A Concert Series Demonstrates the Pitfalls of Godless Religion

Dec. 13 2017

In a recent series of concerts at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center—titled The Psalms Experience—four renowned choirs sang all of the 150 Psalms, each set to music by a different composer. Nathaniel Peters notes in his review that two of his favorite performances were in the Psalms’ original language:

Salamone Rossi was the only composer serving [Mantua’s] ducal family who also had permission to practice his Jewish faith publicly and to set Hebrew texts to music. Rossi’s beautiful “Odekha ki anitani” (Psalm 118) is the first polyphony I have ever heard in which the Psalms were sung in their original language. [The Catholic composer Franz] Schubert’s “Tov lehodos” (Psalm 92) was likewise moving, a composition in the last years of his life for the temple of the Viennese reformist cantor Salomon Sulzer.

Overall, Peters found the performances “beautiful, powerful, and maddening”—maddening because, “despite its musicological excellence, The Psalms Experience presented the Psalms with their heart surgically removed.” He writes:

The program opened with an essay . . . by Krista Tippett, the longtime host of National Public Radio’s On Being. Tippett argues that “the new nonreligious may be the greatest hope for the revitalization of religion.” The rise of the “nones,” [i.e., those who list their religion as “none” on surveys], is not a cause for concern: “There are churches and synagogues full of nones. They are also filling up undergraduate classes on the New Testament and St. Augustine.” Many nones are interested in monasticism, communal forms of religion, and a sense of wonder at creation.

Up to a point, this is true and good. These topics of interest may be seeds of growth and conversion. But as [the great British theologian] John Henry Newman drove home in his sermons, . . . the heart of religion is the worship of God and obedience to Him. “There is no such thing as abstract religion,” Newman wrote. “When persons attempt to worship in this (what they call) more spiritual manner, they end, in fact, in not worshipping at all.” In the religion of the nones, and in the religion professed by The Psalms Experience, there is little sense of sin, and of the need for redemption and obedience. This religion is not worship—at least, not the worship of God—and therefore quickly becomes the worship of self. . . .

Where were the scholars of religion in the crafting of The Psalms Experience? Musicologists, journalists, and scholars of literature were all present. . . . [W]hy not have a professor of Jewish studies or Old Testament? . . . By contrast, The Psalms Experience tried to explain to secular, enlightened audiences why they should care about the Psalms—and the result was a desperate attempt to fit the Psalms onto the procrustean bed of enlightened pieties.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at First Things

More about: Agnosticism, Arts & Culture, Hebrew Bible, John Henry Newman, Music, Psalms, Religion & Holidays

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism