Jewish Liturgical Music

I am currently working on a paper researching Jewish Liturgical music, so I thought I would share some of my findings that I wrote up for school here on the site!

Much of Jewish life, culture, and religion is very centered around music. There are many various types, styles, forms, and genres which fall under the broad category of “Jewish Music.”There are two main types of Jews, Sephardic (Mizrachi Jews often fall under this categoray) and Ashkenazic. The Sephardic hail largely from the Middle East and Spain while the Ashkenazic would be the more European strain, and each have different practices, traditions, and musical styles. Musically this can be seen especially in the Synagogue.

Jewish Liturgical music has an incredibly long history and has gone through much change and development over the centuries. There are various traditional forms which have developed over the years which have become fairly standard across the different Jewish denominations ranging from Hassidic and highly Orthodox to very liberal Reform Jews. A central figure in the Jewish synagogue is the Cantor who is responsible to chant the Scriptures.

I recently was able to attend a Friday evening Shabbat service at a Reform Temple. This liturgy was very unique and quite different from what you would find in an Orthodox Synagogue. There was a young woman Rabbi and the musical part of the service was led by a band with a woman lead singer/guitar player. I recognized many of the traditional lyrics to the songs, but often times the tunes were different and more relaxed and modern.

The role of women in Jewish liturgical music has developed over the years, but also is somewhat confusing in its scope. There is a particular practice in Judaism I have heard of in which the women’s voice is forbidden from being heard by the man. However, there seems to be so many loop holes, changes, and developments that is is hard to pin down a specific standard, and it varies from “denomination” to “denomination.”

Depending on the branch of Judaism, women are able to participate in the synagoge service. While in some synagogues the women are even separated from the men by what is known as a Mechitzah, in other places, such as reformed temples, men and women sit together. Author and researcher Irene Heskes says that “…the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism currently permit opportunities for the training and placement of women cantors to lead synagogue prayers: (Heskes, 1193).

Heskes, Irene. “Miriam’s Sisters: Jewish Women and Liturgical Music.” Notes, Second, 48, no. 4 (June 1992). Accesses October 29, 2017. doi: 10.2307/942105.

Here is a video of a Cantor and choir.



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