in the Second Temple
This survey summarizes
three millennia of Jewish liturgical music, from countries as diverse
as Yemen and Germany, and is influenced by musicological trends that
go back to the father of Jewish musicology, Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (1882-1938)
. Idelsohn can now be criticized for his overzealous
attempts to trace different musical traditions back to a common layer
as early as the Second Temple and before. Moreover, much of his masterwork,
Jewish Music in Its Historical Development ,
including his theory of the modes, needs a thorough revision. Yet even
with these shortcomings, he remains today the exemplary scholar in the
field. His Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies 
is still the most important anthology of Jewish chants and songs.
Evident also is the
influence of my own teachers and colleagues, such as Edith Gerson-Kiwi,
Hanoch Avenary, and the members of the Jewish Music Research Center
in Jerusalem. It may also reflect the biased view of the author as
a practicing Ashkenazi cantor, and the pedagogical
habits of a teacher who is constantly forced to simplify (perhaps
oversimplify) the issues for his students. The survey is confined
to the musical practices of "rabbinic" Judaism. It does not include
Samaritan, Karaite, and Ethiopian liturgical music because these traditions
require special studies of their own.
A firm foundation
to the present study and to Jewish liturgical music itself is to be
found, of course, in the Bible.
It is doubtful whether
the early periods of the Bible, before the establishment of the Temple
worship, have any influence biblical on our liturgical music today.
Nevertheless, some early biblical references allude to the liturgical
music of ancient ceremonies.
The Bible presents
severe problems for the student of Israel's ancient liturgical music
, not the least of which is the fact that we can
only guess what biblical music sounded like. No precise musical notation
indicated melody and rhythm until the thirteenth century. Moreover,
music is far from the Bible's center of interest, so descriptions
of music are scanty; allusions to instruments, obscure. To some extent,
we interpret scriptural information from traditional interpretations
of the text and the reappearance of the Bible's musical terms in later
sources. Such later sources, however, are insufficient and, at times,
even misleading.  We prefer, therefore, to apply
historical and etymological analyses derived from comparisons of ancient
translations, such as the Aramaic targum or the Greek Septuagint,
or evidence from archeological findings. Alternatively, we consult
ancient Christian sources and ethnomusicological studies of the living
Semitic cultures of the Middle East, such as that of the Bedouins
of the Negev and Sinai deserts. 
The Bible's description
of the patriarchal period mentions no liturgical music at all. Instead,
music is either connected to family and folk celebrations or described
as a means to invoke divine inspiration. Genesis 31:26, for instance,
records Laban's protest to Jacob that had he known that Jacob was intent
on leaving him, he would have sent him on his way with songs and instrumental
music. The text alludes to a farewell ceremony which was probably common
among the ancient nomadic tribes. Laban mentions two musical instruments:
tof (probably a kind of tambourine similar to the Arabic daf)
and kinnor (probably a kind of lyre). These, together with the
ugav (perhaps an ancient reed instrument such as the Greek aulos),
constituted the main musical instruments of the patriarchal period.
The kinnor and the ugav were associated with Jubal, the
mythical father of music (Gen. 4:21), and were perhaps considered men's
instruments. The tof, on the other hand, was associated with
women's dance songs (mecholot), such as Miriam's song at the
Red Sea (Exod. 15:20). 
The sojourn in Egyptian
contact with Egyptian culture may have influenced the music of the Israelites.
The silver trumpets of the tabernacle were probably similar to those
found in Egyptian tombs; other instruments were perhaps imported from
Egypt, especially during the reign of King Solomon. 
Egyptian songs, too, may have influenced those of the Israelites, and
the worship at the Shiloh Temple may have borrowed musical practices
from Egyptian or Canaanite worship. That none of this is mentioned in
the books of Joshua and Judges is perhaps due to internal censorship
that reflects the Bible's rejection of these other cultures.
The book of Joshua
is little concerned about music. Despite the story of the fall of
Jericho (Josh. 6), the sound of the shofar, the ram's horn,
was never considered music; rather, it was, and still is, regarded
as a sacred signal of alarm and remembrance. Only two poetic lines
appear in the book (Josh. 10:12-13), and they quote the lost "Book
of Yashar, " which may have been a compilation of ancient poems or
ballads, including a longer version of David's lament over Saul and
Jonathan (see 2 Sam. 1:18). In the ancient world, such poetry was
usually sung or chanted during civil or religious ceremonies.
