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The Suitability of Sound: Seven Functions of Sacred Music

Author: Jonathan L. Friedmann

Jonathan L. Friedmann is Cantor of Bet Knesset Bamidbar in Las Vegas, NV, and the compiler or editor of four books: Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Identity (2008); The Value of Sacred Music (2009); Music in Jewish Thought (2009); and Perspectives on Jewish Music (2009).


This paper explores seven ways music functions in religious ritual.  The arguments presented are not meant to be exhaustive: neither the details offered for each function nor the functions themselves capture the entire range of reasons for music’s indelible place in religious devotion.  Rather, these reflections comprise a preliminary systematic study of the subject.


The pervasive union of music and religion has long been recognized.  Throughout history and across diverse cultures and traditions, humans have sought contact with the divine through song. Song can heighten one’s attentiveness during prayer, and imbue worship with a sense of “otherness” required of the sacred moment.  Indeed, music is the primary tool religion provides for infusing sacred text with its associational qualities, and separating the religious experience from the activities of everyday life.

This paper examines seven ways music serves as an aid to religious ritual.  Music conveys emotions, dramatizes text, demarcates sacred time, assists religious instruction, signals the divine, unifies worshipers, and expresses the universality of humankind.  To be sure, these are not the only functions of sacred music, nor are all of these functions present in every sacred song.  There are certain pieces and worship situations that will naturally emphasize one quality or set of qualities over another.  Nevertheless, it is my aim to present systematically what I perceive to be the primary functions of music in religious ritual.  To accomplish this, I will be drawing upon a variety of disciplines and perspectives, as well as musical examples mainly from Jewish sources.

1. Emotions

In his autobiography Chronicle of My Life, Igor Stravinsky wrote defiantly that “music, by its very nature, is essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc.”  Stravinsky instead considered music’s perceived power of expression as “only an illusion and not a reality.” [1]  In recent decades, postmodern deconstructionists have taken up this position, arguing that there is no essential relationship between music and emotions, and that the only quality music can express is musicality itself. [2]  These scholars insist that the nonmusical associations a listener brings to music have nothing to do with the music per se, but rather reflect the human tendency to endow everything in our environment with animate qualities. [3]

Writing partly in response to Stravinsky, Aaron Copland articulated a humanistic view of music, in which both an intellectual appreciation of music’s formal structure and an emotional susceptibility to musical expression have a place.  He agreed that emotion alone is not enough to sustain our interest in music; before long, the “gifted listener” will begin searching for reasons why a piece of music is producing certain reactions.  But without its emotional component, Copland argued, there would be little need for music at all:

I would be inclined to say that we all listen on an elementary plane of musical consciousness. . . . On that level, whatever the music may be, we experience basic reactions such as tension and release, density and transparency, a smooth or angry surface, the music’s swellings and subsidings, its pushing forward or hanging back, its length, its speed, its thunders and whisperings—and a thousand other psychologically based reflections of our physical life of movement and gesture, and our inner, subconscious mental life.  That is fundamentally the way we all hear music—gifted and ungifted alike—and all the analytical, historical textual material on or about music heard, interesting though it may be, cannot—and I venture to say should not—alter that fundamental relationship. [4]

Whether or not emotional responses can be shown scientifically to originate within musical tones themselves remains a contested issue in the psychology of music. [5]  What is certain, however, is that for ages music has served an indispensable role in religious ritual largely because of the emotional impact it has on the worshiping community.  It is indeed difficult to argue against the intuitive reactions of worshipers experiencing sacred music, either as performers or listeners, which range from fear and awe to elation and joy.  As “a tonal analogue of emotive life,” [6] music captures and inspires feelings connected with certain times, places, and themes.

