If You Can't Sing in Shul, Where Can You Sing?
About one century before the
common era, i.e. over one and a half centuries before the destruction of
the Temple in Jerusalem, synagogues (Greek=to lead together)
emerged as the meeting places of Jews living at a distance from the
Temple and from Israel. These synagogues employed a caretaker or Chazzan.
The Chazzan was in charge of the building and of the Torah
scrolls. After the destruction of the Temple (70) which employed
instrumental music the rabbis prohibited the use of such instruments and
therefore relied on vocal music alone.
Years later, during the Middle Ages (325-1453), the Chazzan became the primary Torah reader and singer in the Beth
Haknesset although anyone capable of doing so could then and now lead the
service. These Chazzanim gradually adopted the Latin term Cantor or singer. Some of these singers were also composers who
wrote such famous melodies as the Kol
which the composer Max Bruch re-wrote for the violoncello. Bruch was not
Jewish. The French composer Darius Milhaud also wrote synagogue music as did
Robert Schumann, a German Catholic who wrote synagogue music for the opening of
the great Vienna synagogue in the 19th century. That building was
burned down on November 10, 1938.
was during the 19th century that the synagogue music now so familiar
to us was composed by some great Chazzanim.
Most famous among these were Solomon Sulzer (1804-1890) and Louis Lewandowski
(1821-1894). Many melodies used each Sabbath at Temple Shaarey Zedek and other
synagogues were written by these two men. Other great Chazzanim were Yossele Rosenblatt, Samuel Alman, Boruch Lesowsky and
Most famous of all Jewish composers of the 19th century was
Jakob Liebmann Meyer Beer, who renamed himself Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864).
His operas are performed to this day.
Reform movement, from its inception in 1825 to about 1960,
abolished the office of cantor. Then, the office of cantor was
re-introduced into Reform. In fact, the Reform seminary in Cincinnati, The
Hebrew Union College, operates a cantorial school.
the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem you can hear Cantor Naftali Herstik sing with a
magnificent choir. If you cannot go to Jerusalem, you can hear him right here.
Bring up “Great Synagogue –Jerusalem” on Yahoo or any other search engine
and if you have Real Player,
which you can download free any time, you can hear Herstik and choir right now.