5 Little-Known Facts about High Holy Day Music

by Cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

ChoirThere is a general rule in synagogue music: the less frequent the holiday, the greater the desire to preserve its melodies. The High Holy Days have benefitted from this tendency. A handful of venerated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tunes are treated as if they came from Moses himself. These so-called “Mi-Sinai tunes” actually emerged in Rhineland communities of southwestern Germany and northeastern France between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. They include the familiar strains of Kol Nidre, “The Great Aleinu,” the “Ma’ariv tune,” sections of the Amidah, various settings of Chatzi Kaddish, and others. Although these special melodies are sung at special times, their rich history and unique properties teach us about the wider significance of music in Jewish life. (more…)