Music in Jew­ish His­to­ry and Culture

Emanuel Rubin; John H. Baron
  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

Con­fronting the occa­sion­al­ly porous wall between writ­ing a non-fic­tion sur­vey and an intro­duc­to­ry col­lege text­book, Pro­fes­sors Rubin and Baron man­age to poke through the bar­ri­er, stat­ing that they write for those famil­iar with Juda­ic stud­ies and those well versed in music, but who lack exper­tise in either. That chal­lenge is hand­some­ly fulfilled. 

In Music in Jew­ish His­to­ry and Cul­ture, Rubin and Baron, after defin­ing Jew­ish music, divide their study into five his­tor­i­cal inter­ludes” as a nar­ra­tive time­line. The book opens with bib­li­cal ref­er­ences cit­ing how the ear­ly Jews were sparked by music in their litur­gy and nar­ra­tive. Then, after the first dis­per­sion, musi­cal usage reflects the Jews’ rela­tion­ships to oth­er con­tigu­ous groups, becom­ing the defin­ing thread of the com­ing millennia. 

The book has a smooth­ly infor­ma­tive style, notably in its chal­leng­ing primer on can­til­la­tion — a dis­tinc­tive­ly Jew­ish form. Then, resum­ing the his­tor­i­cal for­mat, they exam­ine musi­cal influ­ences rang­ing from medieval Islam, can­to­r­i­al per­son­al­i­ties, to Sephardic/​Ashkenazic musi­cal differences. 

Rubin and Baron, how­ev­er, nec­es­sar­i­ly accel­er­ate their pace to deal with the dense, com­plex and infor­ma­tion-rid­den 19th – 21st cen­turies, cli­max­ing with chap­ters on the Holo­caust, and the Amer­i­can music scene. Odd­ly, they neglect entire­ly Hol­ly­wood film music — orig­i­nal scores for num­ber­less films, cre­at­ed by Max Stein­er, Alfred New­man (a forty-five time Oscar win­ner) Franz Wax­man, Elmer Bern­stein, Andre Previn, among many oth­ers. Two con­clud­ing chap­ters deal with Zion­ist Pales­tin­ian and Israeli music. 

Com­mend­able in style, edit­ing, lay­out, typog­ra­phy, the book’s exten­sive ref­er­ence mate­ri­als ought to sat­is­fy most readers. 

Appen­dix, bib­li­og­ra­phy, charts, glos­sary, illus­tra­tions, index, tables.

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

Discussion Questions