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.



Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Jewish Liturgical Music

Yom Kippur and Kapparot

Yom Kippur–The Day of Atonement. Today is the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe stretching between Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of Sukkot. Today is the day that Jews believe their name is written in the Book of Life for the coming year.

Last night at sunset began the fast which will last until sunset tonight. In Leviticus 16 it says  “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country or a stranger who sojourneth among you.”

Because of this verse, there are certain prohibitions that are commanded. Today is a fast day, and you are also prohibited from “anointing” yourself–so no lotions or perfumes. One is only allowed to wash to remove dirt–not for “pleasure,” and you cannot wear leather.

Interesting fact/word: Kapparot

This is a practice in which roosters are thought to be used as a susbstitute for the sin of the individual. A rooster or hen is swung over the head before being killed. Here is an interesting video and article about the practice.

Kapparot, Swinging a Chicken Over One’s Head

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Yom Kippur and Kapparot

Happy Jewish New Year (A bit late…) Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe

So life has been a bit crazy as I have returned to my crooked little Brooklyn apartment, and I’m a bit late wishing you all a Happy Jewish New Year! Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) was on Thursday, and I’ll say that my excuse for not posting that day was due to the fact that I spent a good bit of the day in the hospital getting x-rays and reaquinting myself with the medical staff at Maimonedes. I re-injured my leg Wednesday night and am back on crutches!

Anyways, be that as it may, I thought I shouldn’t just ignore such an important holiday all together. Rosh Hashanah literally means “head of the year” and is a joyful day which kicks off a bunch of important fall holidays. This holiday involves things like eating apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year and listening to the blowing of the shofar.

The blowing of the shofar has many symbolic meanings, one of which is to symbolize a call to repentence and examination of the heart. Listeing to the blowing of the shofar is a commandment.  When I was in the hospital waiting for my x-rays, there were several Jewish men going around the hospital blowing them to make sure that each Jewish patient was able to hear. Another interesting bit of information is that for most holidays the greeting is Chag Sameach (happy holidays), but I was informed that you don’t use this greeting for Rosh Hashanah but instead simply say Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year).

We are now currently in the period of time known as the Days of Awe. This is a time of soul-searching in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which begins Friday night at sundown. Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year because this is the day in which they believe that a person’s name is inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year. The days leading up to this are spent making sure that all of their sins and mistakes are atoned for and taken care of. They try to do as many good deeds as they can and hope that it is enough to get their names in the Book of Life for the next year. After Yom Kippur begins the Feast of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles in which Jews build little rooms outside their houses called Sukkahs. But more about that later…:)

And now I leave you with a few music videos. The words of the songs kind of exemplify the Jewish mentality of the new year.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Happy Jewish New Year (A bit late…) Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe

Shipshewana Adventures and a Bit of Nostalgia…

As my time in Goshen has nearly come to an end–I return to the city on Saturday–there were a few places I wanted to visit while I still had the chance. Yesterday I climbed in the old beater mini-van I have been schlepping around in and made the pilgrimage to the town of Shipshewana. Now, for those of you not familiar with this place, let me explain–Shipshewana is basically the Lancaster of Indiana. The tourists and the curious come to stare at the Amish, take buggy rides, attend the Flea Market, and make purchases at quaint  “Amish” stores.

I decided to be a bit of a tourist for the day, and I started off by taking a tour of Menno-Hof. Menno-Hof provides information on everything Mennonite and Amish. While browsing in the gift shop I was rather amused to find that Mennonites apparently have their own blend of coffee!


I took the tour provided, learned some interesting information and got some good pictures of a typical Amish home…


Amish clothes…

After this I went to Yoder’s department Store. I was particularly amused by the advertisement for free manure by the hitching post…

Inside the store…


Before leaving town I also stopped at E and S Sales. THIS brought back memories! My first official job as a 16 year-old Mennonite girl was working in a bulk food store surrounded by Amish. It was smaller than E and S, but I remember the days of bagging groceries, carting them out to the buggies in the parking lot, and seeing how fast I could enter numbers into the register to get customers through the line!

E and S is an incredibly fun store with lots of discounted food and candy. I felt that I showed remarkable restraint in not buying cases of chocolate! 🙂 They also have a deli/restaurant with ice cream and all manner of wonderful smelling goods. I walked in the store and was enraptured with the sweet smell of pastries!

“Amish Peanut Butter” Folks, this stuff is amazing! Basically a peanut butter with marshmallow cream…So good!

The hustle and bustle of the store…


The Deli…

If you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend this place! 🙂 You might also check out the Flea Market, the Davis Mercantile, and the Blue Gate Restaurant. And maybe take a buggy ride while your at it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Shipshewana Adventures and a Bit of Nostalgia…

Words of the Week!

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately, largely due to the start of school and an online class that is taking more of my time than I had anticipated. I’m venturing into the world of graduate school with what I thought was baby steps, but even one class has me writing a longer paper than I wrote for my senior undergrad thesis!

Since we are looking at the commencement of a new school year, I thought it would be appropriate for the words of the week to be something related to scholastic endeavors.

Library: Sefreeya

Teacher: Mor-eh (male) Mor-ah (female)

Kindergarten: Gan Yeledim

High School: Bayit Sefer tee-khon

And as a little cultural tid-bit for my non-Mennonite readers…

Most Amish children only attend school through 8th grade. It is thought that getting too much education would be prideful. Pride is a sin preached against very strongly, and higher education is strongly discouraged.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Words of the Week!

Anabaptist Orchestra Camp!

A little over a week ago I was privileged to attend Anabaptist Orchestra Camp in the sleepy little town of Elnora in Southern Indiana.

The school where camp was held.

