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Cantor Meyer Kanewsky's 1919 performance of a traditional setting of the last passage of Berakhot, a passage often read as part of the Sunday Morning Service in Judaism.
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The person leading the congregation in public prayers is called the shaliach tzibbur (Hebrew for "Jewish legal emissary of the congregation"), a ħazzān or sometimes called the cantor. Jewish law restricts the role to adult Jews. See also: Cantor in Reform Judaism. In theory, any lay person can be a sheliach tzibbur; most synagogue-attending Jews will serve in this role every now and again. In practice, those with the best voice and the most knowledge of the prayers serve much more often.
There are many rules relating to how a cantor should lead services, but the idea of a cantor as a paid professional does not exist in classical rabbinic sources. Jewish prayer services are collected in a prayerbook known as the siddur.
The office of the hazzan increased in importance with the centuries. As public worship was developed in the Geonic period, and as the knowledge of the Hebrew language declined, singing gradually superseded the didactic and hortatory element in the worship in the synagogue.
Even in the oldest times the chief qualifications demanded of the hazzan, in addition to knowledge of Biblical and liturgical literature as well as the prayer motifs (known as "steiger"), were a pleasant voice and an artistic delivery; for the sake of these, many faults were willingly overlooked. The hazzan was required to possess a pleasing appearance, to be married, and to have a flowing beard. Sometimes, according to Isaac of Vienna (13th century), a young hazzan having only a slight growth of beard was tolerated. Maimonides decided that the hazzan who recited the prayers on an ordinary Sabbath and on week-days need not possess an appearance pleasing to everybody; he might even have a reputation not wholly spotless, provided he was living a life morally free from reproach at the time of his appointment.
But all these moderations of the rule disappeared on holidays; then an especially worthy hazzan was demanded, one whose life was absolutely irreproachable, who was generally popular, and who was endowed with an expressive delivery. Even a person who had once litigated in a non-Jewish court, instead of to a Jewish court, in a disputed question could not act as hazzan on those days, unless he had previously done penance. However many authorities were lenient in this regard and as long as a cantor was "merutzeh l'kehal" desired by the congregation, he was permitted to lead the prayers even on the holiest of days.
Today, a hazzan, particularly in more formal (usually not Orthodox) synagogues, is likely to have academic credentials, most often a degree in music or in sacred music, sometimes a degree in music education or in Jewish religious education or a related discipline. The doctor of music degree is sometimes awarded to honour a hazzan.
Although traditionally a hazzan was always a man, today a woman can be a hazzan (also called a cantor) in all types of Judaism except for Orthodox Judaism. In July of 1955 Betty Robbins, born in Greece, became the world's first female cantor when she was appointed cantor of the Reform congregation of Temple Avodah in Oceanside, New York. Barbara Ostfeld-Horowitz became the first female cantor to be ordained in Reform Judaism in 1975, and Erica Lippitz and Marla Rosenfeld Barugel became the first female cantors in Conservative Judaism in 1987. The Cantors Assembly, a professional organization of cantors associated with Conservative Judaism, did not allow women to join until 1990. Sharon Hordes became the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Reconstructionist Judaism in 2002. Avitall Gerstetter, who lives in Germany, became the first female cantor in Jewish Renewal (and the first female cantor in Germany) in 2002. Susan Wehle became the first American female cantor in Jewish Renewal in 2006; however she died in 2009. The first American women to be ordained as cantors in Jewish Renewal after Susan Wehle's ordination were Michal Rubin and Abbe Lyons, both ordained on January 10, 2010. In 2001 Deborah Davis became the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Humanistic Judaism; however, Humanistic Judaism has since stopped graduating cantors.
The role of hazzanim (Hebrew plural of hazzan) as a respected full-time profession has become a reality in recent centuries. In the last two centuries Jews in a number of European communities, notably Germany and Britain, came to view professionally trained hazzanim as clergy and the hazzan as the deputy rabbi. After the enlightenment, when European nations gave full citizenship and civil rights to Jews, professionally trained hazzanim were accepted by the secular governments as clergy in the same way that rabbis were accepted as clergy.
