What is Jewish Music?

For the purpose of the Azrieli Music Prizes, the Foundation defines “Jewish Music” as broadly as possible, taking into account the rich and diverse history of Jewish musical traditions, as well as music by Jews and non-Jews, which may be said to incorporate a Jewish thematic or Jewish musical influence.

Jewish themes may vary broadly, and can include biblical, historical, liturgical, secular and/or folk elements.

Therefore, the Foundation encourages an understanding of Jewish Music as deeply rooted in history and tradition, yet forward-moving and dynamic. As such, it encourages themes and content drawn from contemporary Jewish life and experience.

Jewish Music can exhibit:

  • Relevance to Jewish history;
  • Relevance to the Jewish People’s experience;
  • Use of Jewish prayer modes or fragments of Jewish liturgical music;
  • Use of Yiddish, Klezmer, Ladino or other ethnic Jewish traditional musical elements; and/or
  • Use or reference to a Jewish story, be it from the Bible or some otherwise Jewish experiential element.

More specifically, Jewish Music can:*

  • be based purposefully and consciously on musical materials traditionally perceived as belonging to a specifically “Jewish melos” – sacred or secular;
  • incorporate actual liturgical melodies or secular folk tunes from any one of numerous distinct geographic or cultural Jewish traditions;
  • be based on Jewish historical or biblical subjects, events, or characters, or Jewish legends or literary themes;
  • include or be founded upon Jewish texts or Jewish literature (prose, poetry, or drama);
  • incorporate specifically Jewish languages such as Hebrew, Yiddish, or Ladino;
  • depict in musical terms, with or without sung or spoken text, visual images of Jewish connection (landscapes in the land of Israel, for example) or scenes of Jewish religious or folk life (a Hassidic gathering, a Yemenite Jewish wedding, or daily life of Jews in an eastern European market town, or shtetl, to cite three examples);
  • express moods of Jewish life-cycle events or holy days;
  • give voice to Judaic ideas or concepts; and/or
  • have been composed expressly for a Jewish commemoration, celebration, ceremony, or other occasion—conceived in some way to represent the nature of that occasion.

*excerpted from Dr. Neil W. Levin, The Milken Archive of Jewish Music