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This article is about a type of Jewish religious music, Nigun. For the main article on religious Jewish music, see Religious Jewish music.

Nigun (pl. nigunim) [Hebrew: ניגון] is a Hebrew term meaning “humming tune.” Usually, the term refers to religious songs and tunes that are sung by groups. It is a form of voice instrumental music, often without any lyrics or words, although sounds like “bim-bim-bam” or “Ai-ai-ai!” are often used. Sometimes, Bible verses or quotes from other classical Jewish texts are sung repetitively in the form of a nigun. Nigunim are largely improvisations, though they could be based on thematic passage and are stylized in form. Nigunim are also sung as a Jewish prayer in the form of a lament. Other nigunim may be joyous or victorious.

A revival of interest in Jewish music was sparked as part of Hasidism. Different Hasidic groups have their own nigunim, often composed by their Rebbe or leader. Hasidim gather around holidays to sing in groups. There are also nigunim for individual meditation, called devekus or devekut (connecting with God) nigunim. These are usually much slower than around-the-table nigunim, and are almost always sung without lyrics. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, spoke of devekus nigunim as “songs that transcend syllables and sound.” Several tunes attributed to him are still used today.

Some nigunim originate from non-Jewish sources. Hasidic Jews, based on a practice of their founder Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, have adapted anthems and even folk songs, ascribing them a new spiritual dimension. For example, Chabad Hasidim have adopted the French tunes of La Marseillaise and Napoleon’s March, as well as Russian or German drinking songs as a part of their liturgy. Many Hasidim believe that these songs, in their secular forms, are in spiritual exile. By adapting them to liturgical forms, they are “raising Holy Sparks” according to the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s system of kabbalah. The process continues to this day, with new nigunim emerging from time to time.

Nigunim are usually sung at Farbrengenges — large gatherings of Jews who come together to sing and to discuss spiritual concepts. The belief is that, when you sing a nigun, the soul of the rabbi who created it appears in the room.

Chabad Niggunim


Pinson, DovBer, Inner Rhythms: The Kabbalah of Music, Jason Aronson, Inc. 2000. Excellent chapters on the history of Jewish music, the various types and uses of Hasidic nigunim, etc.

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