Cantors, Controversy, & Compassion: Searching for God in Musical Complexity

By :  Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Apr 15, 2021 | Musical Journeys with The Library of JTS | Prayer

What are the spiritual possibilities of music? Five-hundred years ago, rabbis, cantors and Jewish musicians began to explore this question in dramatic new ways. Extended niggunim, orchestras to welcome the Sabbath bride, meshorerim (musical assistants to the cantor), new Hebrew treatises on music, and the borrowing of European musical technique and style contributed to this experimental climate in the synagogues of early modern Europe. But these changes also incited concern and anger from traditionalists, who worried that musical complexity would compromise the halachic and spiritual integrity of authentic prayer.

Cantor Matthew Austerklein (CS ’11) discusses these early Jewish worship wars. He examines the fiery critics of cantorial practice, emerging music theologians, and experimental cantors alike, as well as uncovers illustrations, manuscripts, and musical notation from this momentous era of cantorial innovation. Many of these sources are held in the Rare Book Room of The JTS Library.

Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian and professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, JTS, served as moderator.

This series is co-sponsored by The JTS Library and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.