the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Communal official. The word is probably borrowed from the Assyrian "ḥazanu," "ḥazannu" (overseer, director; see Delitzsch, "Assyrisches Handwörterbuch," p. 272a; connected with the Hebrew , meaning "vision"). "Ḥazanuti" (plural of "ḥazanu") in the El-Amarna tablets designates the governors who were stationed by Egypt in the subjugated cities of Palestine (Winckler and Zimmern, "Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament," pp. 194, 196, 198).
In the Talmud the term "ḥazzan" is used to denote the "overseer": (1) of a city; "ḥazzane demata," according to B. M. 93b (see Rashi ad loc.; Ket. 8b; 'Ar. 6b); (2) of a court of justice; at his order the sessions opened (Yer. Ber. 4:7d); he also executed judgment on the condemned (Mak. 3:12; comp. Yer. Sanh. 5:23a); (3) of the Temple; he had charge of the Temple utensils (comp. Arabic "khazin" = "treasure-keeper") and aided the priests in disrobing (Tamid 5:3; Yoma 7:1); (4) of the synagogue ("ḥazzan bet ha-keneset"; see Soṭah 7:7,8; Suk. 4:4); he brought out the rolls of the Torah, opened them at the appointed readings for the week, and put them away again (Soṭah 7:7-8; Yer. Soṭah 7:21d; Yer. Meg. 4:15b, 75b); with trumpet-blasts he announced the beginnings of Sabbaths and holy days from the roof of the synagogue (Tosef., Suk. ); he attended to the lamps of the synagogue (Yer. Ma'as. Sh. 56a); he accompanied the pilgrims that brought the firstlings to the sanctuary of Jerusalem (Tosef., Bik. 2:101). His place was in the middle of the synagogue, on the wooden "bimah" (Yer. Suk. 5:55b), and, according to Tosef., Meg. , beginning (see Mordecai ad loc.), he might, at the desire of the congregation, read aloud from the Torah, his ordinary duties then devolving temporarily upon another. It seems also to have been the duty of the "overseer" of the synagogue to teach the children to read (Shab. 1:3, according to Maimonides, Bertinoro, and Tosafot Yom-Ṭob on the passage), or to assist the schoolmaster in teaching the children in the synagogue.
A passage in the Jerusalem Talmud (Ber. 9:12d, beginning), which Kohut considers to have been interpolated after Midr. Teh. to Psalms 19, seems to indicate that the ḥazzan also led the prayers in the synagogue. Especially in smaller congregations, and even in early Talmudic times, the duties of preacher, judge, schoolmaster, and ḥazzan were discharged by one person, as the famous story about Levi bar Sisi shows (Yer. Yeb. 13a; Gen. R. ). In the Geonic Period.
In the Geonic Period.
In the geonic period, at any rate, the duties of reading from the Torah ("ḳore") and of reciting theprayers ("Sheliaḥ ẓibbur") were included, as a rule, among the functions of the ḥazzan (see Pirḳe R. El. ,; Masseket Soferim 10:7; 11:3,5). The blowing of the shofar was also one of his duties, as may be seen from a responsum of Solomon ben Adret (No. 300). He acted sometimes as secretary to the congregation. He was assisted, especially on festival days, by a chorus ("meshorerim," singers; Immanuel, "Meḥabberot," 15:131). This institution was afterward developed in Poland and Germany, where a singer stood on each side of the precentor and accompanied him, sometimes in high, sometimes in low, tones, at intervals singing independently.
Growing Importance of the Office.
The office of ḥazzan 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. The piyyuṭim (very often composed by the ḥazzanim themselves) were intermingled with the prayers, and tended still further to make the ḥazzan indispensable. It is true that in the ninth century ḥazzanim skilled in piyyuṭim were rejected (see Zunz, "Ritus," p. 7), but the repulse was only temporary; in time the piyyuṭim attained, both over the ritual and over the congregation, an almost limitless influence, before which even Saadia was compelled to give way (ib. p. 8).
Even in the oldest times the chief qualifications demanded of the ḥazzan, in addition to knowledge of Biblical and liturgical literature, were a pleasant voice and an artistic delivery; for the sake of these, many faults were willingly overlooked (see Zunz, "S. P." pp. 15, 144 et seq., and the Cremona edition of the Zohar, section Wayeḥi, p. 249). He was required to possess a pleasing appearance, to be married, and to wear a flowing beard. Sometimes, according to Isaac of Vienna (13th cent.), a young ḥazzan having only a slight growth of beard was tolerated (see Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 53; "Bet Yosef," ad loc.; "Shibbale ha-Leḳeṭ," ed. Buber, § 10). Maimonides decided that the ḥazzan 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 at the time of his appointment a life morally free from reproach. Even baptized Jews who had sincerely returned to Judaism might, according to him, be admissible as reciters of prayers (see Lampronti, "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," 10:219b; Solomon ha-Kohen [MaHaRSHaK], Responsa, , §§ 127, 157; Elijah Mizraḥi, Responsa, 1:6). The same privilege was accorded Maranos whose return to Judaism was complete and sincere (Abraham di Boton, "Leḥem Rab", § 3).