Musicologist Hebert Antcliffe argued that religious worship requires the aid of music-generated emotions.  “[R]eligion without emotion is impossible,” wrote Antcliffe, “and music is the most natural and universal expression of the emotions of joy and sorrow, or faith, love, hope, despair; and of worship.” [7]  He observed that the sense of religion and the sense of music are “related in the minds of most people,” and that religion’s “complete expression . . . must and does always include expression in music.” [8]

Religious communities throughout the world employ melodies, modes, and motifs that inspire collective and personal thoughts and feelings.  Musical conventions develop within a culture over centuries of use, and become linked with specific expectations and affective associations. [9]  This is why, for instance, minor tonality in Western music typically implies sadness, while major tonality is usually linked with positive emotions.

Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850) illustrated clearly the associational power of musical expression in recounting his experience of the plaintive tones of Kol Nidre (“All the Vows”) during Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement:

[A] song draped with the veil of grief; a night song dying away in the innermost recesses of penitent, contrite, repentant, human hearts. . . . Years ago I heard it [on the] Day of Atonement . . . the cantor began to chant that profoundly solemn and heart-rending song of absolution, so fraught with terror, and yet so rich in mercy.  I struggled with an inexplicable emotion.  I sobbed convulsively while hot tears poured from my eyes.  Then I ran out into the night; my spirit torn and purified. [10]

2. Dramatization

Worship music differs from “absolute” music in that it is not an end in itself, or “music for its own sake.”  Rather, the primary function of music in religious ritual is to enhance liturgical text.  With prayerful words serving as an associational roadmap, composers are provided with specific themes and subjects from which to draw upon, making sacred music far less subjective than the wordless music of the concert stage.

Ernest Bloch described his goal of “enlivening” the liturgy in his Sacred Service, [11] one of the great masterpieces of Jewish sacred music: “I have memorized entirely the whole service in Hebrew I know its significance word by word. . . . But what is more important, I have absorbed it to the point that it has become mine and as if it were the very expression of my soul.” [12]  Composer Lazare Saminsky’s reflections on the Sacred Service reveal Bloch’s keen ability to dramatize the fixed words of the liturgy.  For example, he described Bloch’s Ma Tovu (“How Lovely”) as “music of a sunny evenness, reflecting an unruffled old creed and a sturdy racial allegiance,” and found in his Shema Yisrael (“Hear, O Israel”) “an awed gleam of cognizance of the Supreme force that clasps the universe into oneness.” [13]

Leib Glantz (1898-1964), one of the most gifted and innovative cantors of the twentieth century, was known similarly for his adeptness at interpreting musically the nuances of liturgical texts.  According to one admirer, “He penetrated into the soul of every word, letter and sound.  He unveiled our prayers by displaying their true meaning both intellectually and emotionally.” [14]  Israeli author Eliezer Steinman wrote that Glantz “conducted dialogues with the Almighty, complaining and demanding on behalf of the congregation.  He combined courage and fear when opening his mouth before God.” [15]  And after experiencing Glantz’s artistry, Dr. Baruch Ben-Yehuda commented, “This was the voice that knew when to rejoice, when to cry out in pain, when to plead, when to demand, when to threaten, and when to bow to the inevitable.” [16]  Like Bloch, Glantz’s stated goal was the dramatization of sacred words.  He saw the cantor’s role as primarily interpretive: each liturgical phrase contains an array of moods and associations that must be brought to life through the cantor’s inner experience and presentation of the text.  “Letters are the path to words,” wrote Glantz, “words are the path to music.  But it is the heart and the soul that give life to the text.” [17]

Human experience has shown that a liturgical text set to music conveys a greater emotive range and spiritual efficacy than a text that is merely spoken.  While words can be dry, limited, connote disparate meanings, or be too abstract or detailed for immediate understanding, music focuses our attention directly, cutting through semantic obscurities and overloads. [18]  It is largely this instant perceptibility of music that makes it suitable for signaling the sacred.One scholar even observes that during church services, “We are asked to say some things that we don’t truly think we believe until we sing them, or hear them in appropriately complex activities.” [19]

3. Sacred Time

Throughout the world, religious communities demarcate sacred space in otherwise unremarkable landscapes, revere sacred scriptures over worldly texts, and engage in sacred rituals removed from the activities of everyday life.  Music similarly separates words of prayer from ordinary language, and helps to demarcate sacred from secular time.  Singing marks a break from the normal mode of communication. Words set to music rise above the drone of everyday speech, and thus appropriately express historian Mircea Eliade’s definition of the sacred: that which is profoundly set apart from the ordinary.  “Just as a church constitutes a break in plane in the profane space of a modern city,” Eliade observed, “the service celebrated inside marks a break in profane temporal duration.” [20]  Through liturgical ritual—a meaningful blend of words, gestures, objects, and music—worshipers enter into sacred time. 

Abraham Joshua Heschel viewed the Sabbath as a paradigmatic example of sacred time.  The Bible conveys a strong sense of the diversified nature of time, with holy moments and days delineated throughout.  From this consciousness, Heschel argued, Judaism emerged as “a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time” [21]—a worldview in which the Sabbath exists as the weekly repetition of the moment of creation [22]: “Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals . . .” [23]

In its most basic meaning, the Sabbath is the cessation from work and all of the hassles and anxieties that come with it. This is central to the Bible’s definition of the day: “Six days you shall work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work” (Exod. 20:9).  But this separation from “normal time” is not always easily achieved.  All who enter the synagogue or church carry with them an array of worries and concerns.  This is why, for example, the practice emerged of singing extra-liturgical songs as a prelude to Jewish Sabbath services.  These simple and accessible congregational melodies mark a sonic division between the Sabbath and workweek, easing worshipers into “holiness in time.”

Opening Sabbath songs generally illuminate two major themes of the day: peace and joy. Sabbath peace (shalom) is more than the mere absence of war; it encompasses the harmony and wholeness sought on the Sabbath.  So, the familiar phrase “Shabbat Shalom” is not just a greeting of peace to one another, but also, as Cantor Macy Nulman explains, an address to the day itself: “Sabbath, you are good, you are peaceful and blessed and are being accepted graciously and with great joy.” [24]  Many opening songs proclaim this message of peace, including Ma Yafeh HaYom (“How Beautiful is this Day”), Shalom Aleichem (“Peace Be Unto You”), and Bim Bam Shabbat Shalom.

Other introductory songs illuminate the joy of the Sabbath.  Sabbath joy means many things: warmth, kindness, tenderness, calmness, community, and more.  Songs that celebrate this unique quality bring to mind all of these feelings and more.  They include Hava Nashira, “Let us sing a song of praise,” and Ma Tovu, which exclaims, “How good are your tents, O Jacob.  Your dwelling places, O Israel.” [25]

Moreover, religious music is, like ritual itself, repetitive, prescribed, and ceremonial, and the repeated use of melodies during specific festivals and holy days can immediately inspire certain moods, memories, and emotions.  In traditional Jewish worship, musical modes employed for the chanting of liturgy change depending on the section of liturgy, time of day, day of the week, and day of the year.  So, for the liturgically literate worshiper, specific melodies can stir instantaneous recognition of where one stands on the sacred calendar.  As one expert put it, “proper utilization of nusach (traditional chant) guarantees that a Jewish ‘Rip Van Winkle’ could sleep for 20 years and identify the service to which he had awakened just by the musical motifs.” [26]  This meaningful return to the familiar, is, according to linguist Dwight L. Bolinger, “more striking in music than elsewhere—a very good book may be read twice, a masterpiece of literature three or four times, a poem a dozen times; but in no other art-form could we expect the literally hundreds of repetitions to go on pleasing us.” [27]  Each time they are chanted, these familiar sounds evoke feelings and recollections appropriate to the specific sacred time.

