A 150 year tradition is coming to an end

organAnd if you listened to the link I mentioned in my last post, you’ll agree that the organ has a very special part in the piece, as it does in almost all those traditional melodies we sing in the Great Synagogue of Stockholm.

Well, the organ won’t be part of our services according to a decision made by the community’s leadership when making cuts in the budget and which will also put away from the beginning of 2010 the organ in the Synagogue, an integral part of services and which has been played since 1870.

I sometimes feel that even if I have been here only 9 years, keeping the tradition of the Great Synagogue is one if not the most important of my priorities. Melodies of the German Ashkenazik tradition are not used so often anymore worldwide, the trend is to sing catchy melodies for singing along, as if we were in Skansen, a park in Stockholm, were in the summer a festival is made to “Sing Along”. Yes,  nowadays even guitars are part of services, because it is important that more people will come and participate, and if there are drums and one could dance by the rithm of Adon Olam or Ein Keloheinu, how much the better. I heard there is such a synagogue in Manhatan, well, this isn’t a disco, and certainly not this beautiful Synagogue with its long tradition. I agree it is not that you come to a service to listen to a concert, but……cantorial tradition is worth keeping, it is our duty to preserve and enhance the traditions of Jewish prayer and synagogue. And if you come regularly you’ll be able to follow, I am sure. I sometimes tell my b.m. students that it wouldn’t be appreciated if they sung their haftorah, a text read from the prophets each Shabbat, with a Madonna melody, and they’ll agree with a smile in their face, and will then do the effort and learn the traditional nusach, the proper mode, while chanting texts more than 2300 years old.

So back to the organ.  Did you know that even if many think its very “churchlike”, that the first organs date to the Temple in Jerusalem?, the “magrepha” mentioned by Rav Shmuel in the Talmud (Arachin. 10b, 11a; see Rashi ad loc.). it had ten openings in it, each emitting ten musical notes, such that altogether it produced a hundred musical notes.  In the language of the Mishna (Tamid 5, 6) “that the moment of the sound made by the magrepha in the entire city of Jerusalem, no one could hear his friend speaking!”

If you heard the musical piece I mentioned at the beginning of this post, did you think it sounded like a Mass in the church?. Or do you think it does not sound Jewish?.

So, even if your answer is yes to the first question,  what is so wrong with it?. Haven’t we been adapting other things from other cultures and traditions, as for example we do with the Passover meal, like in the Symposium, a definitely Greek tradition , read Seder, in Hebrew , for those interested in the subject, more about it can be read at: “The Influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah” in The Journal of Jewish Studies. by Rabbi Golinkin President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Understand me right, I am all against to have our Synagogue being called a Church, or even the attemps there are to make it a Concert Hall, or a Museum (that will be material for a future note), but by getting rid of the organ we’re really not making our services more jewish, on the contrary, bringing to an end a 140 year old tradition present ever since its inauguration, is a mistake, and I also believe that by keeping it, we will be able to bring back melodies composed for organ and Cantor as those Rabbi Jehoshua Narrowe missed last month at his niece’s bat mitzva, melodies he remembered from his childhood composed by my predecessor Cantor Leo Rosenbluth z”l., which are unique, and our responsabillity to preserve.larsgunnar

So let’s find ways to keep it, and last but not least keep our organist Lars Gunnar Sommarbäck, who has been playing it for 25 years and certainly a “connoisseur” of the melodies we use.


  1. This is a serious mistake by the community’s leadership! Classic example of what one shouldn’t do in a financial crisis. Instead of rolling back on the few things people actually enjoy, they should focus on it. What a tremendous waste it would be to have an organ in the temple and not use it. The organ is one of the very few things that make the great Stockholm Synagogue so unique and is a tradition well worth keeping.
    I understand that when the economy is in a pinch, one starts to look for things to cut down on. But as I already have pointed out, the basic recipe for disaster is to strangle the few things that are actually working. Don’t send a winning horse to the slaughter.

  2. Hello. I came across the article on the organ at the great synagogue in Stockholm (which I visited in 2003!), because I was trying to find out the year of Cantor Rosenblueth’s passing. I am finishing a major bibliography on Jewish vocal music and am doing the final editing before i send it to my publisher. Do you know what year Cantor Rosenblueth passed away?

    Many thanks for your help,

    Cantor Ken Jaffe
    Los Angeles

  3. Hello.

    Cantor Rosenblüth passed away in December 2000.

    Peter Könyves
    Gabbai in the Great Synagogue since 1984

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