But all these moderations of the rule disappeared on fast-days or high feast-days ("yamim nora'im"); then an especially worthy ḥazzan 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 appealed to a non-Jewish, instead of to a Jewish, court in a disputed question could not act as ḥazzan on those days, unless he had previously done penance (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 581).
Conditions of Election.
Even as late as the fourteenth century persons from the three Palestinian cities Haifa, Beth-shean, and Tabun (Neubauer, "G. T." pp. 175, 195, 197) were wholly ineligible for the office (Nissim ben Reuben's commentary on Alfasi's "Halakot"; Meg. ). Since the ḥazzan was the representative of the congregation ("sheliaḥ ẓibbur") in prayer, it was felt to be very necessary that a perfect inner harmony should exist between him and the congregation, and consequently a unanimous vote for his election was insisted upon in many places. If but one person in the community refused to vote for a candidate, and was able to give a reasonable explanation therefor, the latter was not appointed (MaHaRIL, Responsa, No. 60; Meïr of Padua, Responsa, No. 64; Agur, No. 96). In the Rhine district this rule was adhered to with especial strictness in the earlier part of the Middle Ages ("Or Zarua'," 1:41; comp. Gross in "Monatsschrift," 20:262). In the seventeenth century, however, Abraham Abele ben Ḥayyim ha-Levi expressed himself against this custom in his commentary, "Magen Abraham," on Oraḥ Ḥayyim: he asserted that the ḥazzan no longer represented the congregation in prayer, as in former times; that he was no longer the only one who knew how to say the prayers, since every one in the congregation now prayed for himself; and that a unanimous vote in his favor had therefore become superfluous.
Naturally, the removal of the ḥazzan from office, as well as his appointment, indeed, depended in most cases upon the will of those who paid the highest taxes in the community. This fact seems to have become legally recognized in the sixteenth century (Levi ben Ḥabib, Responsa, No. 179). A blameless ḥazzan was not to be removed simply because another had a more pleasing voice; a second ḥazzan, however, might be appointed. An old ḥazzan who had lost his voice could be removed from office, and some arrangement be made with him in regard to his maintenance. The community could also discharge a ḥazzan who, out of consideration for his sons that had been converted to Christianity, omitted the execratory formula "Wela-Malshinim," etc., in the Eighteen Benedictions (ib. No. 15).
Rules for a Ḥazzan.
In the sixteenth century Moses Minz, at the desire of the community of Bamberg, drew up rules of conduct for a ḥazzan (Responsa, No. 81). These show the accepted opinion as to the ideal ḥazzan. He should be blameless in character, humble, a general favorite, and married, or at least should have reached the age of puberty; he should possess an agreeable voice, be able to read easily and understand all the books of the Holy Scriptures, be the first to enter, and the last to leave, the house of God, and should strive to attain the highest degree of devotion in his prayers; he should dress neatly, and wear a long upper garment and "knee breeches"; he should not look about him nor move his hands restlessly,but should keep them folded under his mantle; in praying aloud he should articulate each word separately as if he were counting money, and his delivery should be quiet, distinct, and in accordance with the sense, and his accentuation should follow strictly the rules of grammar. Outside God's house he should avoid sowing any seeds of anger or hatred against himself, by keeping aloof from communal disputes (see Güdemann, "Gesch." 3:95 et seq.).
As early as the time of Hai Gaon the ḥazzan was paid according to his ability in reciting "Yoẓerot," "Ḳerobot," etc. (comp. Zunz, "Ritus," p. 8); and he was also exempt from communal taxes (Isaac ben Sheshet, Responsa, Nos. 176, 177). During the eleventh century there arose some opposition to the payment of the ḥazzan, but the opposition was without result (Judah the Pious, in "Or Zarua'," , No. 113). In Germany the ḥazzan was entitled "precentor" in public documents (Gengler, "Deutsche Stadtrechtsalterthümer," p. 104); in lands where any of the Romance languages were spoken he was called "cantor"
Complaints Against Ḥazzanim.
