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Jewish Music

Jewish revolt, Jewish Music, Jewish population, Levites, Jewish people

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Jewish Music, religious, folk, and popular music of the Jewish people. The historical experience of the Jewish people has led to a long and distinctive music tradition. Until the 1st century, Jewish spiritual and musical life centered around the city of Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel and site of the Temple, a Jewish religious focus. Three times a year pilgrims bearing the fruits of agricultural labor came to the Temple, where a hereditary caste of musicians, the Levites, performed intricate music as described in the Bible. The Jewish people also held small services in synagogues, where folk music may have been performed in a manner similar to the musical styles of neighboring Middle Eastern peoples.

The defeat of the Jewish revolt against occupying Roman armies in Jerusalem, and the subsequent destruction of the Second Temple in 70, led to a scattering of the Jewish population in the 1st and 2nd centuries. During this period of Diaspora (the dispersion of the Jews outside Israel), Jewish music entered a second phase that has lasted nearly 2000 years. Because of the Diaspora and a lack of historical documentation, a core of ancient Jewish music common to all communities cannot be identified. Until the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Jews lived in communities throughout the world—in countries such as the United States, Canada, France, India, and China—as non-Israeli Jews continue to do today. Thus the Jewish people spoke many different languages and were strongly influenced in their everyday life, including in their music making, by the ways of their non-Jewish neighbors. However, Jews in these disparate communities continued to recite common sacred Jewish texts and to observe the daily and yearly prayers and rituals of those texts.


Slobin, Mark, B.A., Ph.D.

Professor of Music, Wesleyan University. Author of "Tenement Songs: The Popular Music of the Jewish Immigrants", "Old Jewish Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovski", and other books.

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