Vay'hi Binso'a 01:31
Barukh Shennatan Torah 00:37
Adonai, Adonai 04:59
Va'ani T'fillati 01:10
Ki Lekaḥ Tov / Etz ḥayyim / Hashiveinu 03:57

Liner Notes

The section of the synagogue service that includes the biblical readings—the Torah and haftara portions (assigned readings from various books of the Prophets)—together with the surrounding introductory and concluding liturgy based on biblical and medieval sources, is known as the Torah Service. On Sabbath, Festival, and High Holy Day morning services, this Torah Service is more elaborate and extensive than on other occasions where there are biblical readings. With its degree of formality and even minor pageantry, together with its musical parameter, this liturgy constitutes a central and, in some aesthetic respects, a self-contained feature of those holy day morning services. The biblical cantillation systems according to which the Torah and haftara readings are intoned represent the oldest layers of fixed synagogue musical tradition, with possible roots in antiquity, although those systems vary to different degrees among the established rites (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Yemenite, Persian, etc.). But the surrounding texts, unlike many other portions of the regular liturgy, have no specific canonized prayer modes (nusaḥ hat’filla), fixed melodies, or modalities attached to them, and they are thus an invitation for free musical interpretation and expression—whether in solo cantorial renditions, formal choral settings, congregational tunes, or a combination of all three forms. In the modern era, beginning in Europe at least as early as the second quarter of the 19th century, these prayer texts—which form and accompany the seder hotzat hatora (the order of service for removing the sacred scrolls from the ark) and the seder hakhnasat hatora (returning them to the ark), and their respective processionals among the congregation—have acquired hundreds of melodies as well as formal musical settings in a wide variety of styles; and they have been addressed by virtually every synagogue composer in each era, geographical area, and tradition of worship. In America, however, until the 1930s, composers and cantor-composers treated sections of these texts for the most part individually rather than as components of a larger single musical piece.

The Holy Ark—Aron Hakkodesh, a formal multi-movement setting of major parts of the Torah Service as a cohesive yet heterogenous and kaleidoscopic artistic expression, is one of Helfman’s most important and most enduring liturgical works. Completed in 1950, it emphasizes the dramatic elements both of the individual constituent texts and of the overall mood of this section of the Sabbath or Festival morning worship. Infused with biblical cantillation motifs (overtly, for example, in the opening setting, Ein kamokha—not included here—or in Vay’hi binso’a), restrained and stylized cantorial idioms in the solo vocal lines, some actual melodic references (in particular, Va’ani t’fillati, which the composer labeled “after an old melody”), and an abundance of purely original material—all treated with harmonic imagination and fresh choral techniques—it falls partly under the rubric of sacred art music. The work as a whole thus can be viewed as exceeding the functional boundaries of the synagogue worship context to become a concert rendition, especially in this orchestrated version. (In principle, the orchestration is merely an expansion of the organ part; and a handful of adventurous nonorthodox congregations have even experimented with orchestrated services.) At the same time, however, these settings—which are, by the composer’s intention, also separable from the whole as independent renditions—were composed with the equal expectation of functional use in synagogue services. Indeed, some of them are among standard repertoires in American synagogues to this day—including traditionally oriented synagogues, where they are sung successfully a cappella. Adonai, adonai, which mirrors the formal structure and flavor of earlier classical European settings of this text—most notably, that of Avraham Moshe Bernstein (1866–1932)—without compromise to artistic originality, is undoubtedly the best-known movement of The Holy Ark. It remains, along with Bernstein’s composition, one of the most frequently sung musical versions of this prayer in America, and it can be considered a classic of the American Synagogue.

By: Neil W. Levin



Sung in Hebrew


As the Ark of the Covenant set out in the desert [from camp to camp], Moses would say: “Arise, O Lord, and may Your enemies be scattered; let Your foes retreat before You.” For Torah will come from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.


Let us praise Him who in His holiness gave Torah to His people Israel.

(Not recited on Shabbat)

The Lord, the Lord, God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, trusting in loving-kindness and truth; preserving His grace for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and cleansing from sin.


Relate, O Lord, to my prayers to You; may they come before You at a propitious hour. O Lord, answer me with the fullness of Your loving-kindness, with Your true deliverance.


For I have given you excellent instruction; do not abandon my Torah. It is a tree of life to those who cling to it, and those who support it are happy. Its paths are paths of pleasantness, and all of its ways lead to peace. Take us back, O Lord; let us come back. Renew our days as of old.



Composer: Max Helfman

Length: 12:16
Genre: Liturgical

Performers: Samuel Adler, Conductor;  Raphael Frieder, Cantor;  Slovak Chamber ChoirSlovak Radio Symphony Orchestra

Date Recorded: 06/01/1998
Venue: Slovak Radio Hall, Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Assistant Engineer: McKinley, Elliot
Project Manager: Levin, Neil

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Transcontinental
Translation: Rabbi Morton M. Leifman


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