In the early Middle Ages the office of ḥazzan seems to have been held in high esteem, for scholars like R. Eliezer ben Meshullam and R. Meïr acted as the leaders in prayer. As late as the end of the fourteenth century Jacob Möln ha-Levi (Maharil), at the express desire of the congregation, read the prayer on special festivals, such as New-Year, the Day of Atonement, the eve of the 9th of Ab, Hosha'na Rabbah, and Shemini 'Aẓeret (the "Ṭal"-prayer; Maharil, "Minhagim," pp. 43b, 49a, 61a). In Spain, however, even at the beginning of the fourteenth century, Jews of the better families seem no longer to have adopted this calling, and the position of the ḥazzan in Spain was a source of surprise and grief to the German Asher ben Jehiel (see Lampronti, "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," c.). As a matter of fact, no other communal official of the Middle Ages occasioned so much and so frequent complaint as the ḥazzan. As early as the ninth century complaint was made that the ḥazzanim changed the text of the regular prayers (Zunz, "S. P." p. 114). In connection with the piyyuṭim, the ḥazzanim introduced foreign melodies taken from non-Jewish sources.
Against these abuses Alfasi (Responsa, No. 281), the "Book of the Pious" (ed. Basel, Nos. 238, 768), Maimonides ("Moreh," 1:59), Asher ben Jehiel ("Besamim Rosh," iv 22), and others protested in vain. The earlier Jewish melodies, not having been written down, were changed by the ḥzzanim, consciously or unconsciously, in accordance with their individual tastes, which were often very poor. Their vanity also led them to unsuitably prolong single notes and to insert interludes of song ("Magen Abraham," on Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 281). Thereby the prayers were greatly lengthened, concerning which the Midrash Ḳohelet complains in the words of Ecclesiastes 7:5: "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools." All complaints on this score, however, were of no avail (see "Bet Yosef" on Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 53; Moses Minz, Responsa, No. 87; Judah b. Moses Selichover, "Shire Yehudah"; Isaiah Horwitz, "Shene Luḥot ha-Berit," section "Tefillah"; Solomon Lipschütz, "Te'udat Shelomoh," No. 21). The morality of the ḥazzanim was not always the highest, and they were continually censured for vanity. According to Asher ben Jehiel (ib.), they sang only what was most likely to win applause (so also Solomon Ephraim Luntschütz, "'Ammude Shesh," quoted in Güdemann, "Quellenschriften zur Gesch. des Unterrichts und der Erziehung bei den Deutschen Juden," p. 85).
It is stated that the ḥazzanim, in the midst of a prayer, frequently brought the ṭallit, which covered the head, down upon the shoulder, in order to create an opportunity to observe what impression their singing had made (Lewysohn, "Meḳore Minhagim," p. 12, Berlin, 1846). Their immoderate raising of the voice, their incorrect pronunciation of Hebrew, and the drawling of their singing were constantly subjects of complaint. Their method of singing has justly been called "a pilpul set to music," and was current in Poland, Germany, and Austria from the seventeenth century onward (Löw, "Lebensalter," p. 314). The ḥazzanim themselves, in the same period, called their solos, which they prolonged at will, "sebarot" (hypotheses), an expression borrowed from the Talmudists(ib.). The prolongation of the service naturally caused general weariness, and hence there resulted a great deal of disorder. Abraham ben Shabbethai Horowitz, in his ethical will "Yesh Noḥalin," p. 16b, even recommends the study of the Ṭurim or of the Mishnah at those places in the service where the ḥazzan is accustomed to prolong his singing. The unworthy deportment of the choir, their talking and quarreling with the ḥazzan during service, also occasioned complaint (see Jew. Encyc. 4:41). The "Reshit Bikkurim" (17th cent.) enumerates a long list of offenses of the ḥazzanim, among which is mentioned their habit of putting the hand on the chin or throat in singing, evidently to facilitate trilling or the producing of high notes (see Güdemann, c. p. 301). The existence of these conditions is also shown in the guide for ḥazzanim written by the ḥazzan Solomon Lipschütz ("Te'udat Shelomoh," Offenbach, 1718). These faults did not exist to the same extent in Sephardic congregations, where the absence of piyyuṭim from the regular service gave less opportunity for individual singing, and where well-ordered congregational chanting was developed.
- Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, passim;
- Bacher, in Hastings, Dict. Bible, 4:640;
- Berliner, Die Entstehung des Vorbeterdienstes, in Jüdische Presse (Israel. Lehrer und Cantor), 1899, pp. 2, 13, 29, 34, 40;
- Güdemann, Gesch. 3:49,95,237;
- idem, Quellenschriften zur Gesch. des Unterrichts, etc., passim;
- Grätz, Gesch. 5:150;
- Jastrow, Dict.;
- Kohut, Berühmic Israelitische Männer und Frauen, pp. 152 et seq.;
- Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥak, s. Ḥazzan, Sheliaḥ Ẓibbur, Teḳi'ot, etc.;
- Oesterreichisch-Ungarische Cantor-Zeitung, 1888, Nos. 23, 26, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38;
- Kohut, in Ha-Shaḥar, 10:198;
- Smolenskin, Ha-Ṭo'eh be-Darke ha-Ḥayyim, 2:272;
- Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, 3:513 et seq.;
- Zunz, G. V. p. 425;
- idem, Ritus, pp. 6, 8, 36, 98;
- Schürer, Gesch. 2:441;
- A. Lewysohn, Meḳore Minhagim, pp. 11 et seq.;
- Kohut, Aruch Completum.
