Synagogue Song

An Introduction to Concepts, Theories and Customs


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About the Book

Throughout history, music has been a fixture of Jewish religious life. Musical references appear in biblical accounts of the Red Sea crossing and King Solomon’s coronation, and music continues to play a central role in virtually every Jewish occasion. Through 100 brief chapters, this volume considers theoretical approaches to the study of Jewish sacred music. Topics include the diversity of Jewish music, the interaction of music and identity, the emotional and spiritual impact of worship music, the text-tone relationship, the musical component of Jewish holidays, and the varied ways prayer-songs are performed. These distillations of complex topics invite a fuller appreciation of synagogue song and an understanding of the ubiquitous presence of music in Jewish worship.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan L. Friedmann is a professor of Jewish music history at the Academy for Jewish Religion California, extraordinary professor of theology at North-West University (NWU), South Africa, and a research fellow at NWU in musical arts in South Africa: resources and applications. He is the author, editor, or compiler of 19 books on music and religion. Visit his website at

Bibliographic Details

Jonathan L. Friedmann
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 203
Bibliographic Info: appendix, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7061-7
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9136-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

Introduction      3

I. Foundations, Functions and Figures      9

What Is Sacred Music?      9

Music and Civilization      10

A Most Ancient Ritual      12

Musical Supervisors      13

Community and Liturgy      15

Sacred Time, Sacred Sound      16

Practical Functions of Synagogue Music      18

A Resonant World      19

Singing Metaphysics      20

Sanctification      22

Music as Language      23

Beauty in Sacred Song      24

Some Thoughts on “Traditional” Synagogue Music      26

Creating a Synagogue Musical Tradition      27

The Development of Jewish Music Traditions      29

Judging Synagogue Song      31

The Problems of Meaning      32

Conformity and Survival      34

Charismatic Tunes      36

Jewish Youth and Musical Change      38

Nusach Variations      39

Sacred Classics      41

Sing a New Song      43

Musical Layers      45

A Shir Koddesh      47

Instruments of Worship      48

Richard Dawkins and Synagogue Song      50

Darwin, Heschel, Music, and Marriage      53

Liturgical Hits      55

The Legacy of Jack Gottlieb      57

II. Spirituality, Emotions and Identity      59

Religion, Emotion and Music      59

The Divine Lover of Music      61

To Edify and Glorify      63

Six Songs in the Hebrew Bible      64

Music, Prayer and Concentration      66

An Instrument Divine      67

Singing Is Believing      69

From Heart to Heart      70

Moods, Modes and Musical Meaning      72

Mystery and Melody      73

Singing, Health and Prayer      74

Heart and Mind      76

Serving God with Joy      77

Niggunim and Augustine      79

Holy Noises      80

Songs Without Words      82

Hymns of Praise      83

Stereotyping Synagogue Sounds      84

Singing for Joy      86

Being the Music      87

Absolute Music, Absolute Worship      89

Fight Songs and Fighting Words      90

Musical Taste, Musical Fact      92

Ethnicity in Jewish Music      93

Historicism and Futurism      95

Music and the Mitzvah of Nostalgia      96

Musical Minhag      98

Identity and Memory      101

Performing Identity      103

Diversity and Balance      104

III. Holidays and Liturgy      107

Shabbat Singing      107

Music and the Moods of Shabbat      108

Opening Songs on Shabbat      109

Vayekhulu and the Renewal of Time      111

Reinterpretation Through Song      112

Thanksgiving Every Week      114

The Modern Origins of an “Ancient” Tune      115

Springtime and the Song of Songs      117

Song of Redemption      118

Sound of the Sea      120

Akdamut and the Power of Song      121

Songs of Renewal      123

Moses, Music and Eurocentrism      125

The Curious Case of Kol Nidrei      127

The Sound of Sincerity      128

Rejoicing in Torah      130

Songs of Victory and Light      131

The Maoz Tzur Melody: Sacred or Sinful?      132

Making Noise      134

Music, Midrash and Megillah      135

Tension and Release      137

Aleinu: Its Storied Past and Sacred Melodies      138

Adon Olam: Master of the World      141

The Myth of Ein Keloheinu      142

The Religious Roots of Hava Nagila      144

IV. Cantors, Choirs and Congregations      147

The Cantor at the Center of the World      147

Singing and Prophecy      148

Cantors and Levites      149

More Than a Voice      151

The Cantorial Ideal      152

The Cantor’s Prayer      154

Cantors, Rabbis, Hitters and Pitchers      155

The Choir in Jewish History      157

The Music of Heaven on Earth      159

Unity, Participation and the Choral Experience      160

From Choir to Congregation      161

Why Congregations Sing      163

A Blended Sound      165

The Limits of Congregational Singing      167

Good and Friendly Music      168

Appendix: Jewish Music Research      171

Bibliography      183

Index      189

Book Reviews & Awards

“engaging…extensive in-depth research”—Journal of Synagogue Music.