|Ashrei–Einei khol–Va'anahnu (Leib Glantz)
|Ḥatzi kaddish (based on settings by Todros Greenberg and Abraham Kalechnik)
|Ata ritzatzta (L'kha adonai)
|L'khu n'rann'na–Hann'shama lakh (Isaac Kaminsky)
|Kama yisartanu–Ki ata el raḥum–Ta'avor al pesha–Adonai adonai–S'laḥ na
|Hattei (Israel Schorr)
|Shimkha elohim–El melekh yoshev–Adonai adonai
|El melekh yoshev (Zavel Zilberts)
The notes below pertain to the individual liturgical settings contained within this recording of a traditional s'liḥot service. For more on the liturgical and aesthetic parameters of the traditional s’liḥot service, see here. This recording is also available on the CD The First S’liḥot.
Ashrei customarily serves as a prelude to the s’liḥot service. The origin of this practice is uncertain, and it may have begun simply as a selection from the Psalms to set an appropriate mood, or perhaps to provide a liturgical link to antiquity. One conjectural rationale stems from its 16th verse, pote’aḥ et yadekha... (You open Your hand and satisfy all the living with favor), which could be interpreted as God’s openness to repentance—the favor of His listening to and granting the petitions for pardon that are about to be offered.
Although ashrei is also recited or sung during other services, its specific function as a prelude to the S’lihot for the First Day has inspired numerous and sometimes extended cantorial and choral settings that exploit the virtuoso aspects of cantorial art. Unlike the simple responsorial chant that usually accompanies this ashrei, for example, on the Sabbath, s’liḥot-related settings are typically clothed in a tone of awe and supplication, in keeping with the occasion. In this rendition, the opening section is excerpted from a complete setting of the s’liḥot service by the learned cantor-composer Leib Glantz.
Einei khol—the setting of the latter portion of the ashrei—is a self-contained composition that was sung by Moshe Koussevitzky, one of the most famous virtuoso star cantors of the 20th century, who immigrated to the United States from Poland following the Second World War. Although the setting is commonly attributed to Koussevitzky, he probably did not compose it in a formal sense, and the choral parts have always been left to subsequent arrangers. It is nonetheless based on his improvisation, which became a relatively fixed rendition and may also have been drawn—as was much of Koussevitzky’s hazzanut and especially his modal constructions (nusaḥ hat’filla)—from the melodic style and characteristic phrases of Elias Zaludkovsky (1889–1943). As a youngster, Koussevitzky sang in Zaludkovsky’s choir, both in Rostov and Vilna, later succeeding him as cantor at the Vilna Khor Shul (choral synagogue). Still, Koussevitzky fashioned his rendition to exploit his own extraordinarily high tessitura and the legendary brilliance of his upper register. That aspect of his style was often modeled on the vocal approach of Gershon Sirota (1877?–1943), who served prior to Koussevitzky as chief cantor of the prestigious Tłomackie Synagogue in Warsaw. Koussevitzky made this rendition a standard part of his s’liḥot services in Brooklyn during the 1950s and 1960s at Temple Beth El of Boro Park, where Cantor Benzion Miller currently officiates.
Va’anaḥnu—the concluding part of ashrei—is from a setting by Joshua Lind, a highly respected émigré cantor and teacher, today best remembered as an extraordinarily prolific composer of traditional settings in the unapologetically earthy and melodically communicative style acquired from his earlier years in eastern European synagogue choirs. In particular, Lind’s music transparently reveals the imprint of his mentor, the revered hazzan, choirmaster, and composer Zeidl Rovner [Jacob Samuel Maragowsky; 1856–1943], whose own style was profoundly influenced by a general Hassidic melos. Lind’s hundreds of choral settings were never published, but they found their way into synagogue repertoires throughout the United States and Canada through networks of admiring cantors and choirmasters.