4. Instruction

Sacred songs are often characterized by simplicity and redundancy, qualities that make them ideal conduits for religious messages.  Particularly in the hymn traditions of Christianity, concise verses are used to convey theological viewpoints argued elsewhere, or to emphasize religious themes such as praise, commitment, longing and lament. [28]  Through the careful partnership of music and words, an effective song can capture succinctly the essence of both religious ideas and the sacred moment, producing what scholar of church music Don. E. Saliers calls a “theological miniature.” [29]  And because hymns are hedged by the demands of unity and clarity, they serve an important didactic role. [30]

Sam L. Jacobson, in an article published in 1898, traced this educational function of sacred song to ancient times: “The early priesthood studied and practiced music with consummate skill.  Bringing the guiding light of religion to the people, teaching being their sphere of industry, they were ever seeking the best means of inculcating the lessons of Judaism; music naturally proved of greatest assistance, being part of the natural language of mankind.”  For Jacobson, evidence of music’s value as a teaching tool lies in the fact that, “Even today, pedagogy knows no more potent means of instilling an idea into the youthful mind than by association with music, and it is generally conceded that a text garbed in appropriate music is more readily grasped, assimilated and remembered than is one in the form of a plain statement.” [31]

A text set to music is more readily memorized than one that is merely read or spoken. [32]  The Tosafists, twelfth-century French commentators on the Talmud, acknowledged this role of melody in aiding the learning of sacred texts: “They would teach . . . using a melody because they learned it from memory, and the melody made it easier to memorize.” [33]

Ezra the Scribe is believed to have introduced the chanting of text in the fifth century, B.C.E. (Neh. 8:1-8).  The biblical account shows Ezra, surrounded by returnees from the Babylonian exile, reading and interpreting the Torah scroll while standing on a wooden platform in Jerusalem.  This depiction is largely the basis for later synagogue practice. “That ceremony,” writes liturgist Jeremy Schonfield, “one central to Jewish ritual and thought—in which Jews repeatedly hear, recite, and attempt to understand Torah, can be regarded as a defining characteristic of Jewish culture.  Ezra’s use of Hebrew and his recitation and reapplication of Scripture make him a prototypical prayer-leader.” [34]

Rabbi Akiva (ca. 50-135 C.E.) later required that the Torah scroll be chanted on a daily basis, [35] and Johanan of the Tiberias Academy (d. 279 C.E.) advocated the fixing of melodies for biblical chant according to the day—weekday, Sabbath, festival or holiday. [36]  From these and other historical proclamations developed a structured system of biblical cantillation, utilizing prescribed musical patterns indicated by a system of textual accents called te’amim (“tastes”).

The grammarians of the ninth-century masoretic school defined four objectives of this system: to provide the text with correct vocalization; to indicate which syllable is to be accented; to divide and subdivide verses of text; and to signify musical patterns.  In addition to these largely grammatical concerns, cantillation also serves important educational purposes.  For millennia, the public chanting of the Hebrew Bible has been used for the transmission of text to the congregation.  The history, values, and devotion contained in the Bible are delivered with melody, enhancing the impact of the passages and beauty of the language.  And, even in Diaspora communities where Hebrew is not met with fluent understanding, the musical rendering of the text links the worshiper to an ancient heritage, and instills a sense of personal and communal identity.  As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, stated regarding cantillation, “We are coming home to Torah because it is the very essence of our being and because we see as our first duty and greatest joy the teaching of those sacred texts that bind us to a shared faith and a shared way of life.” [37]

5. Divine Contact

Hearing stands nearest to the purely spiritual among the senses. [38]  Sound is non-material, possessing a quality of limitlessness far beyond that which is visible or tactile. The impact of sound—and music in particular—is immediate, evoking emotional and kinesthetic responses without prior mental preparation.  For this reason, theologian Rudolf Otto considered the effect of music to be analogous to the experience of the sacred, as both produce “something of whose special character we can feel without being able to give it clear conceptual expression.” [39]  Music and the sacred experience are at their core supra-rational: elements of both can be explained analytically, but the totality of the experience remains ineffable.  As Otto wrote: “Music stands too high for any understanding to reach, and an all-mastering efficacy goes forth from it, of which, however, no man is able to give account.” [40]

