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Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Identity

Continuity and Fragmentation

Brad Stetson Jonathan L. Friedmann

296 pages
Paragon House

Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Identity explores complex issues of religious pluralism and the preservation of Jewish identity in the context of American culture today, drawing on the perspective of the Cantor's office. Featured among other entries are the collected writings of Cantor William Sharlin, well-known and influential scholar, cantor, composer of synagogue music, and former professor at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles. Now cantor emeritus at Leo B'ck Temple in Los Angeles, where he has served since 1954, Cantor Sharlin is a link between the traditions of the past and the transformations of the present, and a long-time observer of music's role as both preserver and innovator of Jewish worship. The essays presented here are sure to engage readers interested in the place of music in religion, and those concerned with the state of religion in the post-modern world.
Most of what has been written about Jewish sacred music is primarily descriptive, largely unconcerned with the impact of the changing nature of synagogue song on Jewish religion and identity. Indeed, for all that has been written about the Americanization of Judaism—from ritual changes to the emphasis on social ethics—critical analysis of developments in synagogue music has been largely ignored. This volume presents a much-needed social-theoretical approach to Jewish sacred music in the post-modern synagogue, and concludes that music, far more than an aid to ritual, is a prime indicator of the state of American Judaism today, and will play a crucial role in its future transformation.

Jewish Sacred and Jewish Identity will appeal to Jewish professionals—cantors, rabbis, and educators—as well as those interested in the broader fields of Jewish studies, contemporary religion, musicology, and American religious diversity. This book is a useful text in courses on Judaism, American religion, and sacred music. It provides a unique perspective on the state of American Judaism through the eyes of the cantorate. Rather than a historical survey of Jewish sacred music in America—a topic discussed in other volumes—this book presents the insights and personal philosophies of cantors working in the contemporary synagogue. In addition, its substantial glossary amounts to a primer in Judaism, making this book useful even for those unfamiliar with the Jewish religion.