Jewish music stems all the way from ancient prayer chants of the Levant created some 3000 years ago. Since then, Jewish music has been constantly adapting with new conditions and modern technologies, yet it retains its identity in many widely differing ethnic, social and religious environments.
On this page you can find a selection of works from some of the world's most famous artists in each of the following Jewish musical genres:
Israeli music is a unique tapestry that reflects
the rich society and culture in Israel.
While many genres of music fall under the Israeli category, there are
particular stylistic elements that have come to define Israeli music.
As the Jewish
Music Institute puts it, Israeli music is unique because of the
"particular symbiosis of East and West and the assimilation of
elements from diverse traditions, the strands of Jewish traditions,
Arab and Middle Eastern musics, with Western approaches." However
words do not do justice to the eclectic sounds of Israeli music so here
is a sampling of Israeli music with descriptions of the songwriters
and performers, who are, in most cases, the same:
Naomi Shemer (1930-2004) - Born by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Shemer penned hundreds of Hebrew songs and is often referred to as Israel's First Lady of Song. In 1967, she wrote the song "Yerushalayim Shel
Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold) for the Israel Song Festival and, a short while later, after Jerusalem was reunified during the Six
Day War, Shemer added the song's final verse. "Jerusalem of Gold" has since
become a legendary work and is often said to be Israel's unofficial
Israeli Artist Ofra Haza sings "Jerusalem of Gold"
sings "Lu Yehi" (Adapted from Beatles "Let
Yehudah Poliker is an Israeli singer/songwriter,
musician and painter who was born to Holocaust
survivor parents who were deported from their native Salonika,
Greece to Auschwitz.
Poliker's music combines rock with Greek and other Mediterranean styles. He plays guitar, bouzouki and baglama
and was nominated in 2002 for the Tammuz Award of Israel's Best
Male Artist. Poliker has composed songs for some of Israel's leading
vocalists, including Arik Einstein, Gidi Gov, and Rita.
- "Po V'Sham" (Here and There)
- "Wait for me, Thessaloniki"
Ehud Banai is an Israeli singer/songwriter and
vocalist whose music falls into the rock, folk, and folk-rock genres.
Banai is of Persian
Jewish and Afghan Jewish descent and plays cello and guitar. He has been a part of numerous
bands and has released nearly a dozen albums over the course of
his career. In 2005 he was voted the 28th-greatest Israeli of all
time in a poll by the Israeli newspaper YNet. Ehud's brother
Yossi and nephew Eviatar are also popular and famous Israeli musicians.
Idan Raichel is an Israeli singer/songwriter and
musician known for starting and leading the Idan Raichel
Project, a musical group whose distinctive sound emenates
from the blend of Middle Eastern and Ethiopian music. The group
uses traditional Hebrew texts and electronics, as well. Their music
can be categorized as pop and folk and their songs are in Hebrew,
Arabic, English, Amharic, and Spanish. With bandmembers from all
over the world, they preach a message of tolerance and peace and
use music to bridge their innate differences.
Raichel Project - "Semenem"
Ivri Lider is an Israeli pop rock singer/songwriter
part of The Young Professionals band. He is one of the biggest-selling
contemporary artists in Israeli music and has won the Male Singer
of the Year award from numerous Israeli radio stations since he
started his career in the late 1990s. Lider's music has been featured
in the Eytan Fox and Gal Uchovsky hit movies "Yossi & Jagger,"
"The Bubble," and "Walk on Water." In 2002,
Lider spoke openly about his homosexuality because "on a personal
level, I felt complete and happy with my life and who I am, and
I didn't see any reason not to talk about it ... On a less personal
level, I felt it's kind of my obligation. When you're an artist
and you're doing well and you're successful, you get a lot of love
and appreciation and energy from people, and I think you need to
give it back. Maybe I can influence people and help younger people
Dag Nachash is an Israeli hip hop/funk band founded in 1996 in Jerusalem. They
are most well known for their leftist political statements in their
songs. The name "dag nachash" literally means "the
snake-fish" in Hebrew,
and is a spoonerism of the phrase "nahag chadash" which
means "a new driver." In Israel,
new drivers have to have a tag on the back of their car windows
with that phrase. The band's icon is of a child urinating and derives
from the Hebrew phrase that translates to "I will show you where the fish urinates"
and means "I will show you how it is done." Dag
Nachash blends Western pop music with Eastern styles to create a
singular sound with funk and world music influences. The song below,
called "Shirat Ha-Sticker" or "the sticker song"
is a compilation of opposing political statements that were bumper
stickers in Israel at one point
or another; Israeli novelist David
Grossman wrote the song, which paints an ironic picture of politics
and religion in the Israeli experience.
