Rabbi Shefa Gold discussed the work of sacred Jewish chant with Ritualwell executive editor, Rabbi Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin, Ph.D. Here are highlights of their conversation:
DGK: Tell me about the process of developing a chant.
SG: When I look at a prayer, I look for its essence. In a short phrase, I find the entire energy of the prayer. I use repetition, melody, harmony and rhythm—all components that affect consciousness. That is what takes us on a journey.
DGK: Where do these journeys lead you?
SG: I want to go deeply to where the prayer was written. If it is about praise, I need to go to that place. I can’t do it unless I am in the place. I have to get to a place of praise. I need to travel to the source of the prayer. That is how I know what it is about.
DGK: Can you give me an example?
SG: Right now I am in the middle of a relationship with psalm 98. I don’t really know what it means. I have looked at lots of translations, but no single one makes complete sense. I know there is something important about the ocean roaring, but I don’t understand it yet. It is ambiguous. But that ambiguity allows me to enter the creative process. So right now, I am doing research, which means actually going to the ocean. I am listening to the roar of the ocean and getting wisdom. Right now I am thinking that part of the learning is about water—seventy percent of the world is made up of ocean. Seventy percent of my body—the human body—is water. So, in a way we are all microcosms of the whole world. This is my process; this is how I explore the essence of the power of the words.
DGK: It sounds like learning the essence of a person.
SG: Yes, it is very much like that. It is like falling in love. I embark on a love affair with the particular verse or phrase. I become intimate with it. I derive pleasure from sounds, feelings, vibrations. And this is also why not every phrase can become a chant. You can’t fall in love with everything!
DGK: What is the role of chant in ritual?
SG: Chant is taking the liturgy, bringing it to life and making it useful. Chant helps focus powerful ritual moments—it frames them and captures the energy that is there. Chant brings us deeper, to a place of real truth.
Rabbi Shefa Gold is a 1996 graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and also received ordination from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. She is the director of C-DEEP: The Center for Devotional, Energy and Ecstatic Practice and a leader in Aleph: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. http://www.rabbishefagold.com/