Jewish Music in the 20th Century America

Essay by winterdCollege, UndergraduateB+, May 2007

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MUET 220

Dr. Rxxxxx Pxxxxxx

TA Jxxx Lxxxxxx

February 23, 2007


Normally, as a Jewish individual, I disapprove of the notion that being Jewish American is an "ethnicity," comparable as such with being African American, Asian American, or Latino American. However, it is undeniable that there exists a central "culture" to Judaism, and as such its music can and should be studied by the standards applied to all ethnomusicology. Although the religion is not a birth-given, undeniable genetic trait, there is a sense of community associated with it, and therefore a set of values, traditions, and history associated with the community. In the Jewish culture in particular, there is a unique kind of unity: There is an immediate connection between any two members of the Jewish community, based solely on the fact that they are both Jewish. The music of the culture, both liturgical and non-liturgical, serves to preserve and promote that unity.

All Jewish music, while sharing a few common traits, also differs greatly in sound and function depending on context. Liturgical and non-liturgical music, for example, obviously would function very differently. Liturgical items in general function in a prayer context, for the purpose of worship, with a congregation as an audience, and some kind of service leader aiding the general population of the service in praying together as a group. Musical liturgy in particular produces great feelings of worship and especially unity as the entire room makes music together as one. The sound of liturgical music alone, however, also differs greatly depending on context. The three main sects of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform) have very different ways of integrating music into the worship service, although all would agree that the notion of music itself is crucial to the prayer...