In its conventional form, an organ is basically a set of pipes activated by compressed air, under the control of a keyboard. It is thought to have been invented in Hellenistic Alexandria around the beginning of the second century C.E., and was called hydraulos (ύδρανλός – water pipe) since the air was compressed by a water-pressure mechanism. During the first centuries C.E. this mechanism came to be replaced by bellows, but the name hydraulos or hydraulis remained. The instrument spread through the Roman and Byzantine Empires as a crude but effective accompaniment to games and ceremonies in the circus and at court. Byzantine influence brought the organ both to the Persian court and to Europe in the eighth or ninth centuries.
It was the late Roman and Byzantine organ, with its multiplicity of pipes and – for that time – astounding tone-volume, that gave rise to the late talmudic identification of the magrefah ("rake") as an organ supposed to have been used in the Second Temple. The development of the legend, for such it is, can easily be traced. The Mishnah (Tam. 2:1; 3:8, and 5:6) states that a magrefah was among the implements used for cleaning the altar in the morning before the new daily sacrifice; and that the noise of its being thrown on the floor was one of several "noise-cues" which the priests used to ensure the smooth running of the ceremony (cf. The Letter of Aristeas 92; 94–96) in the absence of perceptible orders during the service. A hyperbole states that all these noises were audible "unto Jericho" (Tam. 3:8). The equating of magrefah with hydraulis must have occurred in the time of the *Tosefta, since Tosefta Arakhin 1:13–14 quotes R. Simeon b. Gamaliel as saying: "There was no hydraulis [הדראוליס] in the Temple since it confuses the voice and spoils the tune." The Jerusalem Talmud (Suk. 5:6, 55c–d) quotes R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, and then goes on to identify the biblical ugav with ardablis, and states that the magrefah had ten holes (or pipes) each emitting a hundred
The Organ in the Synagogue Before the 19th Century
Little is known about the use of the organ in the synagogue before its introduction by Reform Judaism in the 19th century. The earliest evidence of its use is in Italy in the 17th century. Giulio *Morosini (Samuel Nahmias, Leone *Modena's pupil, who converted to Christianity) tells in his Via della Fede (Rome, 1683, p. 793) about the performance of the Jewish Academy of Music (Accademia degli impediti) in the Spanish synagogue of Venice, about 1628. On one occasion (Simḥat Torah) there was an organ among the instruments used but the Venetian rabbis disapproved of it because of its close association with Christian worship. But another Italian source of the 17th century indicates that the organ was not frowned upon by some Italian rabbis of this period. Abraham Joseph Solomon *Graziano, rabbi of Modena (d. 1683) observed in glosses on the Shulḥan Arukh (OḤ 560:3): "… Jewish musicians should not be prevented from playing on the organ [to accompany] songs and praises performed [in honor of] God…" He went on to suggest that the argument of ḥukkot ha-goyim ("customs of the gentiles") was not relevant: no competent rabbinic authority would forbid organ playing; only ignorant people would oppose it.
The existence of a synagogue organ in Prague in the late 17th and 18th centuries is indicated by several writers. The use of the organ seems to have been linked mainly with the musical "inauguration of the Sabbath." The earliest mention is by Shabbetai *Bass, who uses the term ugav in the prayer book printed as a supplement to his Hebrew bibliography, Siftei Yeshenim (Amsterdam, 1680, 21b:3). Two later sources are J.J. *Schudt, (1664–1722) and Abraham Levi b. Menahem Tall (early 18th century). The broadsheet Naye Tsaytung un Yudisher Oyftsug (1716) reveals the name of the Jewish builder of the "new organ" (Meir Mahler) employed during the celebrations of the Jewish community of Prague in honor of the birth of Prince Leopold, son of the German emperor, Charles VI.
In the 19th and 20th Centuries
The organ was introduced by *Reform Judaism into the synagogue services as part of its stress on the aesthetic aspects of Jewish worship. The controversies surrounding the use of the organ began when Israel *Jacobson placed an organ into the temple he opened for his boys' school in Seesen, in 1810. He also employed the organ in the services which were held in private homes in Berlin from 1815 on. The Hamburg Temple, which opened in 1818, held services with organ accompaniment. From that time, this became the distinguishing feature of all Reform congregations. Of all the liturgical reforms introduced in the 19th century, none has proved to be as divisive as the introduction of the organ. The introduction of an organ into a synagogue was usually followed by an exodus of the more traditionalist members who organized services for themselves without organ accompaniment. As the shibboleth of Reform, the organ figured primarily in Germany and, in the 19th century, in America. French and Italian synagogues, not otherwise departing from traditional usage, introduced the organ without giving rise to controversy. For wedding ceremonies, the organ is played in some modern Orthodox synagogues. Many American Conservative synagogues also play it on the Sabbath. To justify their innovation, the Reformers published a collection of responsa, entitled Nogah ha-Ẓedek ("The Splendor of Justice," 1818). The Orthodox replied with a responsa collection of their own, Elleh Divrei ha-Berit ("These are the words of the Covenant," 1819). Since then, a vast literature has accumulated around the subject, consisting mainly of restatements and reformulations of the arguments used in 1818 and 1819.
Basically, three halakhic objections have been raised: (1) Playing the organ on the Sabbath, even by a non-Jew, is prohibited "work" – if not biblically forbidden, at least falling into the rabbinic category of shevut (occupations forbidden on Sabbaths and festivals); (2) as a sign of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, music in general is prohibited; (3) the organ is so closely associated with worship in the Christian churches that it would be a case of the prohibited "imitation of gentile customs" (ḥukkot ha-goyim) to play it in the synagogue.
The Reform justification has taken the following form: (1) the Shulḥan Arukh (OḤ 338:2) permits the playing of music by a non-Jew on the Sabbath for the purpose of entertaining a wedding party. What is permitted for a wedding party should be permitted all the more for the enhancement of worship. Moreover, just as the rules of shevut did not apply to the Temple, so they should not apply to the synagogues which have taken its place; (2) the prohibition of music as a sign of mourning for the destruction of Jerusalem includes vocal no less than instrumental music. Yet tradition has obviously accepted vocal music for religious purposes (Sh. Ar., OḤ 560:3). Reform is merely extending the compromise to instrumental music as well. Beside, instrumental music was used in some pre-modern synagogues, although not on the Sabbath; a synagogue in Prague even had an organ; (3) the organ is not universal in Christian worship. Since there can be Christian worship without an organ, it follows that the instrument is by no means "essential" to that worship. Joel *Sirkes, in his responsum (Resp. Bah Yeshanot, no. 127) made a distinction between melodies which are an integral part of Christian worship and those which are not. The Reformers extended that distinction to musical instruments as well. In addition, they claimed instrumental music in the church is itself a borrowing from the Temple, in which there was an organ-like instrument, called
[Jakob J. Petuchowski]
ANTIQUITY: Idelsohn, Music, 14, 19, 242–4, 496; J. Yasser, in: Journal of the American Musicological Society, 13 (1960), 24–42; J. Perrot, L'orgue, de ses origines helléntistiques à la fin du XIIIe siècle (1965), 14–19; H. Avenary, in: Taẓlil, 2 (1961), 66; C. Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (1940), 124. MODERN TIMES: Sendrey, Music, nos. 2537–86; Adler, Prat Mus, 28–30, 65, 74, 112, 263; A. Berliner, Zur Lehr' und zur Wehr, ueber und gegen die kirchliche Orgel im juedischen Gottesdienste (1904); S. Krauss, Zur Orgelfrage (1919), incl. bibl.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.