The books of Judges
and Samuel contain a few references to music and dance. Women welcome
victorious leaders with song and dance (Judg. 11:34; 1 Sam. 18:6;
and Deborah's song, Judg. 5); young women dance in vineyards at Shiloh
during the festival celebrations (Judg. 21:19-23); a "company of prophets"
descends from the sacred shrine prophesying to the accompaniment of
a nevel (a stringed instrument of uncertain identification),
tof, chalil (the pipe), and kinnor; a musical
boy, David, plays the kinnor before Saul to relieve the king
from his melancholy (I Sam. 16:23); leaders and prophets recite (probably
chant) political speeches and moralizing fables (Judg. 9:7-20, 1 Sam.
15:22-23, 2 Sam. 12:1-4); people sing laments over the death of their
heroes (2 Sam. 1:17-27 and 3:33-34).
The Bible's few allusions
to secular music comment with reproach. But even these scanty references
indicate that the people, especially the upper classes, had a vivid
musical culture. Amos (ch. 6) describes what was perhaps a typical feast
of the rich people of Samaria, with fat food, wine, rich ointment, song,
and instrumental music. Isaiah (5:11-12) relates a similar scene in
Judea. Later still, Job depicts the wicked as playing the tof,
kinnor, and ugav. Instrumental music is also associated
with mourning; Jeremiah (48:36) uses the sound of pipes (chalils)
as a simile of his mocking lamentation of the fate of Moab.
Generally the prophets
associate music with the general corruption of the rich; Isaiah (23:15-16)
even connects it with harlotry. Perhaps the only verses that show
a positive attitude towards secular music are Jeremiah 31:4 and 13,
which foresee the restoration of song and dance as part of the future
redemption of Israel. We know little for sure about the relationship
between sacred and secular music in ancient Israel, but I think that
the two did not differ much in ancient times and that they strongly
influenced each other.
Sacred music first receives
an important role with the biblical narration of King David's life.
Music as a part of the regular worship is not mentioned in the Bible
before David. Earlier description of the divine worship mention only
the blowing of the shofar and trumpets over the sacrifices, but these
were nonmusical, priestly functions. The story relating the transfer
of the holy ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6, 1 Chron. 6:16-17), however,
describes music for the first time as an integral part of the worship.
Some discrepancy exists between the two versions of the story, yet both
suggest the use of string, wind, and percussion instruments along with
singing and dancing.
formulas vary from one community to another, and they are in general
more complicated than their Roman Catholic counterparts. Usually,
two recitation tones are used, a higher one for the first hemistich
and a lower one for the second. These tones are frequently embellished
with many other auxiliary notes.
It is quite difficult
to ascertain from the current Jewish and Christian examples how the
original psalmodies sounded. Nevertheless, the structure of the text
and the need for a simple formula for the execution of many verses
of a similar structure may assure us that the psalmody of the Temple
was at least in principle very similar to some current formulas. Many
scholars believe that the medieval Jewish and Christian formulas branched
off from the ancient patterns of the Temple. Yet it is also possible
that the formulas that we can hear now in synagogues and churches
developed independently. The similarity of the structure might testify,
not to the migration of the ancient chants, but to the structural
strength of the psalm verses themselves. In other words, if you would
have to invent a melodic pattern to fit the numerous psalm verses
that have to be chanted in the liturgy, you would have no choice but
to create a psalmody that in principle would closely resemble existing
Jewish or Christian formulas.
While we may have
some idea about the singing of the psalms, we have very little knowledge
of the musical instruments in the Temple and their function. The Book
of Psalms contains many obscure terms, either in the psalm titles
or in the psalms themselves. Of these, some may refer to instruments
or to instrumental music. Thus, for instance, the term asor
(Ps. 92:4), or nevel asor (Pss. 33:3 and 144:2) may mean a
ten-string harp or kithara, whereas the term sheminit
(Pss. 6:1 and 12: 1) may again mean an eight-string instrument of
the same family; but we are unable now to describe the instrument
or its musical qualities.
