The Cantor then and now...

HAZZAN (pl. Hazzanim, Heb, cantor officiating in a synagogue; used in this specific sense since the Middle Ages. The word frequently occurs in talmudic sources, where it denotes various types of communal officials, most prominently the hazzan ha-kneset. 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, Beer. 9:1,12d); in talmudic times there was no permanent cantor and any member of the congregation might be asked to act as shali'ach tzibur - messenger of prayer TJ, Ber. 5:3, 9c). It was during the period of the geonim that the hazzan became the permanent sheli'ah tzibur. 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 hazzan ha-kneset, 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 hazzan who would recite them and provide suitable melodies. Some of the paytanim were themselves hazzanim. The recitation of the piyyutim was called hizana (hizanatun) by the Arabic-speaking paytanim and the Hebrew equivalent hazzanut (hazzaniyyah) 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 hazzanim rose, and they were given better salaries, longer tenure of office, and more communal tax exemptions. The post of hazzan 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 hazzanim, among them Jacob Moellin ha-Levi (Maharil) of Mainz (c. 1360-1427), who established strict norms for Ashkenazi hazzanim and some of whose chants are still in use. Gradually, the qualifications demanded of a hazzan 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 Yamim Noraim - High Holy Days. Ironically, the growing popularity of the hazzan 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 rabbi's castigated the hazzanim 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 hazzan 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 hazzan 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 hassidic 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 hazzan, remained outside this development. Indeed the joyful tunes of the Hassidim 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 hazzan. Only a few houses of worship retained hazzanim (e.g., Alois Kaiser) who tried to develop a tradition of American synagogue music. Classical reform in the U.S.A. was modified under the impact of the Zionist movement and East European immigration, and pressure grew to restore traditional forms of worship. Two hazzanim 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 Hazzanut." Cantorial music had a singular appeal to the Jewish masses, who would fill their synagogues to overflowing in order to hear an outstanding hazzan. Improved communications enabled leading hazzanim 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 hazzanim 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 hazzanim 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 hazzanim was the development of sound recordings, beginning with the first cantorial disk made by Sirota in 1903. Furthermore, lesser hazzanim 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 post war period prominent hazzanim included Moshe Koussevitzky and his brothers Jacob, Simchah, and David, Leibele 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 hazzanut lagged behind the U.S. However, the regular radio programs devoted to both Ashkenazi and Sephardi hazzanut have a large following. Many of the world's leading hazzanim have sung in Israel and a cantorial conference was held there in 1968. Hazzanim serve in the chaplaincy corps of the Israel army, but only the large towns employ hazzanim on a regular basis. A number of successful hazzanim have been attracted to the U.S., Great Britain, and South Africa, where the financial rewards are much greater. Most major Jewish communities in the world now have professional associations of hazzanim and several bulletins and journals are regularly published. An important factor in assuring the future development of hazzanut is 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).

Ashkenazi - Jews of Eastern and Western European and Americas

Sefard i - Sephardi - Jews of Middle East - Mediterranian - Iberian Peninsula - Americas

haKneseth - Beit HaKnesset - House of Worship - Synagogue

Shaliach Tzibur - Hazzan - Cantor - Messenger of prayer

Piyyutim - poetic sentences - poetry (of the liturgical tefilot )

Tefilah - prayers Tefilot - prayers pl.

Toseftah - parallels and supplements Mishnah c. II century

Sources: Shulchan Aruch, Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Mishnah, Toseftah, The Siddur, The Mahzor, Jewish Ministers Cantors Association of America and Canada Archives, Encyclopedia Judaica.

60th Aniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden December 5, 1960
Click picture for high resolution

Eleazer Schulman
Lawrence (Larry) Spern
Eliezer Zaslavsky
Nathan H. Munchnick
Seymour S. Hirschman
Oscar Julius*
Avrum Dubow
Benjamin (Ben) Alpert
William Goldberg
Harry Brodwin
Irving (Isadore) Rogoff
Shaye (Sam) Pinsky
Abraham Wolkin
David Gold
Sidney Mandel
Jacob Breitman
Ze'ev (William) Bogzester
Milton Lovinger
Nathaniel Schub
Abraham Hoch
Moshe Luffman
Rubin Rosenblit
Eliezer Braun
Aaron (Arele) Diamond
Joseph Eidelson
Moshe Koussevitzky
David Koussevitzky (Kusevitsky)
Alexander S. Koussevitzky
Moishe (Moishele) Preis
Samuel Postolow
Abraham Friedman
Sidney Shicoff
Kalmen Kalich
William Oxenhorn
Ephraim Rosenberg
Hirsch L. Chazin
Solomon Beinhorn
Felix Fogelman
Jacob Hass
Harry Lubow
Jacob Goldstein
William Glueck
Harry Brockman
Lippa Gartenhouse / Gartenhaus
Isadore Schneider
Abraham Brun
Kalmon Fleigelman
Simcha Dainow
Max Gancherow

Moshe (Maurice) Ganchoff / A. Zaslavsky
Tibor Kellem Gross
Sol Zimelman (Sol Zim)
Abraham Veroba
Harry Pineles
Max Pincus
Sam Goldman
Jonah Binder
Abraham Naimark
Herman Malamood
Heshele Waldman
Jack Fox**
Charles B. Bloch
Yechiel Rosen
Leibele Blumenthal***
Moshe (Murray) Bazian

*choir conductor
**chorister, no full time Chazzan
***from England, no official member

The above picture was taken of the four Koussevitsky brothers in the 1940s. From right to left are: David, Jacob, Moshe and Simcha. One cannot talk about the art of the cantorate without including these illustrious Hazzanim. Putting aside the renown and art of the great Yossele Rosenblatt, Mordecai Hirchmann and their ilk, for just a moment; it is hard to imagine the cantoral arts without the imprint of the Koussevitsky collective contribution.

