At Congregation Shir Tikvah, we welcome the second Shabbat of every month with a special Kabbalat service – “Kley Kodesh” – for “Holy Vessels.” We are all holy vessels for Jewish song and prayer; when we mix our voices together as a community on Friday evening, we create a great big vessel to usher in, and hold, the holiness of Shabbat. We do this by borrowing the musical techniques of another type of sacred community music-making: kirtan. Kirtan is a simple form of call-and-response singing, developed by Hindus in the mountainous regions of India. Because the techniques are similar – and because there are many similarties between ancient Hindu and Jewish texts – many historians believe that the similarity between these tradtions is no coincidence, but the result of cultural exchange along the spice trade routes. “N’shama” means both soul and breath in Hebrew, just like “prana,” which also means soul and breath in Sanskrit, the holy ancient language of Hinduism. Many different spiritual paths start with the breath, move with the voice, and rise to the same holy place!
Our Kley Kodesh service follows the main arc of the Erev Shabbat service, so it is easy to recognize where we are and where we are going. It includes all the traditional elements – the kabbalat welcoming songs, the call to prayer, the silent Amidah, the Aleinu, Kaddish and so forth. The words that we sing, though kirtan-style, are also just as familiar: we chant from ancient texts traditionally used on Shabbat (or during Hallel), with an occasional insert or two for where we are in the Jewish holiday cycle. Because most of the service involves kirtan-style singing, the chants are actually quite simple, involving less text and more repetition, allowing us to move the focus of our prayers from our eyes and our minds, to our ears and our hearts – and often to our whole bodies, as kirtan music often inspires people to stand up and dance or simply sway with the music.
Kley Kodesh invokes and celebrates the meditational spirit that is at the heart of all Jewish prayer. And as with most Jewish prayer, it is invoked together; it is the creation of sacred community through breath, voice, and music. Come join us every second Erev Shabbat for Kley Kodesh!