ḤAZZAN (pl. Ḥazzanim ) (Heb. חַזָּנִים ,חַזָּן), cantor officiating in a synagogue; used in this specific sense since the Middle Ages.
History of Role and Function
The word frequently occurs in talmudic sources, where it denotes various types of communal officials, most prominently the ḥazzan ha-keneset. This official performed certain duties in the synagogue, such as bringing out the Torah scrolls for readings (Sotah 7:7–8) and blowing a trumpet to announce the commencement of the Sabbath and festivals (Tosef., Suk. 4:12). He was not, however, regularly required to chant the synagogue service but could do so by request (tj, Ber. 9:1, 12d); in talmudic times there was no permanent cantor and any member of the congregation might be asked to act as sheli'aḥ ẓibbur (tj, Ber. 5:3, 9c). It was during the period of the geonim that the ḥazzan became the permanent sheli'aḥ ẓibbur. Among the factors which contributed to this change were the increasing complexity of the liturgy and the decline in the knowledge of Hebrew, together with a desire to enhance the beauty of the service through its musical content. The ḥazzan ha-keneset, who traditionally guarded the correct texts and selected new prayers, was a natural choice. When *piyyutim began to take an important place in the liturgy of the synagogue, it was the ḥazzan who would recite them and provide suitable melodies. Some of the paytanim were themselves ḥazzanim. The recitation of the piyyutim was called ḥizana (ḥizanatun) by the Arabic-speaking paytanim and the Hebrew equivalent ḥazzanut (ḥazzaniyyah among Sephardi communities) came to refer to the traditional form of chanting the whole service, and later to the profession of cantor also.
During the Middle Ages the status of the ḥazzanim rose, and they were given better salaries, longer tenure of office, and more communal tax exemptions. The post of ḥazzan was "the most permanent and continuous synagogue office, one which underwent relatively few changes after the early Middle Ages" (Baron, Community, 2 (1942), 100). In Northern Europe eminent rabbis served as ḥazzanim, among them Jacob *Moellin ha-Levi (Maharil) of Mainz (c. 1360–1427), who established strict norms for Ashkenazi ḥazzanim and some of whose chants are still in use. Gradually, the qualifications demanded of a ḥazzan became fixed. He was required to have a pleasant voice and appearance, to be married, to have a beard, to be fully familiar with the liturgy, to be of blameless character, and to be acceptable in all other respects to the members of the community (Sh. Ar., Oh 53:4ff.). These strict requirements were modified occasionally, but were rigorously enforced on the High Holy Days. Ironically, the growing popularity of the ḥazzan made him the most controversial communal official. His dual role of religious representative and artistic performer inevitably gave rise to tensions (which persist in modern times). In many communities priority was given to a beautiful voice and musical skill over the traditional requirements of learning and piety. Leading rabbis castigated the ḥazzanim for needless repetition of words and for extending their chanting of the prayers with the sole purpose of displaying the beauty of their voices.
The emancipation of European Jewry led to important changes in the style and content of synagogue music. Traditional melodies were now set down in musical notation with harmonies to be sung by ḥazzan and choir. New melodies were composed under the influence of modern European musical trends and techniques. The pioneer in this field was Solomon *Sulzer, chief ḥazzan in Vienna from 1825 to 1890; he was closely followed by Samuel *Naumbourg of Paris, Louis *Lewandowski of Berlin, Hirsch *Weintraub of Koenigsberg, Moritz *Deutsch of Breslau, Abraham *Baer of Goteborg, Sweden, and many others. The ḥasidic movement, where the rabbi recited the prayers, and parts of the Reform movement which substituted the plain reading of the liturgy for the office of ḥazzan, remained outside this development. Indeed the joyful tunes of the Ḥasidim gradually became popular with many Orthodox communities. The use of the organ and mixed choirs introduced by the *Reform movement radically changed cantorial music. Hebrew and German prayer texts were chanted to German chorale tunes; these replaced the traditional prayer music. Rabbi Isaac M. Wise, architect of American Jewish Reform, substituted the plain reading of liturgy for the office of ḥazzan. Only a few houses of worship retained ḥazzanim (e.g., Alois Kaiser) who tried to develop a tradition of American synagogue music. Classical reform in the U.S. was modified under the impact of the Zionist movement and East European immigration, and pressure grew to restore traditional forms of worship. Two ḥazzanim who became professors, A.W. Binder at the *Jewish Institute of Religion and A.Z. Idelsohn at the *Hebrew Union College, reintroduced traditional liturgy and music into Reform rabbinical studies.
