Dr. Neil W. Levin, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and one of the world's leading experts on Jewish music, joins us for our hour-long High Holidays series kickoff.
Dr. Levin presents seven classic Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur songs from the Milken Archive of Jewish Music
, where he has served as the artistic director since 1993. These moving tunes are guaranteed to move and inspire you as we approach the New Year and the Days of Awe.
The seven featured melodies are listed and linked below. By clicking on the links you'll be able to hear the unabbreviated versions of each song.
This classic tune, conducted in the "Western Sephardic" - or Amsterdam - tradition, dates back to the American colonial era, and would undoubtedly have been heard by George Washington had he ventured into one the five American congregations that had existed at the time. The exact same tune can still be heard at Congregation Sheerith Israel (a.k.a. The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) in New York, the country's very first synagogue. This recording is sung with a unison choir, as it would have been done in the 18th century.Ahot K'tanna is a "piyut," or inserted liturgical poem within the liturgy, and is recited at the close of the Jewish calendar year. The text reads: "The year being ended, may all the evils of thereof be terminated..."
This tune is a sophisticated artistic treatment of the shofar service, which is conducted multiple times during the High Holidays. Herman Berlinski's composition gained popularity in the 1960s in Reform congregations in America, and beautifully intertwines the call of the ram's horn with its accompanying liturgy. Photo:
This shofar and the accompanying books come from the office of Temple Emanuel's Rabbi Joseph Black.
This holiday tune, composed by Israel Schorr, is sung with a traditional choir in the virtuoso cantorial practice, or Hazzanut. The prayer, which comes from the Yom Kippur service, translates as: "We dare not cast our supplications before You with a false felling of our own righteousness. We do so because of our faith in Your great mercy."
This tune is part of the "Mi Sinai" tradition, which dates back to the Rhineland region of Germany in the Middle Ages. The Mi Sinai tunes are so old, and so well known, that - in the Ashkenazi world - they might as well be considered canon. The Hatzi Kaddish is recited at the start of Mussaf service on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
This tune is a typical cantorial quasi-improvisation (with a typical improvised choral backup). The coposition is attributed to Moshe Koussevitsky, widely-considered one of the greatest cantors of all time. This version was recorded with Ben Zion Miller, a leading modern-day cantor.
Une Sane Tokef is a central "piyut" for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and reads: "We observe the mighty holiness of this day - one of awe and anxiety... We conceive You established on Your throne of mercy... as Judge and Witness, recording our secret thoughts and acts, and setting the seal thereon."
Set by Joshua Lind, this tune follows the typical joyous nature of the Asheres S'foseinu prayer, which reads: "May our entreaties find favor before You, most high and exalted God, Who not only hears but understands, and Who gives consideration to the voice of our shofar blast." Appropriately, this prayer is read following each of the three sets of shofar blasts in the Rosh Hashana Mussaf service.
This prayer is read at the end of the Mussaf service on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. This very tuneful setting, again by Joshua Lind, accompanies the following words: "May You strengthen and bless us on this day; may You inscribe us [in the Book of Life] for a happy life..."
The Milken Archive of Jewish Music
is a cultural and historic project of unprecedented scope, launched in 1990 by philanthropist and business executive Lowell Milken
. Milken is the chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation
Dr. Levin has devoted his professional and academic life to the scholarly study of the music of Jewish experience from historical, musicological, ethnological, Judaic, and cross-cultural perspectives. You can read his complete bio here