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CHAZZAN or hazzan (pl. Chazzanim, 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.