Harrari Harps Recreates Biblical Instruments
For the past 25 years Micah and Shoshanna Harrari have been manufacturing Biblical style harps and lyres in their workshop. They spoke to Israel National Radio about how they began, why they do it and the snowstorm that brought them to Israel.
Question: Tell us a little about Harrari Harps.
Shoshanna Harrari: We build Biblical harps, the restoration of King David style harps. We call them the Kinor David, equivalent to a small harp, and the nevel equivalent to a lyre. They haven't been in existence for approximately 2,000 years. About 25 years ago, we brought it back, to its rightful place here in Israel. Some harps are built personally for people on order from our web site. We hand carve designs as the customer asks. There are different woods to choose from, many woods from Israel, some from Africa, very beautiful and musical woods. We also build harps for the Temple Institute, hopefully for the future temple.
Question: What's the difference between regular harps and your harps?
Shoshanna Harrari: The harp of Israel goes back to the Tanach. It is written that the first person to play was a man called Yuval who played on a kinor. The next person was King David, who was the one who brought it to a very high level of awareness. He used it as a spiritual instrument to connect to Hashem. Then it went right into the Beit Hamikdash where there were 4,000 Leviim who played the harp. The tribe of Levi taught their children at age three to play on the nevel, the kinor, the shofar, and the silver trumpet. They also had cymbals and they sang. That was the music in the Beit Hamidkash (Temple).
So what is the difference between our harp and other harps? Our harps are based on those kind of ancient harps of Israel. They've just been missing for 2,000 years. They are the Avraham Avinu, so to speak, of harps.
Harps changed according to the countries they lived in. For example, Ireland and the British Isles have a tradition of harps but they are slightly different. What Western people today know as the harp is called the concert harp. It is very large and is no more than 150 years old. It is meant to be played only by professional musicians. You have to study many years before you can even do anything with it. But our harps are meant for regular people.
King David was a shepherd. He didn't go to a conservatory to learn to play the harp. He played the harp because had something in his heart and in his soul that he wanted to express through music to bring it up to the Creator of the universe. Our harps are very easy to make a sound out of. Children can play them too. They're meant to express spiritually something that is deep inside, the shir hadash (new song).
Question: What are the Hebrew letters on the harps for?
We put the aleph bet (the Hebrew alphabet) on the nevel which has 22 strings and therefore the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, allowing a person to expand their music into words and prayers. Each string corresponds to a letter. So you can do things, like playing a word for example, the word ahava is made of four letters, aleph hay vet hay, and you can make a simple melody. So if you have a good imagination, this sound is connected to the word love. you can actually daven with the Hebrew words of the aleph bet put into a musical vibration.
Question: How did you two first get involved in making harps?
They didn't call for a doctor or psychiatrist or give him Prozac. They brought in the best harpist in the land, David, because they knew that would make him feel better.
Micah Harrari: About 23 years ago my wife Shoshanna had a friend that had a little harp. She asked me to make her one. I was an instrument maker at the time. But we were moving around a lot so it was hard to set up a shop. The last place we lived in was Vermont and we were about to set up a workshop. But I guess G-d didn't need another harp maker in America and he kind of pulled us out of there in middle of the winter and here we are in Israel.
Shoshanna Harrari: After several years of my having a desire for a harp we finally came to Israel. One day Micah said, you remember that harp you wanted? I'll make it for you. By hashgacha, we came across an archaeology book where it shows a picture of a cave in Megiddo called the Megiddo Harpist. That harp is what we used as our example. By another wonderful situation, the story was picked up by a journalist from the Jerusalem Post and it went out all over the world. She, in her research, declared that we were the first harp makers to make the harp of David in 2,000 years. The other information comes from the Talmud, where it talks about the number of strings and how many Leviim were playing in the Beit Hamikdash. We took all the information from whatever sources we had and we began to build harps.
Question: Tell us the snow storm story.