The period from the end of the 19th century until World War ii is described as the "Golden Era of Ḥazzanut." Cantorial music had a singular appeal to the Jewish masses, who would fill their synagogues to overflowing in order to hear an outstanding ḥazzan. Improved communications enabled leading ḥazzanim to tour Jewish communities on a far greater scale than previously, thus increasing their reputations, sometimes to legendary proportions. They were equated with the great operatic tenors of the time, whose style they grew to imitate. Even non-Jews were attracted to the synagogues to hear famous ḥazzanim and Gershon *Sirota was invited annually to sing for the czar. Following the mass emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to the U.S., great ḥazzanim like Sirota, Josef *Rosenblatt, Mordechai *Herschman, and Zavel *Kwartin gave concert tours in America, where all of them, except Sirota, remained. They were able to command enormous salaries and fees for concerts and High Holy Day services.
A major factor in building up the reputations and perpetuating the fame of the great ḥazzanim was the development of sound recordings, beginning with the first cantorial disk made by Sirota in 1903. Furthermore, lesser ḥazzanim adopted the style and melodies of the great cantors which they learnt from the records, and the singing of famous musical compositions became a chief attraction of synagogue services. In the postwar period prominent ḥazzanim included Moshe *Koussevitzky and his brothers Jacob, Simchah, and David, Leib *Glanz, Israel Alter, Moshe Ganchoff, Pierre Pinchik, Leibele Waldman, Sholom Katz, and, in the younger generation, Moshe Stern. Some, such as Richard *Tucker and Jan *Peerce, achieved international fame as operatic tenors, but retained their contact with the synagogue through recordings and High Holiday and Passover services. In Israel the development of ḥazzanut lagged behind the U.S. However, the regular radio programs devoted to both Ashkenazi and Sephardi ḥazzanut had a large following. Many of the world's leading ḥazzanim sang in Israel and a cantorial conference was held there in 1968. Ḥazzanim served in the chaplaincy corps of the Israel army, but only the large towns employed ḥazzanim on a regular basis. A number of successful ḥazzanim were attracted to the U.S., Great Britain, and South Africa, where the financial rewards were much greater. Most major Jewish communities in the world had professional associations of ḥazzanim and several bulletins and journals were regularly published. An important factor in assuring the future development of ḥazzanut was the growth of cantorial training schools, in the U.S. (at Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Hebrew Union College), in Great Britain (at Jews' College), and in Israel (at the Selah Seminary in Tel Aviv, and elsewhere).
In the 1970s the growing shortage of qualified ḥazzanim in the Diaspora was partly met by the increasing tendency on the part of Israeli ḥazzanim to officiate in communities in the Diaspora on the High Holy Days. A number of Diaspora ḥazzanim who immigrated to Israel, on retirement devoted themselves to the training of ḥazzanim (among them was Shelomoh Mandel of Johannesburg). In 1979, the Israel Institute for Religious Music in Jerusalem issued Ve-Shinantam Le-Vonecha for the teaching of the cantillation of the Bible according to the various traditions, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Moroccan, and Yemenite, edited by its director Judah Kadaki, with the expert advice of Prof. I. Yeivin and Dr. Avigdor Herzog. In 1980 it issued two records of the traditional liturgy recordings of the prayers of the Jews of Salonika and Libya.
The First World Conference on Jewish Music, held in Jerusalem in 1978, included various aspects of ḥazzanut.