Gerardus van der Leeuw, a philosopher and historian of religion, wrote of music’s sublime effect: “If we ask whence it comes that the massive, the sublime, often moves us religiously, indeed seems to be an expression of the holy, we find that this lies in its overpowering character.  We cannot express it; we find ourselves in the presence of the wholly other.” [41]  As an example of this all-consuming experience, he cited a psychological experiment in which the subject recounted how he was “swept away” by a piece of music: “We are on a ship.  The waves are smashing violently against the sides of the ship. We feel different.” [42]

Similarly, an interviewee in William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience compared a mystical experience to “the effect of some great orchestra, when all the separate notes have melted away into the swelling harmony.” [43]  Like a symphony, the enormity of the sacred moment occurs instantaneously, allowing little room for one to describe its particular elements.  Yet instead of confusion and disorientation, sacred music—as a blend of music and the “Wholly Other”—works to clarify the experience.  There is a force in the music that gives us a sense of divine understanding, and is felt more deeply than holy words. [44]

It is therefore not surprising that in the Bible, God chooses sound and not sight as the medium of sensory revelation (see, for instance, Deut. 4:12-19).  The infiniteness and incorporeity of sound suggests the incomprehensibility of God, while visual images and symbols, including written letters, imply parameters and finitude.  This is central to traditional Jewish understandings of human-divine interaction: “Seeing leads to idolatry; the worshiper creates an icon to represent what he saw.  Hearing, however, leads to obedience; no physical shape or form beguiles the worshiper.  He expresses his devotion in terms of what he has heard; i.e., he obeys the Voice who commands him.” [45]

Scholars have suggested a link between biblical iconoclasm and the flourishing of Jewish musical traditions.  Geoffrey H. Hartman, a professor of English and comparative literature, notes that the Bible’s most important statement regarding artistic imagination is the Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exod. 20:4-5).  While this proscription did not suppress all figural representation, it did substantially limit Jewish visual arts to ceremonial objects, such as mezuzot, menorahs, and kiddush cups. [46]  Rabbi Francis L. Cohen attributed Jewish poetic and musical creativity to restrictions placed on the visual arts:

The Jews appear in history already barred off by their rigid iconoclasm from the expression of feeling through the pictile and plastic arts, nor had they settled habitation or surplus resources long enough to find such expression through the allied art of architecture.  There remained only for these people the sister arts of poetry and music, in each of which they have contributed much to the treasure-store of civilization. [47]

6. Social

The social nature of musical production lies at the root of the anthropological definition of music itself.  As ethnomusicologist Alan Merriam concluded from his study of the Basongye people of the Congo, music differs from other sounds in that it is a uniquely human phenomenon, consists of patterned and continuous sounds, and is dependent on the combined effort of performers and audience. [48]  Historically, rather than being an end in itself, music has most often served as an accompaniment to other, nonmusical social events.  It has even been argued that music’s original and still most valuable role is as an aid to religious worship. [49]

Religion, like music, is a social phenomenon.  It is, after all, the shared experience of doing religion that makes it more than just a set of beliefs. [50]  The communal character of religion is displayed most clearly in public worship, which in almost every tradition includes some form of musical accompaniment. [51]  Musicologist Waldo S. Pratt explained succinctly the necessary role of community in the production of sacred music:

Music naturally belongs with the social side of religion rather than with its private side.  The secret intercourse between the soul and God has no absolute need of music or any other sensuous formulation.  Only so far as this inmost intercourse expands into a social institution, where outward expression is a necessity, is there a special demand for such a voice as that of music.  The solitary worshiper may set his prayer in forms of song as a fuller mode of utterance than cold words; but he is not likely to do this unless he has first learned the value of song as an implement of social intercourse. [52]

Within Jewish worship, one of the primary functions of sacred music is to bring people together.  Through ritual singing, Jews reaffirm social bonds, and bolster congregational solidarity.  The bulk of Jewish liturgy is expressed in the collective “us,” rather than in the singular “me.”  For instance, the Friday evening Sabbath liturgy includes Psalm 95, which begins, “Come, let us sing to God”; and the Hashkiveinu prayer asks God to “Let us lie down in peace, and raise us up, our King, to life renewed.”  These texts reflect an important and recurring theme in Jewish thought: holiness involves community.

