Jewish music

An Introduction for Jewish Music

Jewish Music Overview

Jewish music refers to the Judaism songs which are sung through the lips of Jews. It’s a kind of tonal expression of the life of Jewish people. The Jewish culture and their Jewish music developed for over 2000 years, amongst both eastern as well as western cultures.

The roots of Jewish music are in the Middle East, which flourishes from Iran to Israel and Europe to North America as well as Western Mediterranean and recently in America too.  Thus, Jewish music has its unique property, which defines its geographical location, and its ownership in getting its fame by the name of inter-cultural synthesis.

Jewish people keep on wandering in different regions of the world. For preserving their cultural identity, they always estimated in a wiser way to incorporate the foreign cultural element into the Jewish music stream so that they can eliminate all other outer influences. 

Thus, to a more significant extent, the Jewish music stream remains as a multi-cultural phenomenon and establishes its identity as the music of wanderers. Undoubtedly, some of the Jewish music traditional forms originated from ancient times. The idea of adaptations of Jewish music has been a hallmark from the life of Jewish people for a long time. This is why Jewish music constitutes different faces.

Mainstreams of Jewish Music

Jewish music has three distinct music streams. The foremost flow is Ashkenazi of the Western music stream, which includes the Klezmer. This has its base origin in European countries.

The second stream of Jewish Music is Sephardi, which has its roots in the Mediterranean cultural sources, which include North Africa, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and Greece. And the third and the last stream is Mizrahi, which is the music of the Jewish people.

Is music allowed in Judaism?

In Judaism culture, music plays a vital role in celebration and is also a significant part of the Jews culture. Moreover, they play music in their parties with an exception that musical instruments are prohibited on Sabbath and holidays.

According to Jewish law (Halacha), listening to music is allowed as much as it serves the spiritual development of man, causing him joy and not leading him to sin. Music exists in all Orthodox streams. They are all allowed to create music, to sing and enjoy music.

Still, there are differences regarding the openness of music types. The most extreme ultra-Orthodox streams will not be open to non-Jewish music. Most of the ultra-Orthodox, in Israel and the United States, are much more open to different styles of music, although it is clear that most of them will usually listen to Jewish music but will also not prevent themselves from playing Israeli music on the radio.

In relation to one thing, there is uniformity, an absolute majority of the ultra-Orthodox will not listen to a woman singer. Halacha (Jewish law) does not allow listening to a voice of singing women. According to Halacha, women can hear men’s singing.

However, most orthodox religious will listen to a voice of women singing, and this is certainly an example of diversity in Orthodox Jewish law. Even if everyone recognizes the supremacy of Jewish law, not everyone is strict about following all the rules of Jewish law.

Listening to music on the radio is allowed. This is considered the same as listening to music in live concerts but as mentioned above, it depends of the music type. In Sefirah (a period between Pesach and Shavuot holidays) music is not allowed to listen only for three weeks.

Jewish music evolution

The evolution of Jewish Music like Synagogue, cantorial as well as temple melodies, is kept on going since the Biblical times. However, its earliest synagogue music was used in Jerusalem temples. Its general, temple orchestra has twelve instruments and chorale of twelve Jewish musicians.

And their instruments include the Kinnor (the lyre), the novel (harp), three types of musical pipe uggay, alamoth, and the chalil.  But once after the temple’s destruction in 70AD, Jewish people identified three new forms of the music.

These music forms also include different modes of the cantor congregation and antiphonal response. And different forms of Jewish music were kept on flourishing in different parts of the recent synagogue services. During evolution, Jewish liturgical music had different musical modes.

These different musical modes make up the musical nusach, which is used for the identification of varying prayer types and also to link these prayers with varying times of that era.

Usually, there are three main modes, which are Magein Avot, Ahavah Rabbah, and the Adonai Malach. Traditionally, these chazzan modes help in improvising the designated nodes and sung prayers. But there are still no standard musical notations that have been utilized by Jews.  

As a result of that, these synagogue melodies and modes were directly handed down. Since the eighteenth century, the majority of the chants in Jews musical forms have been noted down. Yet they keep on practicing to improvise it in all possible ways. In practicing cantillations, there is a repetition of rhythms and tones of the countries in which Jews were living. With evolution, Jewish music originated in its three distinctive streams.

Three main musical streams of Jewish music

There are three main streams of Jewish music which are as follows:

1. Klezmer music

The Jewish Music, Klezmer, originated in Eastern European countries like Romania, Balkans, Bulgaria, and many others. But they started moving in the northward, westward, and North America, which are from Ashkenazi traditions. The Klezmer is derived from the Hebrew word ‘Klei zemer, ‘ which means the instruments of the songs.

It was denoted explicitly to the Jewish musicians himself. Since these Jews, people are the ancestors of the European as well as Western Jewry. Therefore, today Jews music is referred to like the music of the Western world. However, other than these Yiddish nowadays, local language and English languages have come into existence, which plays a vital role in the Jewish Music of Klezmer.

