Monday, July 11, 2005

Guns, germs, and steel-string guitars

This weekend featured both Kol Zimrah and Hadar meeting in summer locations that are different from the usual year-round locations, and in both cases, the vibe was different in very concrete ways.

Thinking about this in my capacity of armchair ethnographer/practitioner of Jewish communal prayer, I'm coming up with a hypothesis parallel to the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis that the structure of a language determines how its speakers think, or Jared Diamond's hypothesis that the shapes of the continents and their variety of flora and fauna determined how civilizations evolved.


The acoustics of the prayer space significantly affect the overall communal prayer experience, as well as other communal activities (e.g. meals, singing at meals).


  1. Structure determines content. I've always believed this. A classroom determines the learning experience. The style of a blogging site determines what type of entries it will have, and what type (and how many) comments. Songs used to have to be short enough to fit on the audio recording mechanism du jour. And so on.

  2. As much as I enjoy the natural outdoors aesthetic, i prefer davening in mostly enclosed spaces. you lose all your ruach to the wind otherwise.
    I suppose its a question of how you value communal experience and group connection as a goal in davening as opposed to the value you place on scenery, connection to the earth, or unboundedness.

  3. It's a real tension; we've had success davening outside only when the greeter has been sufficiently fascist, saying "Welcome to Kol Zimrah! Please sit there", to make sure that people are sitting close enough together so that the sound can carry within the group and not be completely dispersed. The de facto resolution to this tension has been to daven outside in the summer (sacrificing acoustics for unboundedness and aesthetics), and to daven inside (with better acoustics) for the other 9 or 10 months of the year (when it's too cold or dark to be outside anyway). Furthermore, in the three summers KZ has been around so far, 4 out of 9 services scheduled for the park have been rained out so that it was inside anyway (including this past Shabbat).

    Also, there are tradeoffs when looking at the acoustics alone. No outdoor location (nor most indoor locations) can equal the reverb time of the post-renovation SAJ social hall, which is conducive to spirited davening, but also makes it difficult to have a conversation at dinner or start up singing. It's harder to daven in the park, but singing after dinner has been much better there. The auditorium at the Jewish Home & Hospital (where we met this Friday) was in between the SAJ social hall and the park on both of these counts.

  4. oops i didn't mean to post that middle post anonymously.

    the other oddity of davening outside in the city is the publicness. i imagine the boundries are much blurier.

    how does that play out for K"Z?

  5. That's one reason we daven in Riverside Park rather than Central Park; there's less traffic passing through. But we've had people join in who just happened to be passing by, and they had a great time.