Ashrei leads directly into the rendition of the ḥatzi kaddish (half kaddish), which, by established convention, always introduces the actual s’liḥot liturgy. The ḥatzi kaddish is a reduced form of the full Aramaic text recited at other points in the liturgy, sometimes identified by liturgical scholars as the doxology. Kaddish embodies the supreme acknowledgment of God’s unparalleled greatness. It is the ultimate expression of unqualified glorification, praise, and worship of God unto all eternity. Originally, kaddish was not related to the liturgy per se, but was recited at the conclusion of rabbinic discourses or lessons, perhaps as a way of dismissing the assembly with an allusion to messianic hope as well as supreme faith. Because those discourses were delivered in Aramaic—the daily language of Jews for approximately fifteen hundred years following the Babylonian captivity—the kaddish text, too, was composed in that language. It developed around its central congregational response, y’he sh’me raba m’varakh l’alam ul’almei almaya (May His great name be worshiped forever, for all time, for all eternity), which derives from Daniel 2:20. Later, the kaddish was introduced into the liturgy to signal the conclusion of sections of a service, to divide such sections, or to conclude biblical readings or talmudic quotations. As the liturgical tradition developed, various forms of the kaddish—its full recitation as well as versions either omitting certain parts or containing alternate ones—were assigned to different specific roles in the liturgical order.
The original rationale for the ḥatzi kaddish as a preamble to the s’liḥot is unclear, apart from the theological and poetic appropriateness of the text. However, by established liturgical rule, a kaddish recitation must function either as a conclusion of, or a division between, liturgical sections or scriptural readings—i.e., it must follow one or the other. This suggests yet another possible reason for the institution of ashrei as a prelude, for ashrei then fulfills the requirement of providing such a preceding section.
The ḥatzi kaddish rendition contains the oldest melodic elements in any formal FirstS’liḥot service: the individual motives and phrases—including the signature incipit— that combine to form this misinnai tune. Misinnai tunes are seasonal leitmotifs whose canonization for specific occurrences on the liturgical calendar dates to the initial formulation of the Ashkenazi rite in the Rhineland during the Middle Ages. They remain a fixed practice in all Ashkenazi synagogues (see more here). This particular tune is prescribed for the ḥatzi kaddish that precedes the musaf service on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. By established cantorial tradition, the same basic misinnai kaddish version for those Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur musaf services is also employed on the First S’liḥot, providing a musical anticipation of the impending Days of Awe. The easily recognizable motives of this misinnai tune figure prominently in any expanded cantorial-choral arrangement, regardless of style or period. But additional, more recent melodic components are usually attached as well to other parts of the text.
This 20th-century arrangement—a hybrid based on two distinct settings by émigré cantors Todros Greenberg (1893–1976) and Abraham Kalechnik (1846–1927)—exhibits these misinnai tune properties while also referring to a well-known but musically unrelated melody (beginning with the words b’ḥayyeikhon uv’yomeikhon) commonly attributed to Wolf Shestapol (ca. 1832–72), an important cantor and synagogue composer in the Ukraine. That melody has become nearly inseparable from High Holy Day ḥatzi kaddish renditions in America. Similarly, the sequential and lighter-spirited melody for the last section (yitbarakh v’yishtabbaḥ)is also frequently found in these ḥatzi kaddish settings in American synagogues. Clearly eastern European in style, but not found in any notated European sources, it may be either European or American in origin. Its authorship has not been established.
L’khu n’rann’na contains verses from Psalms 95, 89, and 55, and Job 12:10, and leads into hann’shama lakh. The setting sung here, which became familiar in many American synagogues by the mid-20th century, is by Isaac Kaminsky (1871–1943), whose emotionally evocative melodies are very much in the popular vein of Lind. Most of Kaminsky’s music, however, has been known primarily in eastern states and especially in the greater New York area, probably owing to its advocacy there by the prominent choirmaster Oscar Julius (1903–86), who conducted for many of the leading cantors of his period and who arranged and edited Kaminsky’s repertoire. This is one of the few Kaminsky pieces that became popular throughout other parts of the United States, and it remains one of the most frequently sung settings of this text. Like Lind’s choral repertoire, most of Kaminsky’s music remains in manuscript and has been disseminated among cantors and choirmasters through their collegial networks.