It is fitting, then, that Jewish services often include the congregational singing of Hinei Ma Tov: “How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together.”  Taken from Psalm 133, this text has come to embody the communal harmony and warmth found within the worshiping congregation.  It is a powerful and effective way of preparing worshipers to focus on the collective nature of Jewish liturgy.  In one short sentence, it captures the essence of Jewish prayer.

The most effective musical renditions of Hinei Ma Tov are simple and accessible.  Rather than a meditative or introspective text—which may call for a more subtle and sophisticated melody—the words of Hinei Ma Tov are misrepresented if the music does not invite all to join in.  With the singing of this text, the congregation affirms, at least implicitly, an underlying assumption of shared values and beliefs—what sociologist Émile Durkheim understood as the basis of “religious brotherhood.” [53]

7. Universality

Though the degree of music’s emotional impact varies from listener to listener, musical sounds produce virtually universal human responses—at least within a given culture. [54]  A musical passage that evokes grief for one individual is not likely to inspire joy for another, nor will a piece that elicits hope for one cause despair in someone else.  The existence of shared human responses to music indicates three ways in which music can be viewed as universal: no culture is without music; all persons can distinguish musical from others sounds; and most can discriminate between the music of his or her own culture or society and foreign music. [55]

Significantly, this universality of music has, over the centuries, contributed to interfaith understanding.  Where beliefs and behaviors may cause confusion and animosity between faiths, sacred music transcends the details of doctrine, revealing common religious sentiments.  Such music can ease tensions and encourage reconciliation.  To this point, we can apply the words of St. Ambrose: “Psalmody unites those who disagree, makes friends of those at odds, brings together those who are out of charity with one another.” [56]

Religious differences are cultural as well as theological; customs, rituals, and observances are often as varied as religion itself.  Upon entering the house of worship of another faith, one may feel anxiety, discomfort, or even fear.  Yet the emotions stirred by liturgical music will likely be the same for this “outsider” as for the congregant—the difference being only in degree.  While the text may be faith-specific, its musical presentation can communicate underlying, universal truths, creating a devotional mood familiar to people of different faith traditions.

Several historical examples illustrate music’s potential for promoting interfaith understanding.  Among the time-honored liturgical songs of Judaism and Christianity, there is evidence of borrowed and shared melodies.  Organically and inevitably, certain melodies, cherished for their spiritual efficacy, became popular in both Jewish and Christian services.  The familiar Hanukkah setting of Maoz Tzur (“O Mighty Stronghold”), for example, includes musical passages from a Lutheran chorale. [57]  And the well-known church hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise,” is set to a melody Cantor Meyer Lyon (c. 1750-1797) composed for the Hebrew prayer, Yigdal (“May He Be Magnified”).

To be sure, the sharing of sacred melodies usually requires textual alterations.  In the case of “The God of Abraham Praise,” Thomas Olivers wrote: “I have rendered it from the Hebrew, giving it, as far as I could, a Christian character, and I have called on Leoni [Cantor Lyon], the Jew, who has given me a synagogue melody to suit it.” [58]  Significantly, with this careful adaptation, Olivers wished to demonstrate the common religious heritage of Jews and Christians, and give musical expression to Paul’s words: “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).

