Unesaneh Tokef, Updated

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Music in the hands of the old masters, wrote R Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari 2:64-65) could change people’s moods and dispositions. Alas, by the modern times of the 12th century introduced cultural degeneracy such that music was now savored by the riff-raff, and its intended power was no longer evident.

One wonders what R Yehuda Halevi would say about YouTube and similar video presentations. Would he take a dim view of the recent shift away from prose to visual media? Would he see the explosion of streaming video as a product of the dumbing-down of a population too lazy and too uneducated to savor words? Or would he recognize its similarity to the music of an older age that could yank at our moods like a skilled puppeteer?

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Los Angeles makes a strong case for the latter, at least in the hands of someone determined to take us to a higher place. (Ironically, Rabbi Korobkin just happens to be the author of the best translation of Kuzari currently available.) His Who Shall Live is a video version of Unesaneh Tokef, and makes it come alive through dramatic photo images of the events of the past year. We quickly get the message that there is no poetic excess in this tefillah, the point in the Yamim Nora’im davening most likely to move us to tears. The grim reality of each and every phrase is powerfully conveyed. The new is skillfully matched with the old: the cantorial rendition of Unesaneh Tokef is fully faithful to our traditional expectations, and effectively uses the power of the stirring melody to boost the effect of the pictures

I am ordinarily no fan of video presentations. I rarely open the ones people send me. I can read far more in a minute than I can watch, and I resent the waste of time. Who Shall Live was not only worth the time, I was drawn to watch it several times. You will want to view Who Shall Live now, and revisit it Erev Rosh Hashanah. With the images fresh during Musaf the next day, they will contribute to a better davening.

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3 Responses

  1. Avi Stewart says:

    “I am ordinarily no fan of video presentations. I rarely open the ones people send me. I can read far more in a minute than I can watch, and I resent the waste of time.”

    Rabbi Adlerstein, I am glad that you qualified this statement as being of personal in nature rather than an absolute truism. I am sure you are familiar with the theory of multiple intelligences. Diferent people are capable of absorbing knowledge and learning in diffreent ways. Verbal/linguistic; Logical/mathematical; Kinesthetic; Visual/Spatial; Interpersonal; Intrapersonal;Naturalistic; & Rhythmic/Musical. A good teacher [especially for children incorporates all of these in imparting the lesson he/she is attempting to teach.

    Kasivah viChasimah Tovah!

    Avi S.

  2. Elad The Great says:

    “Would he take a dim view of the recent shift away from prose to visual media? Would he see the explosion of streaming video as a product of the dumbing-down of a population too lazy and too uneducated to savor words?”

    Yeah, I kind of have to disagree with this quote as well, although for different reasons. To blame the entire world for something that is simply a fact of life seems rather… judgmental. And unnecessary. And I’m happy that this blog has shown how it is possible to use this “lazy” media in a productive and effective way. Well done.

    http://eladthegreat.wordpress.com

  3. Ori says:

    Would he take a dim view of the recent shift away from prose to visual media? Would he see the explosion of streaming video as a product of the dumbing-down of a population too lazy and too uneducated to savor words?

    It’s not so much that we are lazy and ignorant as overwhelmed. There is more information coming at us that we need to process than in earlier generations. We have to become desensitized to survive.