The setting of hattei elohai ozn’kha by the noted émigré virtuoso cantor Israel Schorr was composed originally as a concert piece and was initially recorded by the composer. Later it became part of Yom Kippur repertoires of various cantors and choirs, not only in the United States and Canada but also in Israel. The male chorus arrangement here, for example, was written by Isaac Heilmann for his choir in the Great Synagogue in Haifa. The delicately lyrical melody for the words ki shimkha nikra, however, was not part of the original version and was interpolated later for Moshe Koussevitzky’s recording and public renditions, including his Carnegie Hall debut in 1938. He retained that interpolated melody, which is neither his own nor Schorr’s (suggestions of authorship have included European hazzan David Eisenstadt), when he sang the piece during his American s’liḥot services.
Zavel Zilberts was one of the few significant choral composers in America to have served previously as a choral director at one of eastern Europe’s westernized and sophisticated (but still “orthodox,” or at least not nonorthodox) synagogues, known as khor shuls. Prior to his immigration, Zilberts was the music director at the Great Central Synagogue in Moscow, where the repertoire was largely borrowed from the German Synagogue canon.
In America, where he wrote for both traditional and Reform services, Zilberts’s style remained more classical and restrained than the simpler folk-oriented and sometimes even theatrically embossed melos embraced by the other eastern European émigré synagogue composers represented here. This el melekh yoshev setting, illustrative of Zilberts’s khor shul influence without sacrificing melodic appeal to austerity, is one of his best-known synagogue works.
Note: This recording is also available on the CD The First S’liḥot.
Sung in Hebrew
ASHREI (PSALMS 42:5; 144:15)
Those who dwell in Your house find happiness, and continue forever to praise You.
Happy is the people whose life is so blessed, happy is the nation whose God is the Lord.
A song of praise, by David
[I will exalt You, my God, my King, and worship Your name always—forever.
I will greet You every day and praise Your name forever, indeed forever.
God, so powerful, so praiseworthy, Your greatness is beyond examination.
One generation will praise Your deeds to the next, and describe Your mighty acts.
I will speak of the beauty and honor of Your majesty, as well as of Your miraculous deeds.
People will tell of the might of Your awesome Being, and I will speak of Your greatness.
They shall retell memories of Your great goodness, and joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, patient, and possessed of a full measure of loving-kindness.
The Lord is good to all, His mercies extend to all His creatures.
All those You have created will offer You thanks, and the righteous will worship You.
They will tell of the glory of Your kingdom, and speak of Your power.
They will inform the children of men of Your might, and of the glorious honor of Your kingdom.
(CANTOR AND CHOIR):
The eyes of all look toward You, and You provide all with food at the appropriate time and season.
You open Your hand and satisfy all the living with great and good will. The Lord is righteous in all His paths, loving in all His deeds. Near to all who call is the Lord, to all who call in truth. He will fulfill the desires of those who fear Him—will hear their cry, will save them! The Lord protects all who love Him, but all the wicked will He destroy.
My mouth will speak the Lord’s praise, and all flesh will worship His holy name forever, forever.
VA'ANAḤNU (PSALM 114:18)
And we will praise the Lord, from now unto eternity, Halleluyah!
May God’s great name be even more exalted and sanctified in the world that He created according to His own will; and may He fully establish His kingdom in your lifetime, in your own days, and in the life of all those of the House of Israel—soon, indeed without delay. Those praying here signal assent and say amen.
May His great name be worshiped forever, for all time, for all eternity. Worshiped, praised, glorified, exalted, elevated, adored, uplifted, and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, praised be He—over and beyond all the words of worship and song, praise and consolation ever before uttered in this world. Those praying here signal assent and say amen.
ATA RITZATZTA (L'KHA ADONAI)
You crushed the heads of the Leviathan and bestowed it as food to the people in the desert.
You split open the sources of springs of water, and of riverbeds.
You drained dry mighty rivers.
You divided the sea with Your strength.
You broke the heads of sea monsters in the waters.
You rule over the fury of the seas.
When the waves climb too high, You subdue them.
The Lord is sublime and much praised in the city of our
God, on His holy mountain.
O Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, You who dwell in the midst of the cherubim, You alone are God.
God, praised in the counsels of the holy, great and awesome in the midst of all that surrounds Him, the heavens tell of Your wonders, O Lord, Your faithfulness in the community of the holy.
L'KHU N'RANN'NA...HANN'SHAMA LAKH
Come then, let us sing to God! Let us joyfully shout to that Rock, our protector.
We will greet Him first with thanksgiving, then chant sweet melodies to Him.
