Historical Jewish Worship Liturgy

Hey everyone,

Today I thought I would just share some things I have found on my travels doing my PhD. Here’s some information about liturgical practices from the ancient Jewish Synagogue System following their exile to Babylon:

The Cantor

The Cantor was the leader of chanting prayers, psalms and scriptures in the synagogue, which became the dominant form of music in the synagogues for many centuries, following the lifting of the ban on singing in the synagogues. The chant was a liturgical practice that involved a number of syllables being sung to each note of a short melodic line that is repeated throughout the passage being read/sung. The cantor would take contemporaneous melodic patters or compose his own melodies. Chanting of Psalms was often done antiphonally with two choirs groups to lead the congregation. Rabbis did not allow women to sing, so all music was male led by men and boys and chanting was monophonic. The scales differed depending on the spatiotemporal location of the synagogue as the local folk music culture often influenced the Cantor’s musical creations (Barton 2014, p.21).

Cantillation

In the Cantillation the cantor or leader singer of a synagogue sings the declamatory form of the weekly text of the Torah, and the Prophets (Nevi’im) using pre-existing musical phrases. The musical phrases are chosen according to the text and book of the Bible being cantillated. There is no rhythm as different musical motives are combined together. Although there is reason to believe that cantillation goes back as far as Ezra in the Bible times – about 2,500 years ago – most melodies used today are no older that about the 15th or 16th century (Rubin and Baron 2006, pp.67-69) (Barton 2014, pp.21-22).

Jewish Liturgical Modes

A set of musical modes are called ‘Nusach’ whichcan refer either to a set of modes, melodies and also a set text or prayer. These modes or melodies link the prayer to a time of year or day and also indicate what prayer is to be sing or recited. These melodies became standardized, as did the prayers associated with the melodies. The Three main modes are: Ahavah Rabbah, Magein Avot and Adonai Malach. Today they are improvised from time to time) (Barton 2014, p.22).

Synagogue Prayers

The prayers of the Synagogues were chanted usually led by a Cantor and a male choir (if available). The Cantors usually sang in a florid and melodious style that was either of their own devising (before the modes became formalized) or influence by the local culture’s melodic lines. After the formalizing of the prayers the following forms emerged and remain until this day in the modern synagogues:

Piyyut:

A Jewish liturgical poem that is sung, chanted or spoken. A lot of Piyytim are poetic in character and often follow the order of an acrostic poem using the Hebrew Alphabet in order at the beginning of each line.

Zemiros:

Jewish Hymns sung in Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish or Ladino, sung at holidays, the Shabbat meal on Fridays or any other day.

Nigun:

Religious songs sung by groups that involve voice and with no formal words; syllables such as bim-bim-bam or ai-ai-ai are sung.           

Pizmonim:

Traditional Jewish songs associated with Middle Eastern Sephardic Jews  – but are also among the North African and Mizrahi Jews. Texts may come from the Old Testament or by poets. They are composed to praise God and contain traditional teaching. They are often sung at religious rituals or festivities such as circumcisions, weddings Bar Mitzvahs or other ceremonies.

Baqashot:

A collection of songs and prayers sung by Sephardic Jewish communities during Shabbat, but also may be recited during the long weeks of winter) (Barton 2014, pp.22-23).

Okedokey that’s all for today folks! See you next Thursday the usual time of 8pm GMT xxx

Bibliography

Barton, B. 2014. The Music of the Jews: An Overview. Fellowship Diploma dissertation. National College of Music, London.

Rubin, E. and J. H. Baron. 2006. Music in Jewish History and Culture. Sterling Heights. MI: Harmonie Park

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s