In the Jewish culture music is not just a form of entertainment or a way to pass the time it is so much more. It is part of the life blood of what it is to be Jewish and the beliefs of those that speak Hebrew around the world and throughout time. In Genesis musicians are mentioned as one of the three fundamental professions and for thousands of years music has remained one of the most important parts of Jewish life.
In fact one book of the Bible is devoted entirely to music – The Book of Psalms.
Because of the mixture of oral and written tradition it is possible to hear Hebrew music sung now that has been sung in the same way for thousands of years. Its importance was so highly recognized that it was banned in Babylon and Persia during the diaspora after the destruction of the Temple and was only allowed during Shabbat (The Sabbath).
Early Hebrew music was a combination of prayer, music and dance that was used as a way of praising G-d, expressing emotions and recounting history at a time when there were very few written records kept. It is in fact this oral/musical record keeping that has had a profound influence on Hebrew music through the ages. As the Jewish people were moved around the world they incorporated into Jewish culture different elements oflocal cultures . Hebrew music can in a very real way be used as a window to look into other cultures as the Jewish people moved around the Arab world, Russia and Europe to name but a few. In some instances it is a living record of cultures and histories that have in most other ways become lost in the passage of time.
But don’t think that Hebrew music is just about religion. It has become a way of expressing identity and bringing together cultures, indeed in Israel today you can find music from all over the world all being played together in a huge melting pot thanks to the return of the Jewish people from around the world to their homeland.
It is very true to say that the Jewish people carry the ancient music of the Bible and the music of the places they lived in with them. It is this combination of ancient and modern, religious and secular, homegrown and foreign all in one that is the essence of Hebrew music.
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