- "Rak Tivakesh" (Just Ask)
Nachash - "Shirat HaSticker" (The Sticker Song)
The term Klezmer derives from the Hebrew words klei meaning "vessel" and zemer meaning "song,"
literally meaning "instrument of song." Klezmer is a musical
tradition of Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe.
The Klezmatics are a Grammy Award-winning American
klezmer music group based in New
York City who mix older Yiddish tunes with more contemporary music and sing in multiple languages
including Aramaic and Bavarian. Formed in 1986, the Klezmatics' current
members are Matt Darriau, Frank London, Paul Morrissett, Lorin Sklamberg,
Lisa Gutkin, David Licht and Richie Barshay.
The Pressburger Klezmer Band takes it name from
the Yiddish name of Bratislava, the Slovakian capital. Started in
1995 as the first Yiddishkapelye - Yiddish for musical group - in the Slovak Republic, the band has seven members
who sing, play violin, viola, bass, piano, clarinet and the drums.
The Pressburger Klezmer Bank has played many concerts in Slovakia
and the Czech Republic for occassions like Hanukkah and Purim.
Sephardi music is the music of Jews
who lived and flourished in the Iberian penninsula for centuries until
they were expelled with the Muslims in 1492. Sephardi Jews or Sephardim took their language and culture, including their musical traditions,
from North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and countries in the Middle
East where they settled. The lingua franca of Sephardim is Ladino (of Judeo-Spanish) which is based on medeival Castilian and
written in Hebrew script.
Raices - "La Nunitana"
Dganit Daddo - "Adon Haselichot"
This genre of Jewish music encompasses
choral and cantorial music that is sung in practice and concert, in
children's choirs in schools, synagogues and Jewish communities across
the world. Most of the music in the synagogue genre is in Hebrew or based in Hebrew.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (a.k.a. Reb Shlomo) was an
American Jewish rabbi, religious teacher, composer and singer who
was knows as "The Singing Rabbi." His roots were in traditional
Orthodox yeshivot, but through his music he branched out to create
his own unique style. Yossi Klein Halevy said that Rabbi Carlebach
"sang wherever there were Jews, from American prisons to Indian
ashrams," and concluded, "He taught an orphaned generation
numbed by the Holocaust and assimilation how to return to joy."
Chaim Dovid-Saracik is an Orthodox Jewish musician
who lives in the Old City of Jerusalem. Born and raised in South Africa,
Dovid's music is heavily influenced by Shlomo Carlebach.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach - "Lecha Dodi"
Chaim Dovid - "Yamamy"
Debbie Friedman was an American Jewish singer/songwriter
who wrote and performed countless melodies that characterize and fill
the prototypical Jewish American songbook. Her rendition of "Mi
Shebeirach," the prayer for healing, is one of her best-known
David "Dudu" Fisher is an Israeli cantor and stage performer. The son of a Holocaust
survivor, Fisher was born in Petah Tikvah, Israel and studied at the
Tel Aviv Academy of Music upon finishing his army service in the Israeli
Defense Forces. He is perhaps best known for his Broadway performance
in the musical Les Miserables.