From 1977, an annual "Ḥazzanut Week" was held in Tel Aviv with the regular participation of David Koussevitzky. In 1978, the ḥazzan Shelomoh Ravitz, who has been in Tel Aviv since 1932, was appointed a "Yakir Tel Aviv" (Distinguished Citizen of Tel Aviv). Synagogue choirs are rare in Israel, but that of the Central Synagogue of Haifa, established by the ḥazzan Leon Kornitzer, was regarded as one of the best in the world, and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 1979. From 1950 it was conducted by Isaac Heilman.
The 1980s saw the gradual disappearance of ḥazzanut from synagogues in Israel, with only a few synagogues employing professional cantors. The only synagogue in the country with a permanent choir for Sabbaths and holidays was the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, led by Eli Jaffe. Concert ḥazzanut was replacing synagogue ḥazzanut as the number of well-attended cantorial concerts continued to grow. In 1986, Dr. Mordecai Sobol established the Yuval Ensemble, composed of cantors, singers, and instrumentalists. The ensemble appeared in liturgical music concerts throughout Israel; it also took part in the Israel Festival in 1991. Cantorial training schools were founded in Tel Aviv, Bat Yam, Petaḥ Tikvah, and Jerusalem. The Renanot Institute, directed by Ezra Barnea, continued the dissemination of the melodies of the various Jewish communities. Tape recordings were produced for the High Holy Day, Festival, and Sabbath prayers and for the Passover Seder in the style of the different Jewish communities.
The series of books edited by Yehuda Kadari, Ve-Shinantem le-Vanekha, for the study of Torah cantillation in the tradition of the various Jewish communities, was completed. Renanot published Mi-Zimrat Kedem, edited by Edwin Seroussi, on the life of the Turkish cantor and Rabbi Isaac Algazi, one of the greatest Sephardi cantors.
The Tel Aviv Beth Hatefutsoth Museum's Center for Jewish Music, under the direction of Dr. Avner Bahat, began operations in 1982 and among other things has produced tapes of prayers in the traditions of the Jewish communities of Koenigsberg and Danzig sung by Cantor Naftaly Herstik as well as of works by the composer Alberto Hamzi. Tel Aviv University's music department marked the 80th birthday of Prof. Ḥanoch Avenary, an outstanding contemporary scholar of Jewish music and ḥazzanut, with a special edition of its journal, Orbis Musica. Two books by Akiva Zimmerman appeared in Tel Aviv, Be-Ron Yaḥad (1988), on the world of liturgical and Jewish music, and Sha'arei Ron (1992), on ḥazzanut in responsa literature and Jewish law. In 1992, upon the 50th anniversary of the death of the singer and cantor Joseph Schmidt, there was established in Tel Aviv a public committee to perpetuate his memory. Thus far there has appeared a memorial tape with selections of prayers and songs from Joseph Schmidt's repertoire sung by Cantor Moshe Stern. This tape was produced by the curator of the Jewish museum in Augsburg, Ayala-Helga Deutsch.
Prof. Isaac Bacon of Beersheba and Bar-Ilan universities published a book in 1991 containing the tunes of his father, Cantor Hirsch Leib Bacon. This is the first time the melodies of this cantor, who was extremely well known in Galicia, have appeared in print. Worthy of note is the book of melodies published by Dr. Zvi Talmon, Pa'amei ha-Heikhal (1992), which offers tunes for Sabbath and Festival prayers and is a continuation of his first book, Rinat ha-Heikhal which appeared in 1965.
England was the only country in Europe which had organized ḥazzanut activity. The Cantors Association organized concerts on Ḥanukkah and Lag Ba-Omer and published an annual Cantors Review, edited by Elie Delieb. In Belgium, Pinḥas Khallenberg, who for 43 years had served as ḥazzan of the Central Synagogue in Brussels, died. He had also served as the senior Jewish chaplain of the Belgian army and was known as a painter and writer.
Leo Rosenblatt, for close to half a century ḥazzan in the Central Synagogue of Stockholm, retired. His Ha-Shirim asher le-Yehudah was published by the Cantors Assembly of New York in 1979.
The memorial day in honor of Salomon *Sulzer in commemoration of 100 years since his death was marked in his city of birth, Hohenems, with the naming of a street after him. In 1990, the Austrian government produced a special postage stamp in his honor. In 1985 Prof. Ḥanoch Avenary published a book devoted to Sulzer and his times. An important work for the field of ḥazzanut, Hebrew Notated Manuscript Sources up to circa 1840, written by Prof. Israel Adler, head of Jerusalem's Center for Jewish Music, appeared in 1985.