In Modern Times.
With the abridgment and modernization of the old ritual the music of the synagogue was also put upon a modern basis; the ancient chants and melodies were written down in modern notation, andharmonized; the ḥazzan gave way to the cantor, and the "meshorerim" were supplanted by a male, or mixed, choir. While there is no doubt of the common origin of the traditional chants, the manner of singing both them and the so-called traditional melodies differs materially among the Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Therefore it may be said that there are two schools of cantors—the Sephardic and the Ashkenazic. The latter may again be divided into the German and the Polish, differing somewhat from each other in the manner of singing the chant, the latter being chiefly characterized by a greater embellishment of the melodies, while the former adheres to a plainer style.
Sulzer and His Influence.
The first to harmonize some of the Jewish melodies, it is said, was Meïr Cohen, early in the nineteenth century. A more ambitious effort was made by Israel Lévy of Paris (1788-1832). His compositions became, and still are, very popular in France, and were published by the Jewish Consistory of Paris (1862). The father of the modern cantorate, however, was Solomon Sulzer (b. at Hohenems, Austria, March 30, 1804), chief cantor of Vienna from 1825 to 1890, and universally recognized as the regenerator of the music of the synagogue. His "Shir Zion" became the model adopted by subsequent cantors and composers of synagogal music. Next came S. Naumbourg, cantor in Paris ("Zemirot Yisrael," in 1847), and H. Weintraub of Königsberg ("Shire Bet Adonai," 1860). Louis Lewandowski, royal musical director of Berlin, and Adolf Grünzweig, musical director in Arad, Hungary, have also done much for the development of the modern cantorate, the former by the publication of his "Ḳol Rinnah u-Tefillah" (1850) and "Todah we-Zimrah" (1854), and the latter by his "Zemirot shel Shabbat" (1863). Moritz Deutsch of Breslau (b. 1818, at Nikolsburg, Austria) published "Vorbeterschule" (1882), "Breslauer Synagogengesänge" (1884), "Deutsche Choräle" (1886), "Nachtrag zu den Breslauer Synagogengesängen" (1888), and "Synagogen-Praeludien" (1889). These men, together with Abraham Baer of Gothenburg, Sweden, author of "Ba'al Tefillah, oder der Praktische Vorbeter" (1870), were the pioneers in the field of modern synagogue music.
Among those that followed the above-mentioned were many who printed collections of their own, or of others', renderings. A partial list may serve to recall the chief cantors of the nineteenth century, the titles of their chief works, where these have been published, being given:
Max Löwenstamm, Munich ("Zemirot le-El Ḥai," posthumous, 1884); I. L. Weiss, Warsaw (1825-89; "Musikalische Synagogenbibliothek," 1888); H. Berggrün, Hanover (1838-90); Solomon Popper, Frankfort-on-the-Main (1838-89); Leon Kartchmaroff, Nagy-Kanizsa; I. Lachman, Hürben, Bavaria; Moritz Friedmann, Budapest; Eduard Birnbaum, Königsberg; J. Hyman, Amsterdam ("Shire Todah le-El"); Julius Mombach, 1813-1880 ("Zemirot Yisrael," London, 1881); Marcus Hast, London ("Seder ha-'Abodah," 1879); A. B. Birnbaum ("Hallel we-Zimrah"); M. Rosenhaupt, Nuremberg ("Shire Ohel Ya'aḳob," 1887); Emanuel Kirschner, Munich ("Tehillot le-El Ḥai," 1890); Samuel Welsch, New York (in collaboration with others, "Zimrat Yah," 1879); Moritz Goldstein, Cincinnati, Ohio (in collaboration with others, "Zimrat Yah," 1879; "Kol Zimrah"); Alois Kaiser, Baltimore, Md. (in collaboration with others, "Zimrat Yah," 1879-86; "Shire Ḥinnuk," 1870; "Union Hymnal," 1897; "Principal Melodies of the Synagogue," 1893); William Löwenberg, Philadelphia, Pa. (collaborated in "Union Hymnal," 1897).
The majority of these writers were themselves practical ḥazzanim, and the music published by them was in most instances that employed by them in divine service.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Precentor'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​p/precentor.html. 1901.