2. Sephardi Music

Sephardi is the second musical stream of the Jewish culture, which originates in the Mediterranean from North Africa, Spain to Greece and Turkey. Here, the Sephardi means Spanish and indicates the expulsion of the non-Christians in the year 1492. When they start migrating to other places, they bring with them the 15th-century old version of the Spanish music names as Ladino.


Ladino is the Spanish form of Jewish music that comes along Jewish people after their expulsion from Spain. But over the years, ladino form has integrated new words in its musical composition from many native languages and also has some Hebrew words.

Mizrahi music

This is often known as the Music of Eastern Jews and designated as the third stream of Jewish music. Its real meaning is Eastern Music and acts as the infant of the interaction between the cultures of Arabia, Jewish people, Turkey, as well as Persia.

This music spread in many countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and East India. The primary language used in these Jewish songs is Hebrew and local languages.

Interchangeable Sephardi and Mizrahi music

In original phrasing, both these terms of Jewish Music used as interchangeably. The reason behind this is so many Jews share their cultural traits with eastern countries, which includes the Arabo-Turko-Persian tradition of music.

Whereas, the second reason is there are two different religions demarcated in Israel. Both of which are represented by the liturgy and Rabbinate. Therefore, the Sephardi and Mizrahi both use the term, which describes one another.

But when it comes to learning about Jewish music, then the cultural sources are more than enough to learn both these musical terms, which represent in the same way. The Mizrahi music element represents the non-western modes, expressions, and instruments and has no connection with the ladino music.

3. Traditional Jewish Music

The classical Jewish Music classified in two distinctive forms one is Devotional, and the second is Secular. Their classification is dependent upon the context and culture of the Jewish people.

Devotional Jewish Music

Devotional music utilizes specific melodies and modes. Along with this, its ancient traditions of modal chanting have Biblical cantillation art too. One of the significant features of Jewish devotional traditional music is that it is vocal based when it utilizes in the Sabbath and the Synagogue rituals.

In the present time, Jewish coinages use instruments such as organ that is used in worship, Hazan art, and the prominence of congregational songs.  Some of the concessions of the traditional Jewish music are instruments known by the name of Shofar. It merely ram’s horns that are used on the Jewish New Year for special prayers and also in remorse.

Famous Jewish music artists

Judaism’s culture is rich in musical heritage, which is spanning the continents over the years. The renowned music artists offer the most significant Jewish music hits, which include the composition of the song and a lot more. Some of the famous Jewish music artists who bring out the incredible journey of Jewish music to new heights are:

Hadar Ensemble and Joey Weisenberg

The famous Jewish music artist, Mechon Hadar, along with his affiliate, Kehilat Hadar, was collectively known for their excellent communal prayer services in New York City. Whereas the Joey Weisenberg is the director of the Jewish secular music at the center of Hadar. But their original melodies remain to persist in the congregation prayers. Both of them collaboratively record many famous recordings with the talented team of the Hadar vocalists and musicians.

Yonatan Razel

Yonatan Razel was born in New York city but nurtured in Israel. This 43-year old singer is one of the skilled musicians and songwriters of the Jewish music culture. Most of his albums include the original melodies of the repentant prayers. He won the title of the singer of the year for his debut album in 2007.

Moreover, he also won the title of the song of the year from the Ynet. It is the most famous Israeli media outlet. Along with this, his popular videos also have millions of views on YouTube.

Jewish Nigun music

Jewish Nigun music is a form of a religious song that is usually sung by the music groups. Nigun music is vocal music with repetitive sound style. Often the bible quotes, which are other classical Jewish music texts composed in repeat format so that it can form a Nigun music tone. Moreover, Nigun music compositions are sung as the Jewish prayers of lament.

Whereas some others sang as the victorious songs. Nigunim songs are continually improvising. Although they strictly based on the thematic passages and style types in teaching ways. These are especially centralizing the worshipping of Judaism.

The kaliver nigunim

The kaliver nigunim began initially with the Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac. He often composes the most magnificent Hasidic melodies. Moreover, he adapted to the famous Hungarian folks’ songs too. He taught that he heard that the kaliver nigunim is from the holy Jerusalem holy temple.

This was lost over the years. He then found himself and returned it to the Jewish people. Furthermore, he also proves that the Kaliver nigunim was that gentile who pushes him to compose the famous traditional Hungarian Hasidic tunes.

Chabad nigunim

The Chabad Nigunim was admired among the Hasidim. The main aim of the Chabad Nigunim was to be fluent in Hasidic philosophy. These involve two different types of compositions of the Hasid. One mainly is Oviedo, and the second is Maskil.

Both of them untied to bring inspiration into the working world. However, differentiation of both enable the main aim of the Chabad nigunim, which is to be uniting holistically soul-searching. Also, the second Rebbe of the Chabad nigunim, which is Doyber Schneuri, differentiates the third mainstream of the Hasidic “enthusiasm.” 

They express themselves as emotional cheerfulness, which directly reflects the emotional Chabad nigunim. Phrenzy is one of an inner emotional discernment that may be self-possessed in an outward expression when meeting perfectly to the Jewish culture. Along with this, the meditative nature of the Chabad nigunim also expresses this as Jewish cultural music.

