The Sound of Ecstasy
The inaugural Embodied Judaism symposium and exhibit, The Sound of Ecstasy, highlighted the life and work of Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi and his role in shaping Jewish Renewal, examining it as a religious and, social movement and a philosophy of spiritual transformation in America from the late 1940s to the present.
The symposium brought together scholars, musicians, and religious practitioners to highlight the importance of music in Judaism. Eve Ilsen opened the symposium with a song, and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi introduced the event and the importance of music to Jewish life. The program featured Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, Professor of Music at Tufts University, and Yonatan Malin, Associate Professor of Music Theory and Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado, who presented scholarly work on Jewish music, focusing in particular on the musical attributes of niggunim – wordless songs – and the role of music in Jewish practice. Eyal Rivlin, musician and Instructor in Jewish Studies at CU Boulder, Cantor Michelle Wolf, and musician Joe Lukasik, accompanied presenters by performing musical selections that illustrated the sounds of ecstasy.
The exhibit, which was on display in Norlin Library through 2015, was based on photographs, papers, audio recordings, and artifacts from the Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi Papers. It featured an historical depiction of Schachter-Shalomi's life and accomplishments, including his role in the establishment of Jewish Renewal, the spiritual eldering movement, and his contributions to engaged interfaith dialogue.
One of Schachter-Shalomi's contributions to contemporary Judaism was the preservation of a style of music that dates back to medieval times in Eastern Europe and the adaptation of these melodies for the modern Western ear. Known as niggunim, these melodies were wordless and often composed spontaneously and recalled as oral memory. They were intended to commemorate Jewish identity for generations.
The Post-Holocaust American Judaism Collections holds many of Schachter-Shalomi's audio recordings, which include both his thoughts on and performance of niggunim. Explore a selection of these recordings below.
Links redirect to the University of Colorado Libraries' online repository.
In 1978, Schachter-Shalomi visited the Jewish Renewal group Aquarian Minyan in Berkeley, California for a week of davvening (a form of meditation) and learning. In this audio clip, he both demonstrates and explains how Niggunim function as an encoding of timeless wisdom that assist in bringing groups to a shared entrainment and pave the path to an awakening of consciousness.
These two niggunim, Mayim Rabim and Ha M'avair Banav, are recordings from "At the Rebbe's Table: Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi's Legacy of Song and Music: Volume II." They are examples of traditional niggunim from the Hasidim of Belz, a town in Western Ukraine near the Polish border. Belz has existed since the 10th century, has had a Jewish community since the 14th century, and became home to Hasidic Jewry in the 19th century. Schachter-Shalomi was born into a distinguished family of Belzer Hasidim.
These niggunim are traditional Hasidic melodies, from some of the most prominent rabbis in the tradition.
- Niggunim of Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev was recorded by Schachter-Shalomi in Boulder, Colorado in 2007.
- Nishmas Kol Hai of Rebbe Nahman was composed by Reb Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism, the Ba'al Shem Tov ("master of the good name"). This version is an adaptation by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. It is the morning blessing to celebrate the renewed 'clean slate' that a soul is given each day upon awakening.
- The Ba'al Shem Tov's Yedid Nefesh Niggun: The Ba'al Shem Tov spoke of niggunim as 'songs that transcend syllables and sound'. Yedid Nefesh is a kabbalat Shabbat song to greet the Sabbath. The poem's words are usually attributed to the 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Elazer ben Moshe Azikri (1522 - 1600).
- It Is Perfect is a four-part round composed by Schachter-Shalomi at a gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota ca 1969. The chant is an attempt to give language to an experience of the "Four Worlds."
- In Order that One and One Be One is the result of Schachter-Shalomi davvening at home, reciting the K'gavna -- a non-duality statement -- during a Friday morning teaching (shiur) at his home in Philadelphia in 1982.
- The Hakhonoh Niggun is one of three traditional niggunim for which Schachter-Shalomi composed English lyrics for conscious understanding. This was composed by a ChaBaD Lubavitcher Hasid and is a preparatory song.
- Ehad Yahid U'Meyahad, "one uniquely simple unity," was composed by Schachter-Shalomi in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1968. The phrase comes from Italian kabbalist Luzatto, and Schachter-Shalomi considers this to be a d'veikut (clinging to the divine) zikr.
- Nehama Niggun is a comfort melody composed spontaneously at a Shabbaton in Berkeley, California.