Some terms present
special problems of interpretation. Jewish tradition understands the
word selah as "forever." Yet the Septuagint translated it as
diapsalma, that is, a sort of instrumental interlude between
verses or a postlude for the entire psalm; and some medieval Jewish
commentators concur. 
dancing is not mentioned as part of the worship in the First Temple.
King David's dance before the ark (2 Sam. 6 and I Chr. 16) is an exception
rather than a precedent.
Sacred music was
also used outside of the Temple, in coronation ceremonies and in wars.
Thus Jehoshaphat is reported using Levite singers in his war against
the Ammonites (2 Chr. 20). The singers lead the army into battle and
head up a victory procession into Jerusalem with the regular Temple
instruments. Temple music, similar to that of Jerusalem, may have
existed in other centers of worship such as Beth El and Dan, or even
in less important "high places."
As is suggested by
Psalm 137, the "Song of Zion," must have been famous even beyond the
Land of Israel. But contrary to what could be deduced from the same
psalm, the exiled Levites by the rivers of Babylon did sing the Lord's
song on foreign soil; or at least they transmitted it in other ways
to later generations who restored it to Second-Temple worship. The
same returning generations may also have heard the rich music of the
Babylonian temples and been influenced by it, just as they borrowed
also the new Assyrian script and the Babylonian calendar.
One hundred twenty-eight
Levite singers, "the sons of Asaph," are said to have returned from
the Babylonian exile (Ezra 12:41). Moreover, during the inauguration
of the rebuilt Temple, the priests blew the trumpets and the Levites
played the cymbals and sang King David's Psalms (Ezra 3:10-13). Nehemiah
(12:27-43) describes in detail the inauguration of the wall of Jerusalem
with a grand processional of two groups of priests and Levites who
marched in opposite directions on the wide wall, blowing the trumpets,
singing and playing the cymbals, and plucking their nevels
Rabbinic literature recalls
worship at the Second Temple, especially after its reconstruction by
King Herod. To the extent that these recollections are valid, we can
say that the Temple choir consisted of at least twelve Levites "and
their number could be increased without end." Young Levites could serve
as choir boys "to add sweetness to the melody" (M. Arak. 2:3-6). The
psalms were still the main hymns and were probably still sung antiphonally,
responsorially, or as a litany (B. Suk, 38b). Each day is said to have
had a psalm of its own (M. Tamid 5:4):
The Levites are credited
also with developing various techniques of virtuoso singing. It was
said of Hugras the Levite that when he sang his virtuoso passages he
inserted his thumb into his mouth and placed his index finger under
his nose, and that by this means he was able to produce unusual tones
that used to astonish the attending priests. 
music at the Second Temple seems to have been richer than that of
the First Temple. The orchestra consisted of two to six nevels (probably
kitharas), nine or more kinnors (lyres; the maximum
number was limitless), two to twelve chains (pipes, perhaps shawms
of the aulos type), and one cymbal. The priests blew the shofar
and at least two trumpets. They also sounded the magrefah (the
rake used for clearing the ashes of the altar) by throwing it forcefully
on the ground in order to signal the beginning of the Temple Worship.
Summarizing the Mishnah,
Idelsohn describes the main musical worship, which as in the
First Temple was part of the morning sacrifice. "After the
priests on duty had recited a benediction, the Ten Commandments, the
Shema (Deut. 6:4-9), the priestly benediction (Num. 6:22-26),
and three other benedictions, they proceeded to the offerings," after
which, "one of them sounded the Magrefah... the signal for
the priests to enter the Temple to prostrate themselves, whereas for
the Levites that sound marked the beginning of the musical performance.
Two priests took their stand at the altar immediately and started
to blow the trumpets... After this performance, they approached Ben
Arza, the cymbal player, and took their stand beside him, one at his
right and the other at his left side. Whereupon, at a given sign with
a flag by the superintendent, this Levite sounded his cymbal, and
all the Levites began to sing a part of the daily psalm. Whenever
they finished a part they stopped, and the priests repeated their
blowing of the trumpets and the people present prostrated themselves."
Usually, during the
sacrifices and in some festive processions, only the trumpets were
blown; but on New Year's Day and on fast days, the shofar was sounded
together with the trumpets (M. RH 3:3-4) in very stylized manner,
utilizing two particular sounds: tekiyah, a plain sustained
sound, and teruah, a trill or a tremolo. 
