Rosh Hoshanah Baalei Tefillah – Inspiration & Perspiration

Rosh Hoshanah is a day Jews take seriously. However, it’s a long day in Shul and many of us have trouble focusing on the davening for such an extended period. That’s why we turn to the Baalei Tefillah for inspiration. The first problem we face is that what’s inspirational to Shmuel, can sound kvetchy to Reuven. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find Baalei Tefillah who will please everybody, and it’s impractical to implement a fully democratic selection process

Another issue is that being a Baal Tefillah is not easy. It takes much preparation and perspiration to be at your best for the entire davening. Perhaps Baalei Tefillah insist on choosing their own niggunim in certain parts of the davening for self-inspiration. Our Shul had a particular niggun that we liked, and even though we asked a few different Baalei Tefillah to use it, none of them complied with our request.

The length of the davening creates other tensions. The variance in the time it takes individuals to say Shemoneh Esrai is great, because of its length, and the extra care many people take on the Yomim Noraim. If the Baal Tefillah takes much longer than the average congregant, there can be much down time for individuals as they wait for him to finish. The overall davening time is also important because people have different expectations as to when Mussaf will end.

One suggestion is to state the Shul’s expectations when the Baal Tefillah is first selected/hired. If the expectations are not met, sometimes the Rabbi, Gabbai and Baal Tefillah can get together and agree on a game plan that works for most people. It’s also helpful to let the members know how long the silent Shomoneh Esrai will be so they can set their expectations and davening speed accordingly. Finally, even if there initially are some issues, over the course of the years, people know what to expect from the Baal Tefillah and accept it.

Despite best efforts, the details of the long davening can create some minor tensions. In those situations it’s a good opportunity to judge favorably in the hope that measure for measure, Hashem will give us a favorable judgment.