A new website, siddurlive.com, offers visitors the opportunity to teach themselves to sing prayers from the Jewish prayer book (siddur), and to choose from different well-known melodies of each prayer. All of the prayers are sung and clearly enunciated by Professor of Cantorial Studies Rabbi Michael Dushinsky.
The project was initiated by Ivana Vartecka, a businesswoman from Prague, together with Rabbi Dushinsky. Similar websites like this exist, but the founders of siddurlive.com say that what makes it unique is that all of the prayers sung are according to precise Hebrew grammar. In addition, they include the widest range of niggunim are in strict conformance with the Orthodox Jewish prayer books.
is a mutual project I undertook with Rabbi Dushinsky to teach people how to sing the siddur," Vartecka told Arutz Sheva
. "If I want to learn the siddur, it's not enough to join other people in the congregation in prayer. I need to learn it myself. Many people can join the service passively, but learning how to take part in the prayers is more difficult."
Besides the creation of a user-friendly website, the project included many hours of work in a recording studio and meticulous production.
Rabbi Dushinsky, 65, said that he has been a ba'al tefila (prayer-leader) "almost from age zero."
"From the moment that I could read and write," he told Arutz Sheva, "I knew how to recite the parasha (Torah portion) because my father used to read the parasha at home every Friday evening, before the kiddush. This custom is rare nowadays."
"As a child I was a member of the renowned Bilu boys' choir in Tel Aviv, which was led by the late Rabbi Shlomo Ravitz and numbered 40-50 boys who recited the prayers and songs on their own. In the yeshivas I studied at, I was always the baal tefila (leader of the prayers). I always loved to listen to the hassidic tunes - this was always a great part of my world. In addition, I was a rabbi-teacher in communities, schools and universities in Israel and abroad."
Rabbi Dushinsky has spent the last 13 years in Czech Republic, where he lectures before the country's scattered communities and teaches Judaism, advises ballets and theaters on Judaism, and occasionally sings in productions such as a ballet about the Golem of Prague.
The colorful Rabbi Dushinsky has been asked by the Federation of the Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic to teach Nusach & Leining (chanting from the Torah). His School & Skype School for Prayer-Leaders & Scripture-Readers, named Mattan-Shirah (Grant-the-Chant) now has more than 30 students of all ages all over the world. Dushinsky also finds time to teach in universities, to help universities in Israel and abroad in planning academic conferences on Jewish subjects, and serves as a private tour guide in Prague as well.
Siddurlive.com offers a wide variety of melodies for Sabbath prayers - starting with Kabbalat Shabbat, which marks the entrance of the holy day, and ending with Havdalah, which marks its departure. The Kiddush ceremony that ushers in the Sabbath at home is also included. For every prayer there are several versions - reflecting a variety of Ashkenazi traditions.
Besides the online audio, it is also possible to order six hours' worth of prayer songs on a CD set.
Vartecka said that her original idea was to make an online audio version of the entire Torah, "because I saw it was a big deal for children to learn the Torah portion for the Bar Mitzvah." Especially in small communities in the Diaspora, she explained, where there are not many Jews, "the children just read the text but they cannot chant it in the proper way."
However, she and Rabbi Dushinsky decided that the Torah project was a huge one, and that it would be better to start with the audio siddur and head toward the Torah project afterward. The siddurlive.com website was launched in December and, according to Vartecka, "We are now starting to promote it, yet the number of visitors is already satisfying."
Rabbi Dushinsky teaching students in Czech Republic (photos courtesy of Rabbi Dushinsky):