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ברכת כהנים THE PRIESTLY BLESSING
One of the most beautiful customs of our shul, not common for Conservative shuls, is Duchaning (in Yiddish, Duchanen), which we do in the Musaf service for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If you haven’t experienced this lovely ceremony performed by our Kohanim (Kohens), I encourage you to stay through Musaf to do so. There is a special melody in this ceremony in which the Kohanim repeat the words of the Blessing of Aaron, the High Priest, from the book of Numbers (Yevarecha). We uniquely adapt the tune to melodic lines on Rosh Hashanah evening, and the antiphonal response, led by the Cantor, is quite haunting and joyful.
Why do we Duchan? Numbers, Chapter 6, instructs Aaron and his sons to bless the Israelites with the verse “Bless you, guard you…May Hashem lift His face to you and be gracious to you…May Hashem give you peace…” Since every Kohen is a descendant of Aaron, they are to repeat the blessing for every congregation of ten. Kohanim count as a part of the 10 congregants in the minyan that they are blessing. If a minyan dissolves while they bless the congregation, they continue and conclude it. If the Chazzan is the only Kohen, he is allowed to move from his stand on the bima and face the congregation to bless them. During the repetition, he must wash and remove his shoes before beginning the standing devotion. If he is not the only Kohen, he remains in his place.
Why is this custom of blessing the people called duchening? Because the word for bima, or raised platform, in Aramaic is Duchan. The Kohanim ascend the platform as a mediating symbol between the congregation and the Holy Ark. At this moment, they are a conduit for blessing. The Kohen raises his hands and spreads his fingers in a “V” shape. His hands, therefore, form two Shins (Hebrew letter ש), which equals 600. His fingers are ten and his blessings are three, which equal 613–the number of mitzvoth in the Torah. Talmud Hagigah mentions that one should not look at the fingers of the Kohen as they bless, as doing so will “weaken the eyes.” Probably this was so the Kohen, in feeling one’s gaze, would not become distracted. It is not correct, however, to turn around, as many do, and show their backs to the Kohanim as they bless us. Many rabbinic authorities label this a “superstitious custom.” It is far better to face them and simply look downward or place one’s head under one’s own tallit as one receives the blessing.
How many times a year is it customary to do the Kohen blessing with Duchenen? In traditional congregations of the Diaspora (outside of the land of Israel), it should be done on Yom Tovim only (the five major holidays.) In the Ashkenazic congregation of Safed, Israel, it is done on major holidays and each Shabbat, and so, too, in many Ashkenazic congregations outside of Jerusalem. Sfardic synagogues in all of Israel do it every day. Many liberal congregations have discontinued it, considering it a vestige of the past and attached to sacrificial rituals.
There are some interesting facts of Duchening. We take our shoes off, not because the High Priest came in bare feet for the Yom Kippur ceremony, but because the Shulchan Aruch determined that a shoe lace untied can cause a fall, or an effort to tie an untied shoe lace nullifies the hand washing. This would prevent the shoe lace handler from saying the blessing, causing people to think him impure. To avoid this, it was decided that all would take off their shoes before blessing the congregation. A Kohen who doesn’t wish to say the blessing, perhaps because he dislikes someone in the congregation, should get over it! If a Kohen is impure after being in a cemetery, he should intentionally remove himself before the Kohanim begin to ascend the bima.
First and foremost, I would like to say how happy I am to be here at the East Northport Jewish Center. Everyone I have met thus far has gone out of their way to make me feel exceptionally welcome. Thank you.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about myself. I’m born and raised in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, and grew up at Congregation B’nai Moshe, a Conservative synagogue. From a young age, my relationship to Judaism has always been important to me. My father decided, when I was about 7, that we were going to go to shul each Shabbat. That experience solidified in me a ritual pattern that has stayed with me to this day. Following my Bar Mitzvah, I began working in our synagogue religious school, giving me my first taste of congregational life. I would continue working in religious school all the way through my collegiate career. In High School I was very active in chorus and theatre, and therefore, it was no surprise to my parents when I decided to apply to music programs for college. I settled on Kalamazoo College, a small 1200 student liberal arts school in Western Michigan. I was one of 4 music majors in my graduating class, and the only one without a double-major. While at Kalamazoo College I had the opportunity to explore, and through my first-year seminar professor, became very active in the autism community of Kalamazoo. To this day, I see that experience as an eye-opening event for me that solidified my way to the Cantorate, in that it fostered an appreciation for working with people. Following my graduation from Kalamazoo College, I attended the Jewish Theological Seminary of America to prepare for my Cantorial career. Following my investiture, I had the privilege to serve Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach, Florida, now Temple Torat Emet, in Boynton Beach, for 5 years. There, I took great pride in preparing B’nai Mitzvah students, seeing to the cultural programming of the synagogue through special shabbatot, and concert programming, which I hope to bring here to my new home in East Northport.
If there is anything I can assist you with on your own Jewish journey, I’m happy to provide support. Learning to read Torah, Haftorah, and Megillot, and leading services are just a few of the topics where I can help. I hope to meet many more of you in the coming holiday season. Thank you all again for the warm welcome. Read More
It is a new year, a time of new beginnings! I hope that everyone had a lovely Chanukkah. As everyone knows, Cantor Nussbaum is now retired. He and Avrille are making arrangements to move closer to their family in New Jersey. He is extremely appreciative of the love and support he has received.
A lot has been happening over the last couple of months, so I would like to give an update of where we stand. We have hired Eliza Zipper as Religious School principal. She is a graduate of the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary and has many years of experience as a Jewish educator and youth leader. She brings a great deal of energy and excitement about Jewish education. We look forward to working with her.
Also in the Religious School, we have hired Rabbi David Shain as the Hay Prayer and Hebrew Skills teacher. Those of you who have spent time at Gurwin may be familiar with Rabbi Shain, who has served there as a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and their Shabbat Rabbi. Rabbi Shain is very personable and knowledgeable. I am confident that our Hay students are in good hands.
Turning our attention to B’nai Mitzvah preparation, we have hired Dr. Paul Kaplan, a former long-term congregant, to tutor our B’nai Mitzvah students. Dr. Kaplan is a retired college professor with decades of teaching experience. In addition, in his own words, he has prepared “a thousand students” for their Bar and Bat mitzvah including at least one member of our Board of Directors. We are lucky to have him on board.
Finally, the Cantor Search committee has been meeting regularly since mid-November. With input from the Board and committees, a job description for our Cantor position has been developed. We have submitted our job posting to the Cantor Assembly Placement Office and we have begun to receive applications. It is still very early in the process, but we are on course and schedule. Look for future updates as things develop.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul! Read More