Shoshanna Harrari: This is sort of how we came to Israel. We were wandering around the United States looking for the perfect home. We assumed it would be in some physically beautiful place with no people around. We kept going farther and farther into the wilderness until we were living in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. Someone showed us a one hundred year old miner's cabin made out of logs. It had a dirt floor and no facilities. It was basic shelter. But we were very happy and we lived there. Every day Micah would chop wood and I would go down to the river and collect water to drink.
Our entertainment at night would be to light up the wood stove and the candles that I made and read a chapter out of some novel. I remember that year we read Dr. Zhivago. It was like what people used to do for before they had television and computers. Every week we would go into the little town of Telluride, Colorado and trade our used books for different used books that we never read before.
One week we didn't go for some reason. We figured, so what, we'll go the next day, but that night there was a big snowstorm. Just the kind that they only have in Colorado. It was a blizzard. You couldn't see anything but snow. It was very quiet and we were sleeping and didn't hear it. We woke up in the morning and couldn't get out of our door. So we were snowed in and actually we really thought this was very romantic. Just like in a movie. It was exciting. We had wood and food, and we could open the window enough to get snow to melt for water.
But after the second day, we had cabin fever. But there was no way out. We didn't have a telephone. No one even knew where we were. We were stuck in this cabin, it was still snowing and we had read all the books from the used book store. We were very low on entertainment. But there was one book that we never really read. That was the Tanach. We got it somewhere and carried it around. We figured you're always supposed to have something like that around with you, but we never actually opened it or read it.
We kept reading it and it completely captured us. We knew the basic stories like Noah and the ark, but we never really sat down and read it.
But that night we were so bored that we opened up this book and began to read from the beginning, or as you could say "in the beginning". We kept reading it and it completely captured us. We knew the basic stories like Noah and the ark, but we never really sat down and read it. We were so into this book that even after the snow stopped, we read it as much as we could. Finally we got to the Prophets, and it said "and in those days that Hashem would call his children from the four corners of the earth, from the north the south the east and the west, and He will bring them back to their own land and He will replant them and never uproot them again." We felt as if it was a personal invitation from the Creator of the universe to his special holy land. And since we were Jewish, we're His children. Besides, we're wandering anyway.
It's a long story, but we went to Vermont and from there we were supposed to make harps, but we were pulled out of Vermont and went straight to Israel. We knew nothing about Israel. Mainly because we didn't want to know. My parents had come as tourists and my father had an entire slide show from Metula to Eilat. But I never saw one slide because I was totally not interested. So when we finally got to Israel, it was a brand new world. A year and a half later we started making the harps and that's when our life really began.
Question: What is the door harp?
Micah Harrari: It hangs on the inside of your door and when the door opens and closes it plays. Kind of like a battery-less alarm or a wind chime.. it brings a nice sound into the house. if you've ever read Chaim Potok's Davida's Harp you'll know what I'm talking about. on the side is a hook where for Shabbat you hang the strings and balls up on the side so it doesn't play on Shabbat. So it's got a heksher.
Question: Tell us about the healing aspects of the harp.
Shoshanna Harrari: Three thousand years ago David, who was at the time just a shepherd, was brought in to play for King Saul. It says that Saul knew that someone had been anointed in his place and he would go into deep depression. Although he knew that he had lost the kingship, his servants didn't know. They just knew that their king was upset and they wanted to make him feel better. They didn't call for a doctor or psychiatrist or give him Prozac. They brought in the best harpist in the land, David, because they knew that the harp would make him feel better. So the irony of the story is that the one they brought in was exactly the one that King Saul was concerned about in the first place. It says when they brought in David and he would begin to play with his hands, Saul would begin to feel better and the evil spirit of depression would depart from Saul. It's a very powerful thing to say for a simple little instrument that has a sweet beautiful sound. But why did they chose the harp? They had other instruments. They somehow knew, not scientifically, but they knew. %aad%
Now 3,000 years later, we have the tools to test things. They have been doing medical testing of the harp on people and they have found that it seems the vibration of the harp as opposed to the guitar or violin or other nice instruments seems to resonate with the healthy vibration of the human being. If a human has stayed up too late or doesn't feel good, their healthy vibration goes down and that's when they get colds or flu or chronic fatigues syndrome. But just the vibration of the harp helps.
