One of the great sporting events in Orthodox synagogues is correcting the layners — i.e., the Torah readers. The cantillations on the Torah are an intricate, lovely cultural heritage, one of our most treasured. But they are also difficult to master, require practice and are performed in front of an unmarked scroll — that is, no vowels, punctuation or cantillations marks. It is very hard to layn well, and understandably, mistakes happen. But forgiveness does not. In most Orthodox synagogues, although there are generally two people standing at the podium for the purpose of correcting the layners, more often than not, corrections are barked from all across the sanctuary, like a real spectator sport.
Orthodox boys are inducted into this practice at the tender age of 13, when the message of “Now you are a man” conflates with the experience of being barked at and then being expected to just, well, keep going. As one man told me in the context of research I conducted on Orthodox men, boys learn that to be a man means not to cry, not to get upset, and not to even feel the experience of an entire congregation barking at you. You just keep performing. Orthodox girls, however, are not inducted into this emotionless performance, and that has some interesting repercussions.
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