Righteousness and judgment are the foundations of
Your throne; loving-kindness and truth precede Your presence.
We will share secrets together and with deep feeling visit the House of the Lord.
The oceans are His; He made them; and it was His hands that created the continents.
In His hands are the souls of all that live and the spirit that permeates the flesh of all mankind.
The soul is Yours, and the body—Yours. Have compassion, then, on the fruit of Your labor.
The soul is Yours, and the body—Yours. Lord, act for the sake of Your name.
We have come depending on Your name, Lord;
Act for the sake of Your name, for the honor of Your name.
For we know that name to be “God, gracious and merciful.”
For Your name’s sake, O Lord, forgive us then the multitude of our transgressions.
S'LAḤ LANU AVINU KI B'ROV IVALTENU
Forgive us, our Father; we have been led astray by our own overwhelming foolishness. Pardon us, our King; our sins continue to multiply.
KAMA YISARTANU (EIKH NIFTAḤ PE)
You have chastised us over and again with the words of prophets and messengers. We have paid no heed to the words of preachers. [From early on until now, we have been lost, killed, slaughtered, butchered. We have become a tiny remnant among broken thorns. Our eyes—completely spent—find no more pleasures or joys.
The misled among the people, those who bow in worship to lifeless idols, why do they prosper from daybreak to the setting of the sun? They rise to accept debased, contemptible ways. You, the broken, the shattered—in what do you put your trust?]
Holy One, who abides forever, see the humiliation of those who sigh, who languish. They rely on You as one would on a brother. With Your awesome right arm, rescue us, preserve us, forever and ever. For our trust resides only in the greatness of Your mercy.
KI ATA EL RAḤUM (KI AL RAḤAMEKA)
For You are a compassionate and gracious God, with infinite patience and abundant loving-kindness. You are generous with Your gifts of goodness, and You rule the world with Your own measure of mercy. As it is written in Scripture: “And He said: I will reveal all of my goodness before you, and I will pronounce the name of the Lord in your presence; I will be gracious to whomsoever I please, and will be merciful to those to whom I choose to be merciful.”
TA'AVOR AL PESHA (EL EREKH APAYIM)
Disregard our iniquities; erase our guilt as You did when You came down in a cloud and Moses placed himself beside You there.
Hear our cry and listen to what is written in the verse: “And he called upon the name of the Lord”—and it is also written: “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord ...”
The Lord, the Lord, God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, trusting in loving-kindess and truth; preserving His grace for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and cleansing from sin.
Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own.
S'LAḤ LANU AVINU KI ḤATANU
Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned. Pardon us, our King, for we have transgressed. For You, Lord, are good, forgiving, and filled with loving-kindness for all who call to You.
Use Your infinite loving-kindness, if You will, to pardon the transgression of this people, just as You have done from Israel’s days in Egypt until here and now, as it is written [in the Book of Exodus]: “And the Lord said: I have forgiven them according to your request.”
My God, turn Your ear toward us and hear; focus Your eyes on us and see our desolation and that of the city to which You have bonded Your name. For we dare not cast our supplications before You with a false feeling of our own righteousness. We do so because of our faith in Your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, give ear and act! Do not tarry, for Your own sake, my God; for Your name is bonded to that of Your people.
SHIMKHA ELOHIM (EIN MI YIKRA V'TZEDEK)
Your very name, O God, glorifies life. We await the pronouncement from You—“A good life!”
The mysteries of the beginnings of life are all explained in You. Look at us, answer us, enlighten our eyes.
EL MELEKH YOSHEV
God, King, You occupy a throne built on mercy. Your deeds reflect Your loving-kindness. You forgive Your people’s iniquities—putting each aside, one by one. You expand forgiveness for the sinner and pardon for the transgressor. Your righteousness extends to all creatures of flesh and spirit; You do not assign a full measure of punishment to those who err. God, You taught us that when in need of atonement, we are to recite Your thirteen attributes of mercy. Thus, today we ask You to remember us for our well-being. Remember: take note of Your covenant with us, which enumerates those thirteen attributes. You revealed all this to Your humble servant Moses centuries ago, as is recorded in Scripture: “And the Lord had descended in a cloud; He stood with Moses there and proclaimed the Lord’s name. The Lord passed before Moses and said”...
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