Altschul, Joseph

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ALTSCHUL, JOSEPH (1839–1908), ḥazzan and improviser of synagogue songs. Altschul, who was commonly known as Yosh(k)e Slonimer, was born in Vilna. He went to Courland for talmudic studies, and there became a successful singer (solo soprano) with a local ḥazzan. He was appointed cantor, but preferred to perfect his singing and became apprentice to the famous ḥazzanYeruham *Blindman at Berdichev. Altschul is said to have copied the latter's style for some years but developed his own when he was town ḥazzan (ḥazzan de-mata) at Slonim (1870–88). Altschul gained wide popularity, attracted pupils from Lithuania and Poland, and was noted for his rabbinic knowledge. From 1888 until his death, Altschul served as a ḥazzan at Grodno.

Only four small works which Altschul noted down for Eduard *Birnbaum, a small fraction of his numerous compositions and improvisations, have been preserved. Some of these include easily mastered, almost popular tunes in 6/8 time which are inserted into the cantorial recitative, a predominant Lithuanian feature. The popular trend is also evident in his melodies for congregational singing.


Idelsohn, Melodien, 8 (1932), v, xxiii (introd.) and nos. 254–7; E. Zaludkowski, Kulturtreger fun der Yidisher Liturgie (1930), 130–3.

[Hanoch Avenary]