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Common steps and sub-activities

Jewish and kabbalah chanting

Jewish synagogues may use musical instruments or not.  Where a synagogue is without instruments, all the emphasis falls on the vocal line.  Some believe that the simplest and purest form of the chanting used goes back to the time of Ezra, however, there is remarkable unity between the three major traditions of Jewish liturgical music – Ashkenazi, Sefardi and oriental which strongly suggests a common root and a root that may be oriental in  nature.

The common characteristic is short phrases combined in a predetermined sequence to form an extended recitative.  The phrases are indicated by symbols above or below the Hebrew text in a system known as cantillation.  There are different forms of cantillation of the Torah and of the haftarah.

The system was perfected in the 9th century and is not dissimilar in its overall effects to Christian Gregorian plainsong, with the difference that the Jewish system is still used in services today.

The fixed chants flourished in the Golden age of Spanish Jewry 900-1400 AD and when Sefardi Jews were expelled in the late 15th century they took their music with them to countries around the Mediterranean such as Morocco.

The present day use of organs and choir are modern introductions and do nothing spiritually

It is worth adding that other forms of chanting have also been used.  The Spanish mystic and Kaballist, Abraham Abulafia (1240-1291?), used a meditation on the Name of God called Hokmah ha-Tseruf, The Science of the Combination of the Letters. The letters of the Divine Name were to be studied in different combinations to break the mind free of mundane understanding and enhance abstract perceptions. He compared the resulting experience to the sensation of listening to music with the letters of the alphabet becoming musical notes. It was “meant to break the seals of the soul and, in so doing, one would discover the psychic resources of the mind and ease emotional suffering”.