It was an extended weekend filled with lots of music and rehearsals. This is a unique camp for various reasons and has been functioning for about 7 years. Traditionally orchestral music has not been popular among Anabaptists and many conservative strains would prohibit musical instruments in the worship service while some prohibit them all together! Because of this history, many Anabaptists/Mennonites have little or no exposure to orchestras, so this camp is somewhat of a ground-breaking endeavor.

For those of us Mennonites who play orchestral instruments it can be frustrating to find outlets to use our skills, and so this weekend is often a highlight for Anabaptist orchestra and band nerds! I attended the very first camp 7 years ago and then hadn’t attended again until last summer and now it is becoming a highlight of my summer.

A picture of the group!

This year it was especially neat because there was some Jewish flavor to the weekend as well. One of the pieces the orchestra played was Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, and Friday evening the staff put on a “Shabbat meal” for us. The setting was supposed to be in Biblical times in Israel. While it wasn’t all completely accurate, it was fun and the food was great! ????


On Saturday morning in chapel I was also privileged to sing Ose Shalom with a small ensemble. It isn’t the traditional melody, but the setting is still beautiful!

I didn’t record it that morning but here is a video of an orchestra I played with last fall that did the same piece.

Despite spending the weekend schlepping around on crutches and attempting not to injure myself further, it was a good time! Rehearsals, workshops, good conversations, and connecting with old friends. Not to mention getting to play some lovely music!

My brother, the violist, and I…

The concert on Sunday was live-streamed and you can still watch it here…

And here is the link to another blog post of the weekend by a fellow musician.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Anabaptist Orchestra Camp!

Words of the Week (And a lovely Hebrew Song)

Since I was just at Anabaptist Orchestra Camp the past weekend playing my little Juliet (yes, my violin does have a name), I thought these words for the week would be appropriate…

Violin: keenor

Orchestra: teezmoret

And for your viewing pleasure, a lovely Hebrew song—Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of Gold)


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Words of the Week (And a lovely Hebrew Song)

Words of the Week! (and another summer adventure in which I navigate Anabaptist Orchestra Camp on crutches)

It is a rainy summer day here in Indiana, so I think two appropriate Hebrew words to learn are…

Geshem: rain

Kahyeets: summer

I’m leaving today for another summer adventure at Anabaptist Orchestra Camp in Southern Indiana. We will be performing on Sunday afternoon, and I think it will be live streamed, so stay tuned for more info!

Here are some Hebrew learning tools.


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Words of the Week! (and another summer adventure in which I navigate Anabaptist Orchestra Camp on crutches)

More Summer Adventures in Mennonite-land!

As most of you know, my summer hasn’t gone quite as I had anticipated and I am spending a large portion of it in Indiana recovering. While I am missing my Brooklyn life, it has been fun being back in the land of Amish and Mennonites, and I have already had some interesting experiences!

The last weekend in July I went to our church affiliations annual convention at which I buzzed around in a motorized wheel-chair. Trust me, these things are way more difficult to drive than one would think! I consider it a miracle that I didn’t run over any unsuspecting pedestrians or drive off a sidewalk and break the other leg! Although, I did worry my siblings when they seemed to think I was in danger of running into the wall of the Dining Hall…

Since being home I’ve been reminded just how different life in Indiana is from NYC! A few things I’ve done here that generally wouldn’t happen in the city include husking corn and snipping beans to help my mom with canning, counting how many buggies I see on the road, and eating some good Mennonite home cooking! Ah, yes, there’s been lots of good ‘Mennonite’ food. Mashed potatoes and poor-man steak!

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is not actually steak…more like a glorified hamburger patty in a gravy sauce, but, oh, so good! My mother seems intent on filling me with as much good food as she can while I’m here. My mother isn’t ethnically Jewish, but just like many a good Jewish mother, she thinks the proper food can solve many an ailment! 🙂

My first Sunday home I attended my church, Living Water Mennonite. A typical service at a Mennonite Church in this area generally starts at 9:30. We all meet in the Sanctuary for a few hymns and then someone gets up to say a bit about the Sunday School lesson, after which the entire congregation disperses into various rooms of the building to have separate classes which are taught by a lay member of the congregation.

A little before 10:30 we all meet together again in the main sanctuary for a time of singing, testimonies, and prayer requests. This usually lasts until around 11 when the pastor gets up to deliver the Sunday morning message. Our church has three pastors which alternate the preaching schedule. My dad is one of the pastors and this particular Sunday was his turn to preach.

Unlike the Jewish religion and synagogue service, we do not have a set liturgy and it is up to the individual pastor to decided what portion of Scripture he will use for his text. Anabaptists use both the Jewish Tenach (Genesis through Malachi) as well as the New Covenant (New Testament -Mathew through Revelation). This particular Sunday my dad chose to preach out of the book of 1st Samuel.

After the message we usually have another song and then people are free to go and come as they please. Most people stay and talk before heading off to their mid-day meal. Unlike many Jewish families, entire families usually attend the church service together—both the men and the women with the children.

At our church there is a designated family each week known as the host and hostess. This family is responsible to make sure that any visitors attending are invited somewhere for the afternoon meal. This particular Sunday my family was invited to stay for a meal and I got my second helping of the very Mennonite poor-man steak and mashed potatoes!

My most recent adventure was a Mennonite Hymn Sing. But…you’ll have to stay tuned to hear more about this later. It involves some rather painful and slow Amish singing, 606, and 32 buggies!

So now I’ll leave you with the cutest part of Indiana life! My main man and his little sister. I love the aunt life!

FYI…Not only is my dad the pastor of our church, he just recently published a book which you should totally check out on Amazon!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on More Summer Adventures in Mennonite-land!

And the winner is…

Lora Stoltzfus!

But even if you didn’t win the drawing, you should still go to Amazon and get these books!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on And the winner is…