OK, enough about controversial topics for the time being. Last week, thanks to a link to this post included in my daily Google alert for the word "Judaism" (more some other time about that treasure trove of an email), I discovered this wonderful site:
Hebrew Audio Bible
They're spoken audio files of the entire Tanakh, recorded many years ago by Abraham Shmuelof, who died in 1994. He had a fascinating life—born in Jerusalem, fought with Menachem Begin in the Irgun, taken prisoner of war in 1941, converted to Catholicism, became a Benedictine monk in 1948. He subsequently joined the Greek Catholic Church, and was ordained as a priest in 1956. He may have changed religions but never lost his passion for Hebrew language and liturgy, as proven by these recordings.
I had heard some of them before on the Mechon-Mamre site, but didn't pay much attention—they were just some old guy speaking Hebrew, a diversion from the cool online tikkun. Revisiting these MP3s on the easier-to-navigate Audio Bible site, I discovered how conversational and nuanced this reading is—he understands every word and so tells the story, rather than simply reciting it. There's something uncanny about ancient Hebrew sounding so much like a living language; it's beautiful and even chilling in spots. I listened to the section I chanted last week and came away with a new understanding of how to phrase (even though the trop does most of that on its own) and convey the gravity and elegance of these words.
I can't wait for the weather to get a little warmer so I can bring up the site on my iPod, put on headphones, and take a long walk in the park as the Torah resonates in my ears.