Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

Sacha Pecaric – Inability of talking

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Rabbi Sacha Pečarič

Inability of talking

I do not see myself as the right person to talk about it since I am young enough not to remember the war. I also come here as a representative of a specific faction of Jewry in which certain topics are looked at in a unique way. I think it is important to see how orthodox Jews look at such a complicated topic as Auschwitz. This is a quite different point of view, not only different from the non-Jewish one but also different from Jews who live both in Israel as well as the United States. As we know Jews in Israel and in the US have very different worldviews: from secular to reformed, conservatives and Zionists. Everything I write here presents the perspective of orthodox Jews.
Misunderstandings come from unfamiliarity with realities. There are misunderstandings not only on the non-Jewish side. There was a time when orthodox Jews or Jews in general, were very isolated. Jews were isolated not only by the ghetto which separated them physically. There was also Jewish isolation towards the secular, Catholic or any other world of a different cultural circle. That is why I would primarily like to write about what Jewry is so that we can see the attitude of a religious Jew then look at the Holocaust through this perspective.

A Jew follows the Torah. The Torah, in a colloquial explanation of the five books of Moses, which often is translated as the law, which however is a mistake. The word Torah in Hebrew comes from the word hoora, which means ‘instruction’. That is why the Torah is not law or a book but is an instruction for life. This is not a book you put on a shelf or a book you study (sometimes you study it, sometimes not). It is a real reflection of life. If I want to operate any technical device I need an instruction manual. If I want to live as man, I need a guide to know what to do. It is very important to see how strong a Jew is bound to the Torah. The Torah contains 613 commandments – 248 positive and 365 negative. There are two parts of the Torah. Five books written on parchment and placed in an arch at a synagogue – this is a written Torah. The second part is an oral Torah. Both parts are closely interconnected. They are extremely important for religious Jews. I will not say ‘orthodox’, because this is a new word. I am referring to a Jew who is connected with his tradition. Such a Jew cannot think about one without the other.
The Talmud is a part of the oral Torah and contains 63 tractates. These are in fact long deliberations created during the time of five centuries. Mishnah, which is a part of the Talmud, was written down in the 2nd century. For the next 300-400 years the Talmud was crystallized in yeshivas – Jewish educational institutions. The Mishnah was written down only because of a very uncertain political situation in Israel. That was the time when the second temple was destroyed. Rabbis made a decision and Rabi Jehuda Hanasi wrote down a part of the Talmud that we call the Mishnah. We should understand well that eventhough is written down it does not mean that it is a part of the written Torah.

The written Torah is read in synagogues on Saturday morning and the shorter parts are read on Monday, Thursday and during holidays. An important thing about the Torah is that every word has its own melody. In written Hebrew we do not find marked vowels. Later, in print, punctuation of vowels was added but it does not exist in the liturgical Torah used in synagogues. That is why the person who reads the Torah in a synagogue sees only consonants. The man who reads must know the text perfectly since he cannot make any mistakes in vocalization of the words, since it would change the meaning of words. Another thing the person must know is connected with the fact that every word has a specific intonation, a musical tone. For example the word adam (a man) is written with only three letters in the Torah. But this word has also a sign called pazer which means that the word adam must be read like “adaaaam”, exactly this way. Pazer written in musical score would look like this: C C D E F G A H A G F F [intonation of the second “a” in the word adam raises and falls]. Every word in the Torah is marked with one of twenty-eight musical signs.
Every one of the books of the prophets has also its own melody. Also similar is the case of Chamesz megilot, that is five scrolls that are read during holidays. Every book from the Pentateuch, from Tanach, has its own musical melody. The person who reads must know it to read it exactly like it should be read. The music and spirituality coming from it enriches the language. This is the music of the written Torah.
There is also music of the oral Torah. If you enter a yeshiva you hear music of life. Few hundred people sit opposite to each other and argue. That’s why there is a saying that there is a noise like in a Jewish school. This music stops only in one moment, when a prayer is said quietly standing up. Only then a yeshiva is quiet, is there a moment of suspension when you can hear everything but a conversation. I need to remind you that the argumentation of the Talmud, the dialectics of the Talmud, is also differentiated musically. In an introductory argument, intonation of the voice raises: “If I say thaaaaat”. And then it falls: “I could say thaaaaaat”. In argumentation we always notice a differentiation between low and high voices.
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