Thursday, April 4, 2013

Is there such a thing as a "JEWISH TUNE"? Can a gentile song be "converted"?

In light of recent banning of specific Jewish Music and Singers by Orthodox Rabbis and the “Committee for Jewish Music” founded in Bene Brak which gives Kosher seals of approval to Music they deem Jewish, the question arises; what is Jewish Music?
Above is a surprising view held by the great Rabbi Yisrael Moshe Hazan, In the first responsa in his Shu"t Kerach Shel Romi, in response to a question asked whether it is permissible to use non-Jewish tunes for Jewish prayers.
Here is a piece of the Teshuva" AND I TESTIFY IN THE NAME OF THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH, That when I was in the great city of Smyrna (Izmir), may god protect it, I saw the famous Rabbis and Cantors, that were great singers on the correct musical scales, and at their head, RABBI AVRAHAM HAKOHEN ARIAS z"l. And for the musical scale of the High Holidays, which needs great submission, they would go to the churches of the Christians behind the curtains on their holidays to hear and learn from them their voices of songs of submission that breaks one's heart. They would make from these tunes Kaddish and Kedushot on a wondrous scale........

A view in to old printed texts of Jewish Songs, such as the legendary זמירות ישראל - רבי ישראל נגארה from the very first edition on (1586 Safed) we see Arabic, mostly Turkish tunes listed as the tunes that the songs should be sung with. Through recent years, especially with Jewish Songbooks published in the Middle East, even to songs written by great Rabbis, we see every song introduced with it's gentile tune as the one to sing it to.
Apparently, throughout history, Jewish Music to Jews was nothing more than Jewish words to gentile tunes, a stark contrast to what people are being led to believe today.


  1. I was asked this sh'ayla 40 years ago by a true masmid of the Mirer, and his father was generally esteemed as a gadol. He asked several g'dolim and couldn't find even one that could matir his obsession with classical, non-J music. His dad was upset one motzi-shabboss when his father saw him headed to me, a fryer and fardreyter. I told him to review all the t'shuvos about the permissibility of ANY music after Khorbon. I spared him from my d'rashah about how the hysterics of so many khazzonim had driven so many people from shul.
    The point about listening to non-J sacred music is very interesting and valuable. An ancestor was a renowned and respected sha'liakh tzibbur in Bialystok. He had heard from mumkhim whom he respected highly, that some aspects of the oldest Gregorian chanting were definitely the closest thing extant to shirat-ha-Lviyyim. I am informed that the Djerba nusakh is astonishing close to both. Thanks for the substantiation. Since that ancient qhilah possibly antedated the Horban, they might have had a haytair.

  2. IMHO, anyone who formulates an opinion on this matter without seeing R' O. Yosef's responsa in Yabia Omer (vol. 6, OC 7) can't really profess to have done a halachik [historical] study on the topic. (Re. R' Yaakov Hillel's responsa in VaYeshev HaYam, I forget the siman, there is what to be said for. V'dai Li'chakima.)