Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Aaron Freeman, Modern Day Meturgeman: Torah Reading Like You've Never Heard It Before

In the time of the Talmud, the vernacular was Aramaic, not Hebrew.  Since the Torah is written in Hebrew, there was a need for a translator or interpreter, known as the meturgeman, to listen to the baal koreh, or reader, read from the Torah a sentence at a time, and then translate freely into the common language.  

The meturgeman was not limited to an exact translation.  Rather, he could embellish and gesture, bringing in aggadic stories, illustrations from history, and references to topics of the day -- all to make each sentence better understood by the public.

Most of us do not encounter a meturgeman in our synagogue attendance, but members of the Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living in Highland Park, Illinois, or Congregation Shir Hadash in Northbrook, Illinois, have had a modern meturgeman perform this ritual -- Aaron Freeman, a convert to Reform Judaism who is well known as a standup comedian, alum of the famous Second City Comedy Troupe, commentator for National Public Radio, and talk show host.

As the Chicago Jewish News writes,
His own inspiration comes from Amichai Lau-Levie, a nephew of one of Israel's chief rabbis and the founder and executive director of Storahtelling Ritual Jewish Theater, a popular form of Torah service that incorporates performance art, music, drama, dance and drumming.
"Storahtelling involved very big elaborate Torah services," Freeman says. "It got to be a bit much for congregations. It was too expensive to bring them in."
So Freeman - a longtime Jew-by-choice-studied with Lau-Levie to become a kind of one-man Storahteller. Now he plies his venerable trade at his synagogue, Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living in Highland Park, one Shabbat a month and hires out to other congregations across the country the rest of the time.
What he provides, he says, is basically a Torah reading that incorporates dramatic commentary, stagecraft and sometimes live music -- just as the historical mavens did.
 Freeman offers his services, at different price points, as a meturgeman, or Torah Maven for synagogues on Shabbat or weekdays, and also performs at Bar Mitzvahs and at Torah study classes.   

Click on the videos below to see Freeman perform as meturgeman of Parshat Lech Lecha at the Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living and Parshat Ki Tavo at Congregation Shir Hadash.

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