On our web site we have an a section called Healing Harps with newspaper clippings with people using harps in medical ways. One article is a story about a surgery. They had a woman playing the harp dressed in scrubs. She is completely covered sitting there playing the harp while another woman is having open heart surgery. They wouldn't do this unless it had an effect. They had a BBC documentary with cancer cells and as the harp begins to play the cells begin to change shape. Another study that's being done here in a hospital in Jerusalem found that the sound of the harp increases oxygen absorption, which is a real problem in this day and age because we have less and less oxygen in the atmosphere. They found it helpful for Parkinson's Disease, multiple sclerosis and other nervous disorders. This to me is a confirmation to me to what they seem to have known 3,000 years ago, that they brought in David to play the harp for their ailing king.
Question: What are the different harps you build?
The term kinor would also known as a lyre or lyre in Greek. The nevel is known as a harp today. The kinor is taken from the Bar Kochba coin, the money used in the time of Shimon Bar Kochba and the Roman occupation. It has the imprint of a little kinor on it. In the Talmud it says there were ten strings. In the psalms, many times it says upon a harp of ten strings I will praise thee Hashem. There's something special about the number ten.
We started making the kinor as well, but unlike the article about the harp, no one knew about it. But one day a man came to us from the religious neighborhood of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. He heard we had had a ten stringed harp and was very interested in this because in his Talmud studies his big focus was looking for signs of the coming of Moshiach. He said he old enough to have seen the rebirth of Israel in 1948. He saw the Six Day War. He saw the ingathering of the exiles, which is still going on. But one thing he never saw was the ten stringed kinor.
We asked him why this was so important in particular. He replied that it is written in the Talmud that this is connected to the coming of Moshiach and the beautiful song that will rise from the day when the world that is to be will be united in one harmonious whole, as he put it. He counted the strings and was very happy. He told his friends and they came to visit us as well and told us even more interesting things like for example the music of future is going to be different than the music of today.
Even the very scale that music is played on because it's going to be played on a scale of ten notes and not anymore of a scale of eight notes. Right now we're into the octave. According to these people, two of the notes you can't physically hear. That isn't so surprising because if a person is religious, then they know of the perech shira, which is a beautiful prayer showing how the entire universe is singing praises of Hashem right now. Not just the birds and the frogs but the stars in the sky, the leaves on the trees, everything. We just can't hear it. We can stand outside in a completely silent night and listen and very few of us can hear the stars singing. But in the future our ears will be open and everything will change.
Question: Any final words you would like to say about your harps?
Shoshanna Harrari: The way David played his harp is that he would hold it over his heart and put his ear on the wood and begin to play extremely quietly. But in his ear it was really loud. He would sit like this for hours and the vibration of the harp would shake loose the shell around his heart and he would stand there before the Creator in the way he really was with no pretensions or ego. At that moment Hashem would send the ruach hakodesh, the holy inspiration to teach him certain songs, words and music that would come into his mind. And that's how he wrote the Psalms. All we have left of it right now are the words. But there used to be musical compositions to all the Psalms. They were played on the kinor or nevel in the Beit Hamikdash. On the pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, the sound of the harps were heard in Jericho. They must have been playing a lot of harps.
This is what we lost when we went into exile and hung our harps on the willow trees. The wind and the rain and snow and sun and time made them into stardust and it's only now that it has returned. Why is it so important? These are Jewish instruments. The fact that they've returned means good times will be coming. There will be a time when we will play these instruments in the Temple. We won't have to worry about making money or terrorism or health problems. We will sit around and play our harps and thank Hashem for everything and bring into this world a great, great joy.
For more information on Harrari Harps you can visit their web site at http://www.harrariharps.com