Debbie Friedman - "Mi Shebeirach"
Dudu Fisher Composite
Jewish a capella music, as a subset of a capella music, is a popular
form of Jewish music, particularly on college and university campuses
across the United States. Jewish a capella groups have been around for years, and in recent years those
involved in the Jewish a capella music scene have organized concerts
and competitions such as "Kol HaOlam: National Jewish A Cappella
Contest," the second annual of which was held at Congregation Adas
Israel in Washington, D.C. this year. Additionally, "AcapaJewza:
A Celebration of Jewish Acapella Music" was held at the 92nd Street
YMCA in New York City this year. Here are some popular Jewish a cappella groups and their upbeat tunes:
Tizmoret, meaning "band" in Hebrew, is
Queen College Hillel's professional Jewish a cappella group. Its singers
come from colleges throughout New
York City and they perform classic Jewish melodies, American pop
music and contemporary Israeli tunes, with music in Hebrew and English.
The Maccabeats are Yeshiva
University's all-male a capella group. They started in 2007 and
not long after started performing for audiences at university events
and then at numerous concerts. They have since performed all over
the country, including for President Barack
Obama at the White House. Their integration of traditional and
secular music stems from the concept of Torah u-Madda, the blending
of traditional and secular wisdom, and they play a mix of Jewish,
American and Israeli songs. Several of their cover songs for Hanukkah
and Purim have gone viral in the Jewish
world on social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook.
Tizmoret - "Im Eshkachech" (If I Forget Thee...)
Maccabeats - "Miracle"
Techiya, meaning "rebirth" or "revival"
is MIT's only Jewish, Hebrew,
and Israeli a capella group. Started in 1994, many Jewish and/or Israeli MIT students have sung in and been a part of the group
since its establishment nearly two decades ago, but not all of the
members today are Jewish. Some
members are Catholic and Sikh, for example. Historically some of Techiya's
members hailed from Wellesley College, as well.
American Jewish music runs the gamut and can be defined as music by
Jewish singer/songwriters and/or musicians, or music written for a Jewish
audience. For purposes of this page, we have tried to expose readers
of the Jewish Virtual Library to the widest range of artists and types
of music, so the following selection will reflect that goal. Enjoy!
Matisyahu (Matthew Paul Miller) is an American
Jewish reggae and alternative rock musician. His unique style blends
traditional Jewish themes with reggae, rock and hip hop beatboxing
sounds. The stage name "Matisyahu" is the Hebrew pronunciation of the Biblical Hebrew name of the second-century BCE Jewish leader of the Macabbees' revolt (the English equivalent is Matthew).
Drake (Aubrey Drake Graham) is a Canadian Jewish
recording artist and actor. In June 2009, Drake signed a recording
contract with Lil Wayne's record label and has since become very
popular in the United States and
elsewhere. Drake's father is an African-American from Memphis, Tennessee and his mother is a Jewish Canadian.
Drake's music is alternative hip hop and R&B.
Matisyahu - "One Day"
Drake - "Find Your Love"
Blue Fringe is an American Jewish rock band. The
band's songs range from pop, rock, punk, R&B and are based around Jewish themes and often include Hebrew words and phrases.
J. Viewz is the electronic music project of Brooklyn-based
producer Jonathan Dagan.
Blue Fringe - "Flippin' Out"
J. Views - "Oh, Something's Quiet "
Aryeh Kunstler is an American Jewish singer/songwriter
and guitarist who is considered a rising star in the Jewish music scene. His songs are soulful and based on Jewish themes, and he has performed for audiences across the U.S. and in Israel, as well.
The Josh Nelson Project is the 5-person band and
the brainchild of Jewish American multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter
and producer Josh Nelson. Nelson's music is high-octane rock built
upon songs of Jewish identity and continuity.
Aryeh Kunstler - "Modim"
Josh Nelson Project - "Y'hiyu L'ratzon"
Spektor is an American Jewish singer/songwriter and
pianist. Born in Moscow to a musical Russian
Jewish family, Spektor learned to play piano at an early age.
Her music is influenced by folk, punk, rock, Jewish,
Russian, hip hop, jazz, and classical music styles. Spektor's Begin
to Hope album was nominated for the Shortlist Music Prize and
she won Studio8's Female Voice of August 2009.
Matt Nathanson is an American Jewish singer/songwriter
whose music blends folk and rock. He plays acoustic and electric
guitar and has played both solo and with a band.