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A hazzan or chazzan (Hebrew: חַזָּןħazzān, Modern Hebrew hazan, Yiddish khazn) is a Jewish cantor, a musician trained in the vocal arts who helps lead the congregation in songful prayer.[1]

There are many rules relating to how a cantor should lead services, but the idea of a cantor as a paid professional does not exist in classical rabbinic sources. The Jewish prayer services have their own entry; the prayers in these services are collected in a prayerbook known as the siddur.

The person leading the congregation in public prayers is called the shaliach tzibbur (Hebrew for "emissary of the congregation"). Traditional Jewish law restricts the role to Jewish males over the age of 13; the non-Orthodox Jewish movements allow women over the age of 12 to have this role as well. Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism invest both men and women cantors as full clergy. See also: Cantor in Reform Judaism.

In theory, any lay person can be a shaliach tzibbur; most synagogue attending Jews will serve in this role every now and again. In practice, those with the best voice and the most knowledge of the prayers serve much more often.

Growing importance of the office

The office of the hazzan increased in importance with the centuries. As public worship was developed in the Geonic period, and as the knowledge of the Hebrew language declined, singing gradually superseded the didactic and hortatory element in the worship in the synagogue.

This is not necessarily true today, particularly in the world of Orthodox Jews, where the role of the hazzan has diminished substantially. Where congregants are more fluent in their ability to read the text, understand the words and perform the basic melodies, the position of hazzan increasingly has become seen as superfluous; prayers, when sung, more often follow the mode of communal folk singing. Those who are inclined to see artistic synagogue music as a hallmark of Jewish culture and artistry have cited its lowered emphasis as a loss of tradition. Others argue that the focus of the Synagogue service should be on the prayers of the congregants and not on cantorial, concert performances, especially when the latter may be distracting to the former.


Even in the oldest times the chief qualifications demanded of the hazzan, in addition to knowledge of Biblical and liturgical literature as well as the prayer motifs (known as "steiger"), were a pleasant voice and an artistic delivery; for the sake of these, many faults were willingly overlooked. The hazzan was required to possess a pleasing appearance, to be married, and to have a flowing beard. Sometimes, according to Isaac of Vienna (13th century), a young hazzan having only a slight growth of beard was tolerated. Maimonides decided that the hazzan who recited the prayers on an ordinary Sabbath and on week-days need not possess an appearance pleasing to everybody; he might even have a reputation not wholly spotless, provided he was living a life morally free from reproach at the time of his appointment.

But all these moderations of the rule disappeared on holidays; then an especially worthy hazzan was demanded, one whose life was absolutely irreproachable, who was generally popular, and who was endowed with an expressive delivery. Even a person who had once litigated in a non-Jewish court, instead of to a Jewish court, in a disputed question could not act as hazzan on those days, unless he had previously done penance.[2] However many authorities were lenient in this regard and as long as a cantor was "merutzeh l'kehal" desired by the congregation, he was permitted to lead the prayers even on the holiest of days.

Today, a hazzan, particularly in more formal (usually not Orthodox) synagogues, is likely to have academic credentials, most often a degree in Music or in Sacred Music, sometimes a degree in Music Education or in Jewish Religious Education or a related discipline. The Doctor of Music degree is sometimes awarded to honour a hazzan.

Although traditionally cantors were always men, women equally serve this role in the more liberal branches of Judaism. Betty Robbins was possibly the first female cantor in 1955[3] though Barbara Ostfeld is usually given that distinction since her investiture at the Hebrew Union College in 1975.[4] As of 2007, HUC had invested 184 women cantors.[5]

Cantors as a profession

The role of hazzanim (Hebrew plural of hazzan) as a respected full-time profession has become a reality in recent centuries. In the last two centuries Jews in a number of European communities, notably Germany and Britain, came to view professionally trained hazzanim as clergy and the hazzan as the deputy rabbi. After the enlightenment, when European nations gave full citizenship and civil rights to Jews, professionally trained hazzanim were accepted by the secular governments as clergy in the same way that rabbis were accepted as clergy.

In an interesting turn of events, the United States government recognized cantors as the first Jewish clergy, even before rabbis were recognized - as a congregation could be organized and led by a committee of Jewish "laymen," who would not have the expertise in liturgy a hazzan would have, newly forming congregations in the late 1800s and early 1900s sometimes hired a hazzan for a synagogue (and made sure that a kosher butcher was established in the neighborhood) for some time before setting about hiring a rabbi, seeing the hazzan (and the butcher) as a more immediate need. The hazzan therefore solemnized marriages and otherwise represented the congregation in the eyes of civil authorities.

In the United States, many hazzanim supplement their ministry by also earning certification as and working as mohels, for bris ceremonies.

In the USA there are three major organizations for professionally trained hazzanim, one from each of the major Jewish denominations.

Many members of the Cantors Assembly are trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary's H.L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music. Many members of the American Conference of Cantors are trained at the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, School of Sacred Music (New York) Reform. Both of these programs offer a five-year training program.

The curriculum for students in these programs generally include, but are not limited to:

  • Hebrew: modern, Biblical (Torah), and liturgical (Siddur)
  • Learning nusach (liturgical tradition)
  • Learning the laws and traditions pertaining to Jewish prayer service
  • The history and content of the siddur
  • Music theory, sight-reading sheet music
  • Learning an instrument, usually a piano or guitar
  • Singing technique
  • Cantillation - tropes for the liturgical chanting of biblical books
  • Choral Conducting
  • Jewish history
  • Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament)
  • Jewish music history
  • Pastoral care and counseling
  • Theology

Golden age

The period between the two World Wars is often referred to as the "golden age" of hazzanut (cantorial performance). The greats include Zavel Kwartin (1874-1953), Moritz Henle (1850-1925), Joseph "Yossele" Rosenblatt (1882-1933), Gershon Sirota (1874-1943), and Leib Glantz.

In the Post World War II period, prominent cantors were Moshe Koussevitzky, David Werdyger, Richard Tucker and Abraham Lopes Cardozo (1914-2006). Operatic tenor Jan Peerce, whose cantorial recordings were highly regarded, was never a cantor by profession but he often cantored during the high holidays.

Popular contemporary cantors include Naftali Hershtik, Joseph Malovany, Shmuel Barzilai, and Benzion Miller.

See also


External links



Cantorial organizations

More information

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Hazzan. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.