The Magic of Hebrew Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love

A book from Jewish Lights, SkyLight Paths’ sister imprint

Rabbi Shefa Gold, beloved teacher of chant, Jewish mysticism, prayer and spirituality, introduces you to this transformative spiritual practice as a way to unlock the power of sacred texts and take prayer and meditation into the delight of your life.

Rabbi Shefa Gold
Foreword by Sylvia Boorstein

6 x 9, 352 pp | 978-1-58023-671-3

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A few short words—repeated with passion & intention—can unlock treasure upon treasure of healing, wisdom & love

“Chant is a path for all of us who lead with our hearts, who are determined to seek out the truth that is buried deep beneath the ground of our lives, and who have made a commitment to live that truth, from moment to moment, breath to breath, ‘one little bit at a time.’”

—from the Introduction

Chant is a meditative practice that fully engages the body, heart and mind, and facilitates healing and expansion of consciousness. Rabbi Shefa Gold, beloved teacher of chant, Jewish mysticism, prayer and spirituality, introduces you to this transformative spiritual practice as a way to unlock the power of sacred texts and take prayer and meditation into the delight of your life. She illuminates the usefulness, benefits and blessings of chant by:

  • Teaching you the theory and foundations of chant—its relation to beauty, pleasure and the deep wisdom buried in sacred texts
  • Providing—for the first time—complete musical notations for many of her popular chants and practical instruction for how to use them to cultivate self-awareness and love.

“Thorough, honest, and wise.... [It] will appeal to regular practitioners of sacred chant, and those who are intrigued by the possibility of a chant practice.... The book itself is almost a long chant, able to transform the consciousness. All who read it will find a treasure, not only in the book but in themselves.”

Rabbi Jill Hammer, director, Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion; author, The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons

“Lots of people chant and few become enchanted.… Rabbi Shefa guides her readers past the sentries of the legal/rational border into the sacred space of the charismatic/ecstatic realm.”

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, author, Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer and Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice

“This is the finest flowering of Rabbi Gold’s vast experience and deep dedication to working with and understanding the energies of body, soul, voice, intention and consciousness in relation to sacred Jewish text.”

Rabbi Nancy Flam, co-director of programs, Institute for Jewish Spirituality; series editor, LifeLights

“A literate, personal, inventive, beautifully written anthology of, and manual for, offering ‘musical kavanot.’ Gold offers American Jews seeking to rediscover the melody of meditation the perfect primer and inspiration.”

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El Scholar at The Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco; author, I’m God; You’re Not: Observations on Organized Religion & Other Disguises of the Ego

“One of our great teachers shares her secrets of how to enter the heart, open the mind, stir the spirit and awaken nothing less than a transformation in your self-understanding and love for others. The profound wisdom and amazingly beautiful chants are a gift for human flourishing. Be prepared to be touched by a magician of the soul.”

Rabbi Irwin Kula, coeditor, The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: Clal’s Guide to Everyday & Holiday Rituals & Blessings

“A strong addition to spirituality collections.”

Midwest Book Review

“A treasure of exquisite simplicity, wisdom and love! With mellifluous and stunning beauty ... offers a path of awakening through which outworn habits of heart and mind are discarded, core truths rediscovered and ever more expansive capacity for joy is born.”

Rabbi Marcia Prager, author, The Path of Blessing: Experiencing the Energy and Abundance of the Divine

“There are two ways to enter the gates of heaven: storm them from without or be invited in from within. Chanting is the way of invitation, and this book is the invitation to the invitation. I have chanted daily for decades, and Shefa was my teacher. Let her be yours as well.”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, Amazing Chesed: Living a Grace-Filled Judaism

“An incredibly clear, valuable, often transcendent transmission of powerful, readily implementable approaches to Jewish spiritual awakening, growth and healing. This is a sacred book to savor and widely gift to family, students and friends.”

Rabbi Goldie Milgram, author, Meaning & Mitzvah: Daily Practices for Reclaiming Judaism through Prayer, God, Torah, Hebrew, Mitzvot and Peoplehood

“Invites the reader of any spiritual path to enter more deeply into the heart of love. Her contribution to Jewish spirituality in particular is immeasurable. May it endure!”

The Rev. Robert Corin Morris, DD, founder, Interweave, Inc.

“Allows readers to inhabit the immersive, transformative, gently flowering yet powerful world of chant: an indispensable guide for the spiritual seeker of our time. Highly recommended!”

Rabbi Nehemia Polen, PhD, professor of Jewish thought, Hebrew College

“For those new to these pathways to the Great Mystery (aka God), here is an invitation to a richer and more profound life; for those seasoned in the disciplines of meditation, chant and prayer, it will frame your experience with insight and wisdom. It will deepen your practice; it has deepened mine.”

