Tag Archives: John Harris

On chanting Isaiah 61:10 to 63:9

                                                                                                                                                    בה
Isaiah, prophet eighth century, as painted by Michelangelo (1475-1564)

“I greatly rejoice in the Lord,”

begins the formal portion of Isaiah which I am scheduled to chant in Hebrew on Saturday September 28th, the day before Rosh Hashana. [1].

This is the Hebrew:

שׂ֧וֹשׂ אָשִׂ֣ישׂ בַּֽיהוָ֗ה

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This is how the first three verses of this Isaiah portion sounds when  Sarah Leah, my sister, sang them to help me prepare.

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What follows are these verses in Hebrew and English.These are the first verses from the Isaiah haftorah [1] reading on the day before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish calendar  New Year Year [2].

This is the first line of the selected reading. Unlike English that reads left to right, Hebrew reads right to left. This is an indication the Hebrew is a very old language. When language was first written, it was carved on stone. Since most workers are right handed,…
As a child of six, I was taught Hebrew in the morning and English in the afternoon. This happened for the first eight years of elementary school. Then, in high school, more Hebrew— compulsory after school Hebrew which I often resisted followed by one year of college Hebrew.
To this day when I am handed a book all too often I open it up without thinking. All to frequently, I open up an English book the wrong way and then pa Hebrew book the wrong way. When that happens, I feel maladjusted.

 

Later, I will discuss the considerable age of the Hebrew text which by tradition was dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai. This text has been handed down in written form for hundreds of years by and from generation to generation. The original draft contains occasional errors which are not corrected lest the instinct to correct might lead  to unwanted consequences. Instead, when a mistake does appear it’s correction appears immediately afterward in brackets. Here is an example from this haftorah.

[Insert example here.]

The Jewish Publication Society is responsible for the English translation. My mother Dr. Miriam Pell Schmerler helped in the Jewish Publication Society’s historic efforts in the late 1950s and early 1960s to produce an historically accurate translation of the Old Testament incorporating modern archeological findings and Biblical scholarship.

When I was a child, beginning at age 8, I attended working sessions of the translation efforts at summer sessions at Penn State, Cornell University, and Westchester County, NY.
While there I met some of the experts in global scholarship including experts, such as Zeev Vilnay, who wrote a classic travel guide to iIsrael which incorporated Biblical scholarship. When I was in Jerusalem in 1967, I attended his high brow Saturday afternoon teas.. All my life, willing or not through childhood and adolescence, the Bible has always been with me.

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Query

When was the last time you exalted? Or even used the word “ exalt?” This is the most beautiful and sophisticated poetry I have ever read in any language. Reading these words causes me to exalt. Learning the musical notes is hard sledding.

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How should I begin?

Ancient Eastern wisdom suggests one should begin as one would proceed.  My goal here is to invoke in you the sense of beauty and awe the prophet Isaiah invokes in me as I prepare to read/chant it at my new and wonderful synagogue Congregation Ohev Shalom ( lover of peace) here in my new home of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In February, I moved here as a refugee from Addison Court, a de facto nursing home in State College. For over 10 years, this was the view from my apartment.

Earlier this year, my neighbor and friend John Harris lamented the death of a dear friend who seemed indispensable to our happiness. John observed that in the past calendar year 13 of his friends had died–many our neighbors.
On the average of once a week, by the estimate of the State College police, an ambulance pulled up to my window At any time, day or night, I could expect to see outside my window, a gurney carrying one of my neighbors who might already be dead or who might never return. Much of last year and the year before I was ill unable to leave my bed for more than four hours a day. No doubt this distressing view contributed to my illness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is the third floor view from the balcony of the residential hotel where I live–surrounded by residents of multiple generations (children, parents, truck drivers,workers–not all my neighbor for a change are old, neglected, focused seemingly entirely on their poor health.
Daily I see this ever-changing/ever-beautiful view of the sky and mountains and it has helped me get well after serial bouts of pneumonia. I feel about this view and its ability to make me well much as I feel when reading the astonishingly beautiful Hebrew poetry of Isaiah.

 

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This is the first line of the selected reading. Unlike English that reads left to right, Hebrew reads right to left. This is an indication the Hebrew is a very old language. When language was first written, it was carved on stone. Since most workers are right handed,…
As a child of six, I was taught Hebrew in the morning and English in the afternoon. This happened for the first eight years of elementary school. Then, in high school, more Hebrew— compulsory after school Hebrew which I often resisted followed by one year of college Hebrew.
To this day when I am handed a book all too often I open it up without thinking. All to frequently, I open up an English book the wrong way and then pa Hebrew book the wrong way. When that happens, I feel maladjusted.

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[Editorial note: In the course of producing this posting, I must use multiple computers for reasons Marshall McLuhan might understand. As a result, it is easier for me “publish” this now with the firm intention of returning and completing. Hurry back, now, hear.]

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Footnotes

1. Haftorah. Wikipedia:

“The haftarah or (in Ashkenazic pronunciation) haftorah (alt. haphtara, Hebrew: הפטרה; “parting,” “taking leave”), (plural haftoros or haftorot) is a series of selections from the books of Nevi’im (“Prophets”) of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) that is publicly read in synagogue as part of Jewish religious practice.

“The Haftarah reading follows the Torah reading on each Sabbath and on Jewish festivals and fast days. Typically, the haftarah is thematically linked to the parasha (Torah Portion) that precedes it. The haftarah is sung in a chant (known as “trope” in Yiddish or “Cantillation” in English). Related blessings precede and follow the Haftarah reading.”

My reading/chanting from Isaiah follows a reading from Deuteronomy, the last of the five Books of Moses.