In an interesting turn of events, the United States government recognized cantors as the first Jewish clergy, even before rabbis were recognized—as a congregation could be organized and led by a committee of Jewish "laymen", who would not have the expertise in liturgy a hazzan would have, newly forming congregations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries sometimes hired a hazzan for a synagogue (and made sure that a kosher butcher was established in the neighborhood) for some time before setting about hiring a rabbi, seeing the hazzan (and the butcher) as a more immediate need. The hazzan therefore solemnized marriages and otherwise represented the congregation in the eyes of civil authorities.
In the United States, many hazzanim supplement their ministry by also earning certification as and working as mohels, for bris ceremonies.
In the United States there are three major organizations for professionally trained hazzanim, one from each of the major Jewish denominations.
- American Conference of Cantors—Reform Judaism
- Cantors Assembly—Conservative Judaism
- Cantorial Council of America—Orthodox Judaism
Many members of the Cantors Assembly are trained at the H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Many members of the American Conference of Cantors are trained at the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Unon College—Jewish Institute of Religion, School of Sacred Music (New York) Reform. Both of these programs offer a five year training program. Full cantorial training is also offered by the pluralistic seminary The Academy for Jewish Religion, with campuses in New York and Los Angeles, and through ALEPH, the movement for Jewish Renewal.
The curriculum for students in these programs generally include, but are not limited to:
- Hebrew: modern, Biblical (Torah), and liturgical (Siddur)
- Nusach (liturgical tradition)
- Laws and traditions pertaining to Jewish prayer service
- History and content of the siddur
- Music theory, sight-reading sheet music
- Playing an instrument, usually a piano or guitar
- Singing technique
- Cantillation—tropes for the liturgical chanting of biblical books
- Choral conducting
- Jewish history
- Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament)
- Jewish music history
- Pastoral care and counseling
The period between the two World Wars is often referred to as the "golden age" of hazzanut (cantorial performance). The greats include Zavel Kwartin (1874–1953), Moritz Henle (1850–1925), Joseph "Yossele" Rosenblatt (1882–1933), Gershon Sirota (1874–1943), and Leib Glantz.
In the post–World War II period, prominent cantors were Moshe Koussevitzky, David Werdyger, Frank Birnbaum, Richard Tucker and Abraham Lopes Cardozo (1914–2006). Operatic tenor Jan Peerce, whose cantorial recordings were highly regarded, was never a cantor by profession but he often cantored during the high holidays.
Popular contemporary cantors include Shmuel Barzilai, Naftali Hershtik, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, Ari Klein, Yaakov Lemmer, Joseph Malovany, Benzion Miller, Alberto Mizrahi and Yaakov Yoseph Stark, Jochen (Yaacov) Fahlenkamp.
- History of religious Jewish music
- Jewish services
- Syrian Cantors
- Academy for Jewish Religion
- The Reform Jewish Cantorate during the 19th Century
- Cantors Assembly
- Geoffrey Wigoder; Fred Skolnik; Shmuel Himelstein, eds. (2002). "Cantor and cantorial music". The New Encyclopedia of Judaism. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-9388-6.
- "The Cantor". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 581
- "Betty Robbins | Jewish Women's Archive". Jwa.org. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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- Goldman, Ari L. (September 19, 1990). "A Bar to Women as Cantors Is Lifted". The New York Times.
- "Cantor Sharon Hordes". Kenesethisrael.com. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- "Cantorial/Hazzanut/Liturgical - CD Cantor Susan Wehle OB"M Songs of Healing & Hope | J. Levine Books & Judaica |". Levinejudaica.com. 2005-07-26. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- Haughney, Christine (February 15, 2009). "'It's Not Even Six Degrees of Separation. It's One.'". The New York Times.
- "Tikkun v'Or, Ithaca, NY - Celebration in honor of Cantor Abbe Lyons". Tikkunvor.org. 2010-02-07. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- "Contributions of Jewish Women to Music and Women to Jewish Music". JMWC. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
- "Cantor Tannoz Bahremand Forunzanfar; Academy for Jewish Religion, California". Ajrca.org. Retrieved August 10th, 2013.
- "HUC-JIR: Statistics". Hebrew Union College -- Jewish Institute of Religion. Retrieved 2013-03-04.
- American Conference of Cantors
- Cantors Assembly
- Belz School of Jewish Music