Frequently Asked Questions

Can I just ask for a tape, CD or MP3 recording and learn from that?
Nothing stops anyone from doing this. However, we cannot emphasise strongly enough that leadership of prayer is a highly charged, spiritual experience and bears with it a huge responsibility for the influence it has on congregants. A person who thinks they can lead prayer just because they might either have a tuneful voice or be a song leader is not automatically appropriate. The responsibility to lead prayer carries with it a devotion to be a servant-leader and one has to have a sense of humility coupled with confidence and strength in the task because congregants need to feel safe. One lives in that tension. It is the soul that transfers itself to the congregation, not just musical prowess. So we won’t recommend that you just get recordings and books.

Do I have to have a trained voice to lead prayer?
No. However, we recommend vocal coaching because leadership of prayer is often a lengthy process with a lot of time on your feet. You should strive to learn voice production, particularly breathing. You do not have to have a powerful, operatic-style voice. In fact, this type of voice is sometimes found to be off-putting to many congregants who want to be enabled to participate. However, you must be able to clearly sing in tune in a melodious manner for your congregants to be able to be with you in their prayer.

Do I have to be able to read music?
No. However, you should strive to do this. While nusach hatefillah is primarily an aural/oral tradition, the person who reads music will be able to move along much quicker and find more aides memoire, as well as communicate with the teacher/mentor more effectively. There is excellent material available for study in music manuscript. Also, the use of manuscript enables you to develop your own style without becoming a ‘clone’ of someone else.

Do I have to speak Hebrew?
No. However, you do have to read Hebrew fluently, correctly and clearly from a Siddur, Machzor and Chumash. If you do not understand what you are reading, you must have help from a teacher or from well-defined translations in your language. It is absolutely essential that you understand what you are reading.

Does it matter what pronunciation of Hebrew I use?
No, provided your congregation agrees. Most congregations these days use the Sephardi/Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew, particularly since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. However, some people still use an Ashkenazi or other pronunciation. Provided it is accurate, it is entirely a matter for congregational approval. This can be confusing, though, particularly for children who learn to read with a Sephardi/Israeli pronunciation.

Why is it necessary for the teacher to also be called a mentor?
Leadership of prayer is a spiritual journey for the prayer leader first. If this is not explored, leaders of prayer can’t transfer their own sense of devotion to their congregations – and it shows. The ability of a congregation to pray is caught, not taught. Congregants must have something to catch! The teacher/mentor is there to help guide the inspired student towards searching deep into his/her soul for constant development in the meaning of prayer.

How does the process of matching student to teacher/mentor work?
Once you decide you would like to learn more, contact us and we will email you a short questionnaire. Upon receipt of it completed, we start the network rolling and return to you as soon as possible with a proposed teacher/mentor who will already have agreed to take on this role. This might take time, depending on your needs. You will be invited to contact him/her by telephone, email or Skype and have an exploratory conversation and establish rapport! You will discuss what you would like to learn first, when you would like to start, and how often you would like to learn.

Is it OK for women to learn as well as men?
Yes, and you can specify a male or female teacher, should you wish.

Does age matter?
Not at all

What happens if I don’t get on with my teacher/mentor?
It is important for EAJL to ensure that the match of student to teacher/mentor is a positive, life-enhancing experience. We are all human and, with the best will in the world, sometimes but rarely the chemistry isn’t right. If there is a problem on either side, student or teacher must let us know and we will find another match. This will not be a ‘blame’ situation and we are here to help. But don’t let a negative situation continue. Get in touch straight away.

How do I know how I’m getting on?
We have regular evaluations. However, you should monitor your own progress with your teacher/mentor and certification at the end of each module will happen as a result of mutual agreement between you. Once you are ready, the Cantors Assembly will award your certificate for that module.

What if I can’t afford the lessons?
First, your congregation should seek to support your effort. It is to their advantage and for their benefit that you are entering into this study. Your teacher should not be expected to undercharge for his/her professional services. If you are not able to receive subsidy please let us know.

Why do I have to get a reference from my Rabbi or community leadership?
Not everyone is suitable for prayer leadership. It is important that you enter into this with the sanction of your community, particularly if they are sponsoring or subsidising you.