Shabbat Shira: On Divide Between Music and Law

Recently I was visiting a Reform Temple on a Sunday morning. This congregation had 500 children in its school. They had dozens of high school students who were there as teachers helpers. In itself it might be considered a miracle to hold on to these teenagers post Bar Mitzvah. While I was visiting they were having a service. At this service more than a dozen of these teen helpers were playing a musical instrument. It is clear from this and many other experiences I have had that music is central to the Reform Jewish experience. My experience of Orthodox Judaism is not devoid of music, but it is not on the same level as our commitment to Jewish Law.

It was there in that Temple that I got to thinking about Beshalach, this week’s Torah portion. There it describes the Israelites’ deliverance of from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. The experience of this miracle as a nation sets the stage for the revelation of the Torah at Sinai to the entire Jewish people. It is here in our Torah portion that we read the Song of the Sea and Miriam’s Song. What is the connection between song and revealed law?

It was there in that guitar driven service in that Reform Temple that I realized how strained the connection has become. While I knew that these youth had a positive Jewish experience it had a limited connection to what one would call Halachic Jewish life. It is almost as if Reform Jews have opted for the Songs of the Sea and the Orthodox have opted for the Laws of the Land. What would it mean to strive for a connection to both?

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