YESH V’ROTSEH Cantor David BagleyA”H on the state of the American Cantorate

The following article is reprinted, with permission, from the Commemorative Book (40 years) of the Cantorial Council of America. In it the late, renowned, Cantor Bagley bemoans the current situation in the American Cantorate

Cantor David Bagley 

obj2124geo1561pg111p9Chazzanim have, for the past several years, been overwhelmed by the feeling of ‘les Din v’Ies dayan’ (there is no justice and no judge). They have succumbed to the dictates of spiritual and lay leaders; the Chazzanim have been silentt on matters of Halacha – since to them having a position was a question of parnassah (a livelihood). They did not question the use of that over-powering word “Halacha” or “Halachically Correct” simply because very few indeed  felt secure enough in their own knowledge of Judaism to question the validity of those manipulative words.

Changes and innovations implimented served little to enhance the status of the Chazzan – on the contrary it only served to erode even further the faltering profession of Chazzanut. New Siddurim were introduced; services modified P’sukei D’Zimra shortened; Shacharit minimized; Mussaf shortened or deleted.

Choir and Recitatives were replaced with popularized congregational melodies and familiar sounding “Chassidic” tunes. The most important “guest” at services for Shabbat as well as Yom Toy became The Clock. The Chazzan became the Bar/Bat Mitzvah teacher; Torah Reader; Choral and Choir Master; Youth Director; Confirmation Teacher  – anything but the Chazzan!

Synagogues have a nucleus of “traditional” worshippers who may not fully understand the reason for their religious practice.

Nevertheless they know right from wrong when it comes to the practice of Judaism whether at home or in the Synagogue.

With the introduction of women Rabbis, and women Chazzanim – the Tradition-minded Jew feels that he is out of place in such a place of worship.
These new trends are forcing the practicing Chazzan to question his Tradition and Yiddishkeit. Many synagogues will not hire a Chazzan who is not prepared to drive to services – the reason given that the Rabbi drives and the Chazzan cannot be seen to be more “religious” than the Rabbi of the congregation.

The Talmud says “yesh lo maneh rotzeh matayim” (he who has one hundred he wants two hundred). The problem does not lie in the fact that man has a desire to improve his lot. His difficulties and frustrations begin with his ignoring the yesh and emphasizing the Rotzeh. Such a person will never be satisfied. As the Talmud says “eizehu ashir hasameach b’chelkoh” (who is rich? He who is content with his lot).

Let us be clear on one point. Chazzanut stands at a crossroads, each new signpost is unmarked and uncharted. Can we afford to lose our Jewish way even further with total disregard for a well traveled, proven road simply because feel that we have to satisfy the “rotzeh’?