Music’s ability to forge common ground among diverse audiences has in recent years inspired interfaith music concerts throughout the world.  To take just one example, the annual concert organized by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., includes performers from ten religious traditions: Baha’i, Hindu, Islamic, Jain, Jewish, Mormon, Protestant, Catholic, Sikh, and Zoroastrian. [59]  A Catholic brother and InterFaith Conference board member describes the impact of this concert, and its significance in creating interfaith dialogue:

From personal experience I consider the InterFaith Concert a unique, prayerful experience of joy and awareness of unity with people of many faiths expressing glory and praise to our Master who loves us into life.  In personal prayers, focus is on God alone.  In this interfaith prayer, there is an accompanying ecstatic feeling that God delights in his people shared in an inclusive way with so many.  Usually I think of putting prayer into my life.  This experience put my life into prayer and was a true taste of heaven . . . [60]


While the efficacy of sacred music is not limited to the seven functions presented above, these categories do indicate the diverse ways music performs in worship.  Music inspires emotional movement, animates religious texts, aids the transition from ordinary to sacred time, helps instill religious ideals, facilitates the human-divine encounter, fosters community cohesion, and points to the universality of humankind.  For these reasons and more, music is linked intimately with religious ritual.


[1] Igor Stravinsky, Chronicle of My Life (London: Victor Gollancz, 1936), 91-92.

[2] Stephen A. Marini, Sacred Song in America: Religion, Music, and Public Culture (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 3.

[3] Kathleen Marie Higgins, “Musical Idiosyncrasy and Perspectival Listening,” in Music and Meaning, ed. Jenefer Robinson (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 97. See also Peter Kivy, Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 147-72, and Malcolm Budd, Music and Emotions: The Philosophical Theories (New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), 121-177.

[4] Aaron Copland, Music and the Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 14.

[5] See, for instance, Patrik N. Juslin and John A. Sloboba, Music and Emotion: Theory and Research (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), and Anthony Storr, Music and the Mind (New York: The Free Press, 1992).

[6] Susanne K. Langer, Feeling and Form (New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1953), 27.

[7] Herbert Antcliffe, “Religion and Music,” The Living Age 8:1 (1916): 157.

[8] Ibid.

[9] See, Deryck Cooke, The Language of Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.

[10] Theodor Reik, Ritual: Psychoanalytic Studies (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1931), 170-171.

[11] Ernest Bloch, Avodath Hakodesh (Sacred Service) (Boston: C. C. Birchard and Co., 1933).

[12] Ernest Bloch in a letter to his friends, Ada Clement and Lillian Hodghead. Quoted in Robert Strassburg, Ernest Bloch: Voice in the Wilderness (Los Angeles: Trident Shop, 1977), 70.

[13] Lazare Saminsky, Music of the Ghetto and the Bible (New York: Bloch, 1934), 176-177.

[14] Jerry Glantz, “Introduction,” in Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke to God, ed. Jerry Glantz (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Institute for Jewish Liturgical Music, 2008), 3.
[15] Eliezer Steinman, “Roots and Partitions,” in Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke to God, ed. Jerry Glantz (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Institute for Jewish Liturgical Music, 2008), 51.

[16] Baruch Ben-Yehuda, “Swept from Celestial Heights to Abysmal Depths,” in The Man Who Spoke to God, ed. Jerry Glantz (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Institute for Jewish Liturgical Music, 2008), 63.

[17] Arie L. Subar, “A Glance at Glantz,” in Leib Glantz: The Man Who Spoke to God, ed. Jerry Glantz (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Institute for Jewish Liturgical Music, 2008), 100.

[18] Kathleen Harman, “Liturgical Music as Prayer,” in Liturgy and Music: Lifetime Learning, eds. Robin A. Leaver and Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 273.

[19] Don E. Saliers, Music and Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007), 4.

[20] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, 1987), 72.

[21] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (Boston: Shambala, 2003), xv.

[22] This concept of the recreation of time is explored at length in Mircea Eliade, The Myth of Eternal Return: Cosmos and History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954). For a brief application of Eliade’s theory to Shabbat, see my article “Shabbat and the Renewal of Time,” The Jewish Magazine 120 (Jan. 2008). <>

[23] Heschel, The Sabbath, xv.