Jewish Yemenite music

Avoiding non-tin musical instruments is one of the characteristics of Jewish-Yemeni music. The reason for this is historical: The Jewish community in Yemen decided to condemn mourning practices because of the destruction of the Temple and avoided the use of musical instruments.

This avoidance cleared the stage for singing itself – most often on the basis of voice and response, that is, a person who sings a sentence and a chorus that repeats. Only after immigrating to Israel did Yemeni Jews allow themselves to begin incorporating musical instruments into their songs. Gradually, Western Yemeni music penetrated Western instruments, bringing new melodies and sub-styles.

Traditional Yemenite poetry is divided into male and female poetry. Female singing was created when women did the housework, cooked and laundered in the stream; Their texts were mainly about daily life and love, and it was mostly a woman who sang with herself and herself.

Male singing, on the other hand, was done in the Yeshiva (where they studied Talmud and Torah). The men worked during the day and studied in the evening, and then they also sang texts from the sources (holy books) together, as well as poems by poets such as Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, about whom he wrote more than 15,000 poems.

The composers were, for the most part, anonymous, so the lyrics took center stage and, more often than not, used the same melody for several different texts. The songs were grouped together into a book called “Diwan” and also sung with family rejoicing, holidays, etc.

It took Yemen time to open up to Western influences when they arrived in the country. Until then, Yemen lived in closed communities in fear that their sons and daughters would convert to Islam. Therefore, their instinct when they met the secular Jews from Europe pushed them to shut up.

Slowly they opened up, mainly thanks to the younger generation bringing the effects of the environment in, and so it happened that the music also changed and Western instruments and new harmonies were added to it. Yemeni music has undergone a lot of incarnation since it was first exposed to Western sounds and instruments and served as a colonialist inspiration for musicians who immigrated to Europe from Europe.

More and more Israeli musicians have shown great interest in recent years in ethnic styles that have been neglected with the rise of various Jewish communities to Israel. The Piyut’s return to the stage and connecting with creators and the band that will play music heard and played by their grandparents in the Diaspora are part of this trend, and Yemeni music is also undergoing creative renewal.

Madona – Isacc (combining Yemenite music)

Jewish wedding music

The music is considered as an essential part of Jewish weddings. Mainly the classical Jewish music is more likely to play during the wedding session of the Jews. Perhaps, the ceremonial wedding music plays a crucial role in the traditional wedding times.

Jewish music hits

The songs that appear here do not, of course, include all the great hits of Jewish music but are a good part of this list. From time to time we will add more and more songs here. So, let’s take a drive through to the biggest hits of the Jewish music, which will remain in history with golden speaking words and to the next decades

Some FAQs on Jewish Music

Q. What kind of music do Jews listen to?

A. Many Jews love to listen to their traditional Israeli music composition. But over the decade’s new creations in the Israel song style as well as sounds, Israel or Jews love to listen to one of the most beautiful compositions like Jazz, pop-rock, and many other Jewish music genres.

Jews are also fond of their secular songs, so they also prefer to listen to that old version of the Klezmer, Hebrew, and other secular and devotional musical forms. Jewish wedding music also looks mostly by the Jews.

Q. What does Klezmer music sound like?

Klezmer music is one of the oldest forms of Jewish music, which is also intended for the replication of human voices. And this also includes the sounds of wailing, crying, laughing.

In general, the most famous violin is solely responsible for the simulated version, which means that it sounds like the synagogue cantor. Moreover, the klezmer band also includes the bass, cello, fiddle, drum, and clarinet for creating sounds of different vibrations.

Q. What is a Jewish Singer called?

In the tradition, a Jewish singer is mainly called a Hazzan or a cantor. These hazzans are skilled musicians who know everything about the vocal arts of Jewish music. They often rectify their songs to lead the Synagogue in the prayer. Whereas cantors lead in the congregations in chanted prayers and songs serve as an assistant of rabbis is some of the gatherings.

Q. What are the two divisions of Jewish music?

Jewish music has two main divisions, one is classical Jewish music, and the second is secular Jewish music. Classical Jewish music involves the purest vocal form of music in which no musical instrument tunes take place. And they mainly hold the responses of the monophonic congregations.

The secular form influences both Jewish music tradition and sources that are preserved from past decades. It involves two types, mainly Klezmer and Ladino. These secular forms of Jewish music are liked by people all over the world.

Summary of Jewish music

To Summarize this, Jewish music is a beautiful blend of cultural diversity. It is drawn from the various resources of many different cultures in which these Jewish people live and spread in different areas of the world. However, the most important thing or the uniqueness of Jewish music is the unique way that these famous Jewish musicians collected and integrated from the outer influences.

They also bring down the new ideas of their traditional musical framework to bring something new. Jewish music culture keeps on changing as it goes to different countries. It also leaves a significant impression of their music fame. Therefore, Jewish music is overcome with the most significant innovations, adaptive vibrations, and cultural mix.

Furthermore, it also shares a beautiful amalgamation between the religious and communal expressions of Judaism. Over the centuries, Jewish music has risen in popularity and established a unique identity of Jewish music worldwide.

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