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Isaac Offenbach

OFFENBACH, ISAAC (1779–1850), ḥazzan. Isaac ben Judah, surnamed Eberst, was born in Offenbach near Frankfurt. After he left his native town in 1799 to become a wandering ḥazzan and musician, he began to be called, "der Offenbacher," which soon became his official family name. In 1802 he settled in Deutz as a tavern musician, and in 1816 moved to Cologne, where he became a music teacher and in about 1826 the town ḥazzan, a post he held until shortly before his death. The seventh of his nine children, Jacob, was the composer Jacques *Offenbach.

Isaac Offenbach was a versatile musician, a prolific composer (mainly of synagogal works), and a writer and translator of merit. His historical importance stems from the fact that the documentation of his life and work has survived almost in full.

His publications are a Haggadah with German translation and six appended melodies, some traditional and some composed by him (1838); a Hebrew-German youth prayer book (1839); and a number of guitar pieces. His manuscripts were given by his granddaughters to the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, and some items also reached the Birnbaum Collection at the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, and the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. The material includes reminiscences by his daughter, and about 20 fascicles and folders of cantorial compositions and notations of traditional melodies. Over and above their value as "cantorial" antecedents of his famous son's work, these manuscripts provide both a treasure trove of the "great tradition" of Ashkenazi ḥazzanut and an instructive picture of the development of a ḥazzan at the beginning of the Emancipation.


B. Bayer, in: Proceedings of the World Conference of Jewish Studies (Heb., 1971); A. Henseler, Jakob Offenbach (Ger., 1930), 16–31 and passim; P. Nettl, Forgotten Musicians (1951), 41–46; H. Kristeller, Der Aufstieg des Koelners Jacques Offenbach… in Bildern (1931), plates 7–11; A.W. Binder, in: Jewish Music Journal, 2:1 (1935), 4–6 (augmented in YLBI, 16, 1971); Sendrey, Music, index.

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