[24] Macy Nulman, The Encyclopedia of the Sayings of the Jewish People (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997), 222.

[25] This analysis is derived from my essay, “Opening Songs on Shabbat,” Bet Knesset Bamidbar Newsletter (July 2009): 1.

[26] Marsha Bryan Edelman, Discovering Jewish Music (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003), 15.

[27] Dwight L. Bolinger, The Symbolism of Music (Yellow Springs, OH: Antioch Press, 1941), 24.

[28] Brian Wren, Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Singing (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 369.

[29] Saliers, Music and Theology, 37.

[30] Mark Booth, The Experience of Songs (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981), 7.

[31] Sam L. Jacobson, “The Music of the Jews,” Music: A Monthly Magazine 14 (1898): 412.

[32] Joshua R. Jacobson, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Complete Guide to the Art of Cantillation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), 10. See also the scientific research on song and memory in Daniel J. Levitin, The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature (New York: Dutton, 2008).

[33] Commentary on BT Megillah 32a.

[34] Jeremy Schonfield, Undercurrents of Jewish Prayer (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2006), 294.

[35] BT Sanhedrin 99a.

[36] Edelman, Discovering Jewish Music, 13.

[37] Marshall Portnoy and Josée Wolf, The Art of Biblical Cantillation: Volume 2 (New York: UAHC, 2001), 4.

[38] Adolf Altman, “The Meaning and Soul of ‘Hear, O Israel,’” trans. Barbara R. Algin, in Jewish Values in Jungian Psychology, ed. Levi Meier (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991), 61.

[39] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, trans. John W. Harvey (London: Oxford University Press, 1923), 30.

[40] Otto, The Idea of the Holy, 151.

[41] Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), 231.

[42] Ibid.

[43] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Mentor Books, 1958), 66.

[44] The paragraph is based on my chapter, “A Philosophy of Jewish Sacred Music,” in Jewish Sacred Music and Jewish Identity: Continuity and Fragmentation, eds. Jonathan L. Friedmann and Brad Stetson (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2008), 3-17.

[45] David Cohen, Kol ha-Nevuah (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1970), 13.

[46] Geoffrey H. Hartman, “Imagination,” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, eds. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (New York: The Free Press, 1988), 453.

[47] Francis L. Cohen, “Jewish Music,” in Music in Jewish Thought: Selected Writings, 1890-1910, comp. Jonathan L. Friedmann (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), 52.

[48] Alan P. Merriam, “The Arts and Anthropology,” in Anthropology and Art: Readings in Cross-Cultural Aesthetics, ed. Charlotte M. Otten (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1971), 93-105.

[49] Paul Honigsheim, Sociologists and Music: An Introduction to the Study of Music and Society (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1989), 60.

[50] See, Malcolm Hamilton, The Sociology of Religion: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002), 109-121.

[51] Robert S. Ellwood, Introducing Religion from Inside and Outside, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1983), 110.

[52] Waldo S. Pratt, “Religion and Music,” in The World’s Parliament of Religions, ed. John Henry Barrows (Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Co., 1893), 1005.

[53] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Carol Crossman (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2001), 42-43.

[54] See, Leonard B. Meyer, Emotion and Meaning in Music (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1956).

[55] Mary Louise Serafine, Music as Cognition: The Development of Thought in Sound (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 1-2.

[56] St. Ambrose, quoted in David Poling, Songs of Faith, Songs of Hope (Waco, TX: World Books, 1976), 13.

[57] Leo Trapp, A History of the Jewish Experience (Springfield, NJ: Behrman House, 2001), 419.

[58] Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1869).

[59] Abby Stamelman Hocky, Susan Teegan-Case, and Carol Harris-Shapiro, “Dialogue through Arts: ‘Opening the World’s Door,” in Interactive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook, eds. Bud Heckman and Rori Picker Neiss (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2008), 65.

[60] Ibid., 67.



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