Three works treating liturgical traditions of Amsterdam Jewish communities appeared; Shirei Ḥazzanei Amsterdam, edited by Cantor Hans Blumenthal, is devoted to the prayer services of the Amsterdam Ashkenazi congregation, while Tenu Shevaḥ ve-Shirah and Mi-Yagon le-Simḥah edited by Cantor Abraham Lopes Cardozo, addresses itself to the tunes of Amsterdam's Portuguese community.
In England the status of ḥazzanut declined and the London synagogues were forced to reduce cantors' salaries. In 1988 a concert including cantorial music was given in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Soon after the collapse of the Communist regime in Eastern Europe, concerts of cantorial music were held in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and the area of the former U.S.S.R. with the participation of cantors from Israel and the United States. An academy for Jewish music and ḥazzanut was established in Moscow with the support of the Joint Distribution Committee and Cantor Joseph Malovany, its director.
The chief cantor of the Vienna Jewish community, Abraham Adler, who retired in 1992 after holding the position for 17 years, published two volumes of his works as Zeluta de-Avraham.
The final stamp minted by East Germany prior to its reunification with West Germany in 1991 featured the composer Louis Lewandowski, who had been the choir conductor at the Oranienburgerstrasse synagogue in Berlin, a synagogue destroyed on Kristallnacht and now being restored.
In 1985 a Joseph Schmidt Archive was established in Rueti near Zurich. The collection contains recordings, documents, announcements, and much other material on the life history of the singer and cantor Joseph Schmidt. The initiator of the archive and its director is Alfred Fassbind, who in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Schmidt's death published a biography on him. The book, "Ein Lied geht um die Welt" – Spuren einer Legende, Eine Biographie – Joseph Schmidt (1992), includes the first discography of Schmidt's recordings.
The various cantors' associations continued to conduct schools for ḥazzanut, and in addition they existed in conjunction with Yeshiva University (Orthodox), the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative), and the Hebrew Union College (Reform).
The Cantors Assembly of the United States, the largest of its kind in the world, published a quarterly Journal of Synagogue Music, as well as compositions by individual outstanding ḥazzanim, both past and present day, many of them hitherto unknown.
The oldest association of ḥazzanim in the United States, "the Jewish Ministers'" Cantors' Association of America expanded its activities and for the first time in many years held a conference in Atlantic City in 1980, on Ḥazzanut in the Eighties.
The largest center in the world for cantorial music is the United States, where great changes took place in the field of ḥazzanut in the 1980s and 1990s. Orthodox synagogues hardly employ any professional cantors, and in Conservative and Reform synagogues the main function of the cantor is that of musical director. Most of the Orthodox cantors belong to the Cantorial Council of America which holds a convention yearly and publishes an annual volume.
The Cantors Assembly held two conventions in Israel, one in 1987, marking 20 years of a united Jerusalem, and the second in 1992, noting 25 years of a united city. In addition, in 1991, during the Gulf War, a delegation of its members went to Israel and gave concerts as a sign of identification with the State of Israel. A special committee, led by Cantor Sol Mendelson, was set up to maintain links with Israel.
Among cantorial activities of note in the U.S. were Special Sabbaths organized by Park Synagogue in New York City devoted to the works of cantors and composers of earlier generations as well as contemporary ones. In charge of music activities in Park Synagogue was the cantor David Lefkowitz and the conductor Abraham Kaplan.
In commemoration of 100 years since the death of Solomon Sulzer a symposium was held in his memory sponsored by the Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Leo Baeck Institute, and the Austrian Cultural Institute. Selections of prayers set to his music were aired and a special exhibit was mounted in his memory. The director of the event was Dr. Neil Levin.
Among the most famous U.S. cantors of this generation were Shlomo Katz (d. 1982), David Koussevitzky (d. 1985), Samuel Malovsky (d. 1985), and Ẓevi Aharoni (d. 1990). In Aharoni's honor, the University of Florida at Boca Raton established a memorial room which houses the important books in the fields of cantorial and Jewish music.
