Carlebach Minyan

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It’s confession time. Let me get the following out into the open so I no longer have to remain in the closet:

1. I organize the occasional Carlebach-style Kabbalas Shabbos in my synagogue (about 3 or 4 times a year), although there is not much organizing to do.

2. Spiritually, I get very little out of these minyanim.

Thankfully, we have a gentleman in our neighborhood who is willing and able to lead such a service. His voice is beautiful, and strong enough to drown out the rest of us who sing along in the key less traveled.

However, and it may just be the Kalter Litvak inside me, I gain nothing in terms of kavanah from these services. It’s a fun sing-along with kosher songs and shukkeling. During Kabbalas Shabbos I’m singing along and usually struggling against the impulse to open a book, thinking about a sugya or cringing at the people clapping or banging on the table to the tune (I know, they have posekim on whom to rely). During the following Ma’ariv, for which one must actually have kavanah, I can control my mind to some degree but I do not have any extra intent due to the singing.

So what’s the point of the sing-along Carlebach-style Kabbalas Shabbos? Other than breaking the monotony of long, cold winter Shabbosim and a little kosher fun, I don’t really know.

My rabbi speaks every Friday night between Kabbalas Shabbos and Ma’ariv, even when the evening is Carlebach-style. The first time we experimented with this, he spoke about how when he was in Lakewood, and the time arose to sing a song, it was almost always a Carlebach song. This, he said, implied that one was allowed to utilize the songs of such an individual (ve-hameivin yavin). Afterwards, I showed him a responsum from R. Moshe Feinstein that is clearly (although not explicitly) on this very subject – Iggeros Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer vol. 1 no. 96 – in which R. Feinstein also rules leniently.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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