They were bigger than life artistic figures in all respects and their individual contributions to the Jewish liturgical tradition are hard to equal.

Their individual careers and careers other great hazzanim, will be documented on our website with pictures and stories which we know the devotees of hazzanuth will enjoy.

Moshe Koussevitsky sang at the Tlomackie Synagogue in Warsaw before it was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II which is seen on the JMCA opening webpage.

Cantor H. L. Katz
First Cantor of the United Kingdom
Cantor Hirsch Laib Katz, [Zvi Yehuda] was born in the Carpathian Mountain town of Sanok, Galicia in Poland. As a child, with the onset of World War I, he emigrated with his family to Antwerp, Belgium. After his cantoral studies he was engaged by Linath Hazedek Congregation. As an omed kunstler, synagogue artist, he would travel with his brother and manager, Itchie Maier, on Pullman trains, all over Europe to sing in countless synagogues for Shabes and concerts. By the time he was 30 years old, he had conquered the synagogues Europe – vocally.

Young Cantor Katz, in his early twenties, had to receive special dispensation from the Chief Rabbi of Paris so that he could sing in the Great Synagogue because he was not yet married. Having received this dispensation he was invited by Baron Guy Rothchilde to his home during his stay on Shabes while in Paris. He later went to England, where for fif­teen years he occupied important positions as First Cantor of the United Synagogue. He officiated with Dayan Morris Swift and Chief Rabbi Brodie of the British Empire at the Brixton Hill Synagogue. Other pulpits and congregations thatwere fortunate enough to hear him were: The Cricklewood Synagogue, Catford Synagogue, the New Synagogue of London, The North Manchester Synagogue and the Greenbank Drive Hebrew Congregation of Liverpool, England.

In 1937 he married Rachel Fertleman, his wife for over 57 years. At their betrothal ceremonies (Tanoim), in London, most of the dynastic hassidic families were represented because both he and Rachel were related to: Tzadi Gerer, Primishlana, Twersky and Satmar families. Together they had three children: Myrtle, Jacob Meyer and Irwin. During the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, Cantor Katz continued to fulfill his duties on the bimah. During the continuous daily bombardments by the German Luftwaffe and the unbearable knowledge that his entire family, only a few kilometers away had undoubtedly perished on the streets of Belgium or in the concentration camps, he stood firm as both a sch’liach tzibur and one to whom one could look towards for spiritual succor.

In 1956, upon his arrival in the United States, Cantor Katz settled with his family in Boro Park, Brooklyn and was engaged by Congregation Tal­mud Torah of Flatbush, New York and finally, Congregation B’nai Brith Jacob of Savannah, Georgia.

For those who did not hear Cantor Katz, it is necessary to describe his voice and talent because it was one of those voices and cantoral personalities that was truly indicative of the age which gave birth to the Golden Age of Chazzanuth. Although classically trained and in possession of the very best qualities of one who sang with the Bel Canto method; he did not pursue a career as a secular concert artist or opera singer. He was known to have taken his mother to a performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in Brussels only to have her run from the theatre at the sign of genuflection.

As to his voice, he possessed a beautiful timbre, (often compared to Benjiamino Gigli), a highly-trained lyric-dramatic tenor of considerable range, with a beautiful mezza di voce and a solid B natural above the staff. He received his training from foremost instructors in voice and cantors of the cantoral art which included such giants as Gantmann and Rabincoff from Odessa and eminent professors of voice: the great tenor, Sylvano Isalberti 1875 – 1940 in Brussels and Bialsky respectively.

Cantor Katz also had a repertoire of the finest liturgical interpretations (recitativo), operatic arias, Yiddish and Israeli folk songs. Aside from his vocal gifts, what makes him perhaps more interesting than most cantors of his day is that he documented, in the form of meticulous manuscripts, the Eastern European Nusah Ha-Tefilah which is not fully known to us today. In 2003 through 2005, some 1300 manuscripts, which he had personally transcribed in the 1920 and 30s were given to Prof. Sylvan Kalib for inclusion in his maxim opus, The Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue. Encyclopaedic in scope, it is designed to comprehensively document and explain the totality of that musical-liturgical tradition, developed in Eastern Europe and transplanted in the United States. This study was published in 2002 by Syracuse University Press and is an ongoing thesis of tremendous scope and an invaluable music history documentation of our Jewish liturgical tradition.