Rabbi Anne Brener, LCSW, director of spiritual development, The Academy for Jewish Religion, California; author, Mourning and Mitzvah: Walking the Mourners’ Path from Grief to Healing

“Boldly yet gently beckons you inwardly with prescriptions of stirring sacred words, offering a practice of wisdom, a pathway of self-discovery and a yearning to reach expansively toward God and compassionately toward God’s creation.”

Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, author, Does the Soul Survive? A Jewish Journey to Belief in Afterlife, Past Lives & Living with Purpose and Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World

“The book is well organized and the explanations are clear.”

Association of Jewish Libraries

“Shefa has transformed the world of chant, allowing both the chanter and the listener to find personal meaning in Jewish prayer through the mesmerizing repetitions of words and meditative melody.”

Cantor Linda Hirschhorn

“As it brings text study, song and contemplative practice together—body, heart and mind acting as one—chant is the ultimate, spiritual practice. Shefa Gold is its prophet.”

Rabbi Mike Comins, author, Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer Is Difficult and What to Do about It

“A tour de force.... It integrates the extensive research and teaching Rabbi Gold has pioneered and offers a luminous resource for the renewal of Jewish religious life and contemporary spirituality.”

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, Institute for Jewish Spirituality

“Wise, warm advice from the foremost expert in this form of Jewish devotional practice. It is encyclopedic, thoughtful, accessible and deep.”

Jay Michaelson, PhD, author, Evolving Dharma: Buddhism, Meditation and the Next Generation of Enlightenment and God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness & Embodied Spiritual Practice

“A deeply important contribution to all those interested in contemplative practice. At the same time, Rabbi Gold facilitates a profound connection to the sacred texts of the Jewish tradition illustrating their continued relevance to contemporary Judaism.”

Rabbi Jeff Roth, author, Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life: Awakening Your Heart, Connecting with God

“Combines the insight of a seeker, the textual knowledge of a rabbi, the clarity of a gifted teacher and the voice of a creative composer.... This moving volume provides sufficient guidance for a beginner while taking more advanced practitioners to new heights.”

Rabbi David Teutsch, Wiener Professor of Contemporary Jewish Civilization and director, Levin-Lieber Program in Jewish Ethics, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; author, Spiritual Community: The Power to Restore Hope, Commitment and Joy

“Shefa Gold has transcribed the music and meaning of Hebrew chant onto the pages of this book. Yet the experience of these chants flows off the page and connects you to the Jewish past and this very moment.”

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, author, A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism as a Spiritual Practice

Foreword xiii
Introduction xv

Fundamentals of Chant 1
What It Is 3
The Sacred Phrase
Or ... How a Chant Is Different from a Song 7

The Ground of a Chant 8
Components of a Chant 9
Entering the Silence 10

Intention 11
Cultivating Four Pathways of Intention 13

Memory 14
Imagination 19
Presence 22
Attunement 24

"That This Song May Be a Witness"
The Power of Chant 27

Entering the Mishkan 28
Developing a Chant 29
Obstacles and Traps 31
Meditative Practice in Relation to Prayer 32

The Lineage of Chant 34
Chant as a Core Spiritual Practice 41

Why We Value This Practice as a Core of Contemporary Jewish Spirituality 41
The Relationship between Chanting and Other Spiritual Practices 42

Meditation as the Foundation for Chant Practice 45

The Functions of Consciousness 46

Rhythm 49

The Secrets of Chant 51

The Inner Dimensions of Chant 53
Eight Functions of Consciousness in a Spiritual Group 56
Power and the Open Heart 67
Fuel for Spiritual Practice 73
Focus, through Pleasure, All the Way to Basking 77

T he Uses of Chant 81
Chanting as a Healing Modality 83
Chant in Ritual 86
Chanting During Taharah 92
Transformation, Purification, Healing, and Renewal 97
Inquiry and Shadow Work 104
Ecstatic Practice and the Establishment of Basic Trust 109
Soulful, Wholehearted, Embodied Text Study 113
Gratefulness as the Foundation of Practice 119
Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love 125
Chanting—Alone and Together 131

The Practices 135
Liturgy 137
Scripture 159
Psalms 173
The Daily Psalms 205
Isaiah 209
A Few More Practices
Elements, Directions, Spirit Buddies 220

The Musical Notations 225
Introduction to the Musical Notations 227
Liturgy 231
Scripture 253
Psalms 266
The Daily Psalms 298
Isaiah 305

Acknowledgements 315
Appendix 1 316
Suggestions for Further Reading318
Index of Practices and Notations319
Index of First Lines323