of all the practices and notations that she mentioned, and an index of first lines.
Gold states that a chant is different than a song. A chant is the musical and rhythmic repetition of a sacred phrase from a holy text, words that have meaning to the chanter. It may only be two words long. Chanters listen to the words and sounds they are chanting, to the melody, rhythm, harmony, tone, pitch, and especially to the silence that follows a chant. “Chant is the marriage of sound and silence…. It is a meditative practice that encompasses and integrates our inner and outer dimensions…. The most powerful moment of the chant is the silence that follows,” the fullness that unfolds, the feeling of the self expanding.
Gold tells us that the practice of chant is simple and accessible to everyone. The words of a chant can be as simple as atah tzuri v’go’ali, “You are my Rock and my Redeemer,” or kosi r’vayah, “my cup overflows,” if one feels its beauty and mystery, and if one surrenders to “the power of the chant, the presence of God that has been invited in, and the transformation that is working through you.” Chanting for Rabbi Gold and many others is like entering a holy sanctuary.