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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776


  1. Feb 2007 Digest 026
    Our cantor…has been starting Friday night Shabbat Services with a niggun for about a year now. I don't think it's a philosophical issue, I think it's more of a practical one: Congregants don't have to bother with words; they can just join in on the melody. He usually sings the hymn listed for the service as well; the niggun is a "warm-up." I'm a singer and, after a few summers at HUC with the Sh’liach K’hilah and Mifgash programs, I know most of the melodies and I join in. Unfortunately, it seems like [the cantor] gets as much response with niggunim as he would with songs with words--not everybody sings….
    (310 units)

  2. Feb 2007 Digest 026
    …the niggun is more of a "pre-opening" song. While participation is not discouraged, the piece itself is more of a "mood-setter" to get people in the frame of mind for worship. [At a particular congregation, this] was started perhaps three years or so ago. But this congregation is *also* still singing other songs. As to motive, I don't know that the decision to include the "pre-opening song" was an influence from other groups, though the choice of specific material has occasionally been influenced by Chasidic and Orthodox groups.

  3. Feb 2007 Digest 026

    …Over the past few years, under the encouragement of our rabbi, we have started our services more and more with a niggun, sometimes going into another opening song. Or, sometimes, just the niggun. Our cantor, with the encouragement of our rabbi, has added a wide and beautiful range of niggunim to our repertoire of music.

    …Most of all, we like the fact that they're simple, easy to participate in (we have a very participatory congregation…) and provide us with an opportunity for "prayer without words." Pure kavanah. It's particularly nice when folks start harmonizing.

    Our opening niggun is sometimes used to get folks familiar with a new melody for a prayer that's being introduced later in the service. Doing so helps to provide a "theme" for the service--a melody is introduced, then the melody with the words is introduced…

    180 families

  4. Feb 2007 Digest 026
    Whether with niggun or words and music I sing [as rabbi, there is no cantor] walking into the sanctuary to alert those not yet seated or still talking that we are about to start our communal worship together. I can only enter our sanctuary from the back--my office is on the other side of the building--and rather than make some kind of announcement that we are beginning, our singing or humming is a wonderful way to become "shabbasdik," think, act, shabbos-like, ready for prayer.
    80 units

  5. Feb 2007 Digest 026

    …I think that there are several factors. One certainly is the Renewal/neo-Chasidic influence. One might be the "standards" issue. Also, we have a younger cantorial soloist (late 20s), which may also influence the choice of style.

    …I hear from some of our congregants that there's too much of the "la la la" stuff. "We know the words and want to sing them," they chirp. I hear from others that they like the change of pace, and that the niggunim at the beginning of the service help them get in the mood for prayer.

    …I feel somewhat cheated when certain pieces are done in niggun, especially liturgical elements. For me, a nice niggun at the beginning of our z'mirot is nice and fine, but like all else in life, everything in moderation. I also recognize, though, that congregants who are less comfortable with Hebrew vocalization and who do not possess Hebrew literacy skills may have a very different viewpoint…

    1100+ Units

  6. Feb 2007 Digest 026
    Our wonderful cantor…uses niggunim frequently to open Shabbat evening and morning services. It is a warm and effective way to gather everyone's attention, set the right tone to begin prayer, open services without announcements or that authoritarian pause while everyone stops chatting. It is great for the Jews. We close either with a standard or with the cantor offering Birkat Hakohanim.

  7. April 2007 Digest 069

    I like to use niggunim but not all the time. I usually don't use melodies with words we all know like Oseh Shalