A spiced-up Sabbath set tonight

Tonight at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Upper Park Heights, they're packing up the prayer books, telling the rabbi to can the sermon and giving the organist the night off.

It's not a revolt. It's Friday Night Live, a contemporary Sabbath service that will bring together Baltimore's four Reform congregations: Baltimore Hebrew, Temple Oheb Shalom, Temple Emanuel and Har Sinai.


"It's got a little bit of jazz, a little bit of rock 'n' roll, a little bit of klezmer [a type of Jewish folk music] and a little bit of traditional Jewish music," said Judith K. Rowland, cantor for Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, who will lead the service. "It has every emotion from soup to nuts."

The music for Friday Night Live was written by Craig Taubman, a television and film composer, for Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. It uses a band that includes guitar, mandolin, saxophone, clarinet, violin, string bass, accordion and drums. Taubman's temple has been using the music for a couple of years at a Friday night service that regularly attracts 2,000 people.


Rowland adapted Taubman's work for tonight's celebration of Shabbat Shira, Hebrew for "The Sabbath of Song," so named because the annual Torah reading recounts the song of Moses and his sister Miriam when they crossed the Red Sea. "It's become a tradition in many synagogues to celebrate our rich musical heritage on Shabbat in this way," Rowland said.

The format fits in with efforts in Judaism's Reform movement to broaden worship experiences.

Reform Judaism was founded in the early 1800s as a liberalizing movement, emphasizing social justice and rejecting many traditional rituals and practices regarding diet and dress as at odds with modern society. In recent years, some Reform Jews have moved to embrace the symbols and rituals of traditional Judaism, such as wearing yarmulkes or using more Hebrew in services. Others prefer to draw on other religious or cultural experiences, from meditation to popular music, to enrich worship.

"This is just one way of experimenting with a model that might speak to people who are either unschooled or uncomfortable with the more formal worship model," Rowland said.

The service is set for 8 p.m. at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is at 7401 Park Heights Ave.