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There is always an element of musical performance associated with Jewish prayer. In Temple times, Levites presented a musical performance every day in the Temple in Jerusalem, as part of the temple service itself. This presentation included musical instruments as well as a male choir.

 Josephus describes how many non-Jews from all parts of the Roman Empire visited the second Temple to gaze at the architectural wonder and ornate splendor of the building that Herod built. The Talmud records for us that one who did not see the building of the second Temple that Herod built never saw a beautiful building in his lifetime.
The second Temple was beyond comparison, even in an age of the Parthenon and the Roman Forum. All this opulence and grandeur was, unfortunately, only fleeting, and temporary in historical terms. The second Temple was destroyed, Levites no longer performed daily concerts, and the Jewish people were exiled from their homeland in the land of Israel, forced by circumstances and the divine will, to wander over the face of many continents.
 The service of the Temple in Jerusalem was canceled by the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction of the Temple building itself. However, in its place the prayer services of Judaism, with which we are all familiar even today, was substituted. The Lord himself allowed for the service of our lips in prayer to be a replacement for the lack of the sacrificial services that were the centerpiece of Temple service in Jerusalem.
The prayer services have now become the central role in Jewish communal life. They are not to be mere ritual and rote, but rather emotional, heartfelt expressions of praise to the God of Israel and the Creator of the universe. As such, the prayer services were never conducted without some sort of melodic intonation and musical rhythm. Musical instruments themselves, reserved for the Temple in Jerusalem, now morphed into cantorial renditions and male choir selections.
Depending upon the location of Jews in the worldwide diaspora, different musical revisions of the prayers entered Jewish cultural and historical life. The Jews who lived within Moslem dominated countries adopted the melodic innovations of that dominant culture, so Arabic music and Sephardic music seem to be one and the same. It was the same thing for Jews who lived in Greece and Turkey, as well as Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula. Ashkenazic Jews adopted the rhythms of melodies similar to the music of Germany, and these became the standard prayer melodies of Polish, Lithuanian and Russian Jewry.
In the 19th century, great cantors began to appear in both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. They developed operatic voices and many different variations on traditional melodies used for prayer. They also adopted non-Jewish melodies from the outside environment of their societies and introduced these melodies into Jewish prayer service as well. Thus, in today's melodic liturgy of the synagogue, it is difficult to find true Jewish music, in the sense of it being completely and authentically Jewish.
The Halachic prohibitions against the use of musical instruments during prayer services remains binding and in force even today. One of the major breaches of Reform in the 19th century was the introduction of musical instruments, especially the organ, used in church services, incorporated into their prayer services. In today's world, Reform Judaism substitutes guitars, saxophones, clarinets, drums, and violins instead of the original organ music. All these attempts to make prayer more relevant, so to speak, have pretty much fallen on deaf ears.
People who wish to hear musical concerts go to theaters and concerts, not to synagogues and houses of prayer. Reform services have become so modern that they are already considered to be obsolete and out of date. There has been a revival of cantorial music and performers over the past decades in the Orthodox Jewish world, with cantorial concerts and performances as well. However, all agree that it is only during the prayer services itself, when there is true intent to attempt to reach spiritual heights, that these melodies and brilliant voices take on proper dimension.
In the Chasidic world, music and melody has always played an important role, not only in prayer but also in general communal life. This trend continues today with many civic groups and individuals serving as musical performers at concerts and private events. This reflects the process of acculturation that accompanies Jewish life throughout all the ages. Music enlightens the soul and is a crucial element of fervor and concentration during prayer services.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein


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