Sacred Jewish Music at the Crossroads

August 05, 2020

There are moments of convergence in history that seem to be at the intersection of the past and present when—especially in the arts—all things are possible and everything is questioned.

Fifty years ago in 1970, American Jewish culture and Jewish sacred music hit just such an inflection point. Responding to cultural shifts happening in the U.S., Reform congregations sought to strengthen connections to their audiences through new music. Jewish composers, at the same time, were seeking opportunities to embrace or experiment with new musical styles and genres.

Three sacred services that premiered in 1970 aptly illustrate these crossroads of society and worship:

  • Lazar Weiner's classical, high-aesthetic Zekher l’ma’ase represented the established Jewish population of America's upper-middle class.
  • Raymond Smolover's Gates of Freedom, with its folk-rock sounds inspired by Bob Dylan and its participatory, theatrical nature, sought to bridge the gap between worship and youth culture.
  • Gershon Kingsley's Shiru Ladonai combined both traditional and innovative elements. Using only Moog synthesizers, the resulting service sounds at once classical and paradigmatic of the electronic age.

Explore these significant works and listen to the music that will carry you back 50 years to the juncture of Jewish culture and sacred services in America.

1970: Sacred Services at the Crossroads

Music for These Times: Liturgical Songs of Peace and Comfort


The virtual concert series by the American Conference of Cantors takes us through four themed concerts—premiering every Sunday this August—that can teach and inspire us during this challenging period. Join us this coming Sunday by visiting the ACC's Vimeo page where the first concert curated by Dr. Samuel Adler is now available for viewing.

Watch: Music for These Times, Concert #1

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