Published July 8, 2004
Ask Rabbi Dan
by Rabbi Dan S. Wiko PhD
  Issue: 5.07
e-mail me

Ava asked:
"My family belongs to a Conservative congregation that has recently begun to permit the playing of musical instruments, e.g. guitars, bongo drum, on Friday night Shabbat services when the Junior Choir is performing (once each month), and on Saturday mornings during the Junior Congregation (twice each month). I would like to know what the current theological opinion is of this, and on what that opinion is based. My husband and I are profoundly saddened by this recent change, but when I offer my opinion to some other congregants, I am most often met with rebuttals that the playing of instruments is mentioned in the Bible and that we need to keep services interesting for the children. Are there compelling reasons to deny the use of musical instruments, or must be forced to grin and bear it? Is there anything in Jewish law we can cite to reinforce our argument?
Thank you for your time. Ava "

Dear Ava,

You present an interesting situation. Conservative Judaism is far reaching; from the extremely liberal left in which women are ordained as rabbis and cantors to the extremely conservative right which borders on Orthodoxy. Because of the "spaciousness" of room for ideology, differences in interpretation of "traditional" beliefs abound.

More directly, in ancient times, in the Bais Hamigdosh, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, prayer services were conducted with the playing of music. It was common to hear the sound of a flute, a harp or other instruments. However, with the destruction of the second Temple, it was concluded that music shall not accompany a prayer service until the Third, and final, temple is erected and moshiach has arrived (many things will change when Moshiach comes. Orthodox davening absolutely prohibits music until that time. Conservative wavers on that issue as well as on numerous others. Mind you, I am not saying that the Conservative Movement is wrong. Clearly, it is not. It is a vital part of Am Echod and Am Yisroel.

If the majority in your congregation finds the playing of music offensive, than you should collectively approach the Ritual Committee or the Board and, yes, even the rabbi who is accepting of it. Again, clearly, he is not wrong either in accepting the music. That is his prerogative as your spiritual leader. The congregation, however, is comprised of various ideological beliefs and should be listened to.

I have often heard that the way to keep children interested in the service is by playing to their needs and wants or, more often, by making it into a party. I fully disagree with that concept. In my opinion, the only way to keep children involved in the shul beyond their Bar/Bat Mitzvot is by virtue of them coming home to an observant household.....regardless of the degree of observance. At schools, be they yeshivot or universities, one learns the "material things"......the spirituality, the soul within the lessons are learned only at home. Dad puts on tefillin and davens every morning, goes to shul on Shabbos and keeps many of the mitzvoth. Mom maintains a kosher home, lights candles on Shabbos and insists on a Shabbos dinner in which the family interacts as a unit of one......that's what keeps children interested. It becomes a way of life rather than just another "thing" to do on Saturdays.

Finally, you never have to grin and bear anything in life. There are loads of synagogues, I'm sure even in Knoxville, where the davening is to your liking. First, express your discontent to whomever you believe has the authority to make a reverse change. If that fails, find a shul that satisfies your spiritual needs.


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