And some more about music in the Synagogue

synagoga konsertAfter our meeting today with the synagogue ushers, were I read the following. I felt I have to share and expand my article on the history of music. The text here copied is from the CCAR Responsa, the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It answers probably all those who wonder where does Jewish law stand on the question. Notice that the references are the traditional codex’s, even if this responsa comes from the reform movement:

“Some traditional authorities have felt that all music, both vocal and instrumental, is out of place in Jewish life (San 101a; Git 7a). This was the opinion of Mar Ukba who based it upon the verse, “Do not rejoice O Israel among the peoples” (Hos 9.1). This was introduced as a form of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. This prohibition was also found in the later codes and some responsa (Maimonides Responsa (ed) Freimann #370; Yad Hil Taanit 5.14; Tur Orah Hayim 560). These strict statements were, however, modified by custom so that rejoicing and music at weddings became permitted. It was considered permissible to ask a non-Jew to play an instrument at this happy time (Yad Hil Taanit 514; Tur Orah Hayim 338; Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 560.3). Others permitted music and based it on the comment of Mar Ukba, at the beginning of the tractate Berakhot, stating that only love songs were prohibited, but music which praised God was permitted. Leon De Modena (1571 – 1648) provided a thorough discussion of the sources and indicated that there was no logic in prohibiting beautiful music which praises God without also asking cantors to sing off-key to obey such an injunction. According to him both instrumental and vocal music were permitted in the synagogue (Zikhnei Yehudah #6). Music which accompanied a mitzvah is permitted. A trend toward leniency may be seen in the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayim 561.3).
In modern times the question has arisen again in a different fashion through the controversy over the organ in the synagogue. The numerous responsa on this issue dealt with instrumental music during the service (Die Orgelfrage; Eleh Divrei Haberit; David Hoffmann, Melamed Lehoil Vol 1 #16). Our question arose also during the Nazi period when synagogues suddenly became the center for all Jewish life, both religious and cultural. The Orthodox authority Yehiel Weinberg prohibited secular concerts in his synagogue in Berlin; he felt that even religious concerts should be preceded by psalms to provide a spiritual setting (Seridei Esh, Vol 2 #12). Liberal Jews, faced with the same problem in Nazi Germany, agreed to the use of synagogues for secular concerts. They felt that serious music did not violate the spiritual character of the synagogue. We would agree to the use of a synagogue for concerts in keeping with the mood and purpose of the synagogue”.


So let’s continue praising God with all the resources we have as I do, and thank God for the beautiful place I have the honor to be singing at.

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