Books of notes in the sphere of cantorial music which appeared in the U.S. include Chosen Voices (1989) by Mark Slobin, surveying the history of ḥazzanut in the U.S.; Synagogue Song in America (1989) by Joseph A. Levin; and The Golden Age of Cantors (1992), edited by Velvel Pasternak and Noah Schall, which contains works by cantors of the "Golden Age" in America, biographies, an introduction by Irene Heskes, and cassettes tapes of the cantors performing their works.
Compact discs containing cantorial music have begun to appear; some feature contemporary cantors, others are recordings of music which previously appeared on phonograph records. There are also now video tapes of cantors. Of particular interest is a video made in 1990 by the National Center for Jewish Film of Brandeis University and produced by Sharon Puker Rivo and Cantor Murray E. Simon. It is of a film originally made in 1931 with the cantors Yossele Rosenblatt, Mordechai Herschman, Adolf Katchko, David Roitman, and Joseph Shlisky. Added to the film now are explanatory comments by the cantor, Prof. Max Wohlberg.
Women in the Cantorate
Throughout most of Jewish history the cantor, or ḥazzan, was male. Ordination of women as cantors began in the United States in the 1970s. Between 1975 and 2000, several hundred female cantors were ordained. The major Jewish legal (halakhic) issue to be overcome was that of a woman fulfilling the obligation (ḥiyyuv) of public prayer for men who would say "Amen" to her blessing (berakhah). This ability and responsibility of the representative of the congregation (shali'aḥ ẓibbur) to fulfill the obligation (le-hoẓi et ha-kahal) for the community is central to the cantorial role. Because of this representative role, many traditional legal scholars believe that it is more complex to invest women as cantors than it is to ordain them as rabbis.
The Reform movement was the first to ordain women as cantors. As of 2005, three-quarters of all graduates from Hebrew Union College's (huc) School of Sacred Music in New York were women. Worldwide, more than half of Reform cantors are women and there is some concern that the role of cantor in the Reform movement will be redefined into a female profession.
In the Conservative movement, the number of female cantors grew from zero to 30 percent between 1985 and 2005. Unlike the protracted national process that preceded the acceptance of women into the Rabbinical Assembly and as students in the rabbinical school, the 1984 admission of women to the cantorial program of the Cantors Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary (jts), where women had always been admitted as students of Jewish music, was accomplished by the decision of jts chancellor Ismar *Schorsch. This led to some resentment among cantors in the field. Although jts first ordained women cantors in 1986, the professional association of Conservative cantors (Cantors Assembly) did not admit them to membership until 1990.
By 2005, U.S. Reform (Hebrew Union College), Conservative (Jewish Theological Seminary), and Reconstructionist (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) movements, as well as trans-denominational programs at Gratz College in Philadelphia and Hebrew College in Boston had formal training programs for cantors which ordained women. These ḥazzanim not only led services and educational programs; they also presided at life-cycle events, such as weddings and funerals.
[Rela M. Geffen (2nd ed.)]
Baron, Community, index; Baron, Social2, index; Idelsohn, Music; Sendrey, Music, 65–66, 75–80, 91–97, 201–7, 211ff., 336–7; Jewish Ministers Cantors' Association of America, Di Geshikhte fun Khazzones (Yid. and Eng., 1924); idem, Khazzones (Yid. and Eng., 1937); idem, 50 Yoriger Yovl Zhurnal (Yid. and Eng., 1947); P. Gradenwitz, Music of Israel (1949); H.H. Harris, Toledot ha-Neginah ve-ha-Hazzanut be-Yisrael (1950); I. Rabinovitch, Of Jewish Music (1952); N. Stolnitz, Negine in Yidishn Lebn (Yid. and Eng., 1957); I. Shalita, Ha-Musikah ha-Yehudit ve-Yozereha (1960); I. Heskes (ed.), The Cantorial Art (1966); A.M. Rothmueller, Music of the Jews (19672).
"Ḥazzan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hazzan
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