On weekdays seven rounds of this order were performed by the trumpeters:
one for the opening of the Temple gates at dawn, three at the morning
sacrifice, and three at the afternoon sacrifice. On Sabbaths, New
Moons and festivals three rounds were added at the additional sacrifices.
On Friday afternoons, two special rounds were sounded to announce
the beginning of the Sabbath (M. Suk. 5:5).
The best time to
hear the music of the Temple was probably during the celebrations
of the water libation at the festival of Sukkot. The festivities took
place at night and included singing and dancing of all assembled (the
only occasion when dancing in the Temple is mentioned in the sources),
as well as acrobatic feats performed with torches. The Levites formed
a huge choir and orchestra "with innumerable musical instruments"
that stood on the fifteen steps that led from the men's section to
the women's. They sang psalms of praise, perhaps the fifteen Psalms
of Ascent, Psalms 121-135 (M. Suk. 5:4).
sources tell us little about the role of music in domestic sacred
ceremonies. Singing and dancing is mentioned here and there but no
details are given. The most frequently mentioned musical instrument
is the chalil, a reed instrument of the aulos family
which was used at weddings and funerals (M. B.M. 4:1; Matt. 9:23 and
11:17; Luke 7:32). It was held that "even the poorest of Israel should
hire not less than two chalils and one wailing woman" for his
wife's funeral. 
This page is reproduced,
in three parts, by permission of the author and publisher in three
parts from "Jewish Liturgical Music from the Bible to Hasidims" by
Eliyahu Schleifer, in Sacred Sound and Social Change: Liturgical
Music in Jewish and Christian Experience published by University
of Notre Dame Press. This book is available in our liturgical web
Yuval 5 (1986), the Abraham Zvi Idelsohn memorial volume, especially
Eliyahu Schleifer, "Idelsohn's Scholarly and Literary Publications:
An Annotated Bibliography," pp. 53-180.
Jewish Music in Its Historical Development (New York, 1929;
Published between 1914 and 1933, in German as Hebrsch-orientalischer
Melodienschatz. A Hebrew version covers vols. 1-5, and the English
version all but vols. 3-5. Details in Schleifer, "Idelsohn's Publications,"
In general, Ashkenazi Jews trace their cultural roots to Germany,
while Sephardi Jews hark back to Spain. See below for fuller definitions.
See Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York, 1969).
Modern Hebrew usage is especially misleading: e.g., kinnor,
For a masterful study of this kind, see Bathja Bayer, "The Biblical
Nebel," Yuval 1 (1968): 89-131.
Possibly, however, machol, which appears together with tof,
indicated some kind of flute. Tuppim umecholot (Exod. 15:20)
would then mean tambourines and flutes, perhaps similar to the ancient
"tabor and pipe."
Under the directorship of Moshe Gorali, an attempt was made by the
Haifa Music Museum and Amli Library to reconstruct the trumpets and
other biblical instruments. See the catalogue, Music in the Ancient
World (The Haifa Museum of Ancient Art, Spring 197 1). These reconstructions,
however, cannot be considered final and authoritative. Moreover, at
best, all we can reconstruct is the instrument, not the sounds that
were produced by the ancients.
On other related problems, see Bathja Bayer, "The Tides of the Psalms:
A Renewed Investigation of an Old Problem, "Yuval 4 (1982): 29-123,
and the vast bibliography there.
Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah, ch. 3.
The magrefah was erroneously identified in ancient sources
and modern interpretations as an organ of the Roman hydraulos
type. See Bathja Bayer, Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), vol.
12, cols. 1452-53. In an unpublished article read at the Tenth Congress
of Jewish Studies, August 1989, Bayer sums up the evidence showing
that the magrefah was nothing but the rake, and that the term
could not have been used for an organ of any type.
Idelsohn, Jewish Music, pp. 18-19.
A third sound, shevarim, was probably added after the destruction
of the Temple.
M. Ket. 4:4. See Hanoch Avenary, "'Flutes for a Bride or a Dead Man':
The Symbolism of the Flute According to Hebrew Sources," Orbis
Musicae 1/1 (August 1971): 11-24.