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Parashat R’eih





In this week’s Torah portion, Moses continues his third and final summary of G-d’s commandments by staging a massive visual demonstration teaching the centrality of Jewish blessings to the Israelite nation. Moses instructs the people to surround Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. On Mount Gerizim they hear the blessings that G-d will bring to the Jewish people if they observe His laws. On Mount Ebal, they hear the curses that will result from disobedience. Moses commands the people “To see!” They must watch this massive demonstration.

Moses teaches the people to cease from offering sacrifices in multiple locations. He teaches that G-d wants all sacrifices to be brought in only one location! This teaching was ultimately not implemented until 1000 Before the Common Era, 300 years after the Israelites had entered the Promised Land. In 1000 Before The Common Era, King Solomon, son of King David, was deemed worthy enough by G-d to build a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem where the Kohanim/Priests, the descendants of Aaron and his sons, would sacrifice animals and bring grain offerings, according to His strict rituals and procedures. The first Temple would be the fulfillment of this commandment in this week’s portion: “Then you must bring everything that I command you to the site where the Lord your G-d will choose to establish His name. (12:11)”

While the priests administer the sacrifices, the Levi-im/the Levites will both sing the words of the Book of Psalms and will play the instruments in the Temple Orchestra! From the beginning, both vocal and instrumental music were integral components of the First Temple services! This complex musical culture was described in great detail in the Mishnah, the first foundational Rabbinic compilation of legal discussions compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince. The Mishnah tells us how many instruments were in the orchestra, and how many voices were in the Temple choir for each Shabbat and Holiday! Both the Temple orchestra and choir were large ensembles: at least 20 to 40 musicians according to the occasion.

In 586 BCE the first Temple was destroyed and ultimately rebuilt in 512 BCE. The Levites continued to sing in the Temple choir and play in the orchestra until the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

In 1847, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel was founded in Philadelphia. KI’s constitution states explicitly that the congregation must maintain a well-rehearsed and excellently prepared choir to sing at all Temple services.

To this day, we continue this musical tradition created 3000 years ago in the First Temple and sustained by the founders of KI in 1847.

I want to invite you to become part of this hallowed musical tradition by participating in our superb volunteer adult choir, SHIR KI. SHIR KI is composed of 25 volunteer men and women from KI and the greater community, together with our superb professional vocal quartet. Our choir is beginning rehearsals for the new Jewish year and musical season on Tuesday evening, August 15, at 7 pm in the small chapel.

We begin our season by joining Rabbi Ben David, Cantor Amy Levy and Andrew Senn, our virtuoso organist/pianist, leading the magnificent prayers throughout the High Holiday season, including Rosh Hashanah, evening and morning, Kol Nidre, and Yom Kippur morning. The KI musical service is rich, varied, dramatic and joyous, artistic and participatory, traditional and modern! I am so honored and privileged to conduct this magnificent ensemble during our High Holiday services!

This year will be highlighted by our celebration of Cantor Amy Levy’s 20th anniversary as Cantor of KI. For this celebration, on Shabbat evening, April 13, we shall sing a program of music by Jewish composers written for the stage, Broadway, and for Cinema. Several pieces were on our third Verizon Hall concert repertoire that was postponed by the pandemic. We loved learning this music, and we look forward to finally singing this music for you, together with Cantor Levy and her Cantorial colleagues.

On Shabbat evening, December 1, we shall sing excerpts from Judas Maccabeaus by G.F. Handel in anticipation of Hanukkah. In the spring, we shall sing a program of Israeli music in honor of Israel 76, from our recent Verizon Hall concert, plus new exciting music.

Please join us for a dynamic and fun-filled year of beautiful Jewish music. Choral experience is helpful. All that is required is an expressive voice, a good ear, and a desire to sing the music of the Jewish people together with a wonderful and committed group of KI singers!

See you this coming Tuesday evening, August 15, 7 pm, in the small chapel. Any questions, contact either Cantor Levy or me in the KI office.

Ellen and I wish you Shabbat Shalom U’M’vorach!!