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From Aesthetics to Experience: How Changing Conceptions of Prayer Changed the Sound of Jewish Worship

  • Ari Y. Kelman and Jeremiah Lockwood


This article tracks changes in conceptions of American Jewish congregational prayer music during the second half of the twentieth century, paying specific attention to the late 1960s and early 1970s. During those years, more than fifty albums of new American Jewish synagogue music were released. These drew on the sounds of folk and rock music, and they represented a shift from the sounds of classical cantorial synagogue music. These changes have largely been understood as a shift away from cantorial styles, which emphasized performance and virtuosity, and toward more accessible and more participatory forms of prayer. This article contributes to our understanding of the sounds of American Jewish prayer practices by attending to the larger discourses in which the musical changes were situated. By listening to the music, reading album liner notes, and contemporaneous writings about Jewish prayer music, we discover a shift in descriptions and expectations of how Jewish prayer ought to work, from one that emphasizes the aesthetics of the music to one that emphasizes the experience of the music. We argue that music is one element of a larger shift in how people who made music for congregational prayer understood prayer and how best to engage congregations in that practice.



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Ouri, and Amar, David, Look Around (self-release, 1977, LP),
Beth Sholom United Synagogue Youth with Cantor Neil Newman, Chants For Peace (Elkins Park, PA, 1970, LP).
BIFTY Folk Rock Group, Creation Beriya (Bridgeport, CT: self release, 1981, LP).
Bloch, Robert, Lowe, Sanford, and Sorterberg, Kirsten, Kabbalat Shabbat—Sing unto the Lord a New Song (Valley Stream, NY: Self-release, 1968, LP),
Carlebach, Shlomo, Hanshomoh Loch (New York: Zimray Records Z-201, 1959, LP).
Carlebach, Shlomo, At the Village Gate (New York: Vanguard VSD 2133, 1963, LP),
The Chosen Ones, The Chosen Ones (Fran Records FRS115, 1968, LP),
Coopersmith, Harry, Shabbat Shalom (New York City: Collectors Guild JEC 1001, 1963, LP),
Davidson, Martin, Untitled test pressing (New York City: Horace Promotions, 1975, Unreleased Acetate),
Edgar, Cantor Ray, Chorale, Zamir, Ensemble, Rock, The Hush of Midnight (Elkins Park, PA: Amim Records 425-A, 1970, LP),
Fiddlers, Fabrengen, Shneyer, David, Soul Joy-Simchat HaNefesh (Washington DC: Fabrangen, 1972, LP),
The Four Voices, Our Rock and Our Redeemer (New York: Monitor Records MFS 720, ND, LP),
Friedman, Debbie, Sing unto God (St. Paul, MN: Sound 80 Minneapolis S80-321-2290S, 1972, LP).
Friedman, Debbie, Ani Ma'amin (Houston, TX: Encore Productions S80-1208, 1974, LP),
Friedman, Debbie, Tov Lanu Lashir (Saratoga, CA: UAHC Camp Swig, 1975, LP),
Goffin, Sherwood, Neshomo (New York: Galton, D-5803, 1972, LP),
Nashira, Hava, Songs from a BBYO Summer (B'nay Brith Youth Organization: VMNP BBYO 4-2,1977, LP),
Kingsley, Gershon, Shabbat 68 (East Orange, NJ: KNL Records GK-2686, 1968, LP),
Kingsley, Gershon, Shabbat for Today (KNL Music Corporation: LP-GK-2686).
Klein, Jonathan, Hear, O Israel (New York: National Federation of Temple Youth, 1968, LP),
The Mark 3 Orchestra and Singers, The New Jewish Sound (Fran Records FRS107, 1966, LP),
The Messengers, The “In” Jewish Sound (Israel: CBS Records S63961, 1969, LP),
Ne'eman, Amitai, Gesher T'filot “A Bridge of Prayers” (New York: Metropolitan Synagogue Creative Arts Fund MS104, ND, LP),
Orchestra, Neginah, The Jewish Education Program Choir Sings Reach Out (Mastertone Studios JEP-100, ND, LP),
National Federation of Temple Youth Levites with Cantor Raymond Smolover, Edge of Freedom (White Plains, NY: Bell Records Bell 6021, ND, LP),
National Federation of Temple Youth Singers, Songs NFTY Sings (Warwick, NY: North American Federation of Temple Youth, 1972, LP),
The Noam Singers, The New Dimension in Hebrew Singing (New York: Tikvah Records T130 ND),
Teperow, Alan and Nelson, Alan, Shirikudiah (Boston, MA: Trans Radio, TR 1024A, ND, LP),
Re'im, Duo, Welcome Shabbath with Duo Re'im (Israel: Hed-Arzi, BAN 14660, 1977),
Revival, Ruach, Ruchaynu (Long Island City, NY: Menorah Records MEN LP 900, 1972, LP),
Revival, Ruach, The Ruach Revival Rolls Again (Long Island City, NY: Menorah Records MEN LP 902, 1976),
Salkov, Cantor Abraham, Junior Congregation Chants (Los Angeles: Bureau of Jewish Education, ND, LP),
Segal, Cantor Robert, Oneg Shabbat with USY (Department of Youth Activities of the United Synagogue of America, ND, LP),
Segal, Cantor Robert, Shabbat at Home (National Women's League United Synagogue of America, ND, LP),
Joseph and Nathan Segal, Songs of Praise (self release, 1976, LP),
Serenade, Oneg Shabbat (San Rafael, CA: Serenade Productions, 1978, LP),
Smolover, Raymond, Zamir Chorale, Gates of Freedom (White Plains, NY: Covenant Records 6312, 1968, LP),
Smolover, Raymond, Sim Shalom-Jazz Rock Service (Pittsburgh, PA: self release, 1970, LP).
Songs NFTY Sings, Shiru Shir Chadash—Sing a New Song (Kutz Camp, Warwick, NY: NFTY CO 6264, 1973, LP),
Various Artists, Beginnings (Los Angeles: KM Records KM 10811, ND, LP).
The Young People of Shaari Emeth, Englishtown, New Jersey, Sing Out It's Shabbos (Englishtown, NJ: self release, TSE-1, ND, LP),
Zim, Sol, David Superstar (New York: Zimray Records Zimray 102, 1974, LP),
Bagley, David, Cantor David Bagley Sings Great Liturgical Masterpieces (self release, ACR-5036, ND, LP),
Gornish, Shaindele, Sheyndele Sings the Songs of Her People (New York: Margot Records, ND, LP),
Malavsky, Goldie, Songs by Goldie Malavsky and the Malavsky Family Choir (New York: Tikva Records, ND, EP),
Orbach, Harold, Masterpieces of the American Synagogue (Tinton Falss, NJ: Musical Heritage Society MHS 4245, 1980, LP),
Rubinstein, Eliezer, Cantor Eliezer Rubinstein Sings (New York: Greater Recording Company, 1964, LP),
Siegel, Benjamin, Traditional Prayers and Chants (Great Neck, NY: Filreet Records, ND, LP),
Sirota, Gershon, Sings a Holiday Service (New York: Greater Recording Company, 1965, LP),
Stern, Moshe, Cantor Moshe Stern Sings Cantorial Masterpieces (Magnatone Records 1971, LP),

From Aesthetics to Experience: How Changing Conceptions of Prayer Changed the Sound of Jewish Worship

  • Ari Y. Kelman and Jeremiah Lockwood


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