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Asher Mizrahi

MIZRAHI, ASHER (1890–1967), cantor, composer, and poet. Mizrahi was born in the old city of Jerusalem. He later moved to Yemin Moshe, the first quarter outside the walls. At this period of his life, he composed and performed religious and secular songs connected with the traditional Judeo-Spanish repertory, as well as in the style of Turkish and Arabic classical music, which mark an early mingling of Sephardi and Oriental styles. He thus achieved a kind of qualitative compromise between the religious and secular in his musical works.

In 1917, Mizrahi quit Jerusalem, clandestinely seeking to escape his recruitment by the Turkish army, and settled in Tunis. Except for short stays in Jerusalem in 1919 and 1929, he sojourned there until 1967. He then returned to Jerusalem, where he died the same year.

During the many years he stayed in Tunis, he became a central figure in the musical life of the Tunisian Jewish community, not only by promoting the cantorial tradition and considerably enriching its musical life, but also thanks to his great artistry in the realm of the new Egyptian art style that was at that time the subject of great favor among both Jewish and non-Jewish Tunisians. It is noteworty that Mizrahi, who was a great admirer of the Egyptian singer and composer Muhammad 'Abd al-Wahhab, set many of his own Hebrew poems to his melodies. Thus, in addition to his essential role in developing the religious musical life of the community and the appropriate musical education he provided to the community's children and youth by means of the children's choir, he created awlad al-Biyyut ("the children of the piyyut"). He distinguished himself as an interpreter of Arab music and 'ud playing. In this latter activity he gained the favor of the Tunisian president, Habib Bourguiba.

In Tunisia, Mizrahi published an anthology of Hebrew poems for singing, the title of which is Ma'adanei Melekh ("The King's Delicacies," Sousse: Makhluf Najjar, 1945; republished in Israel in 1968).

In Tunis he established choirs that performed his songs.

Among his outstanding pupils were Rabbi Getz, the late rabbi of the Western Wall, and David Riyahi, who established a synagogue choir in Netanyah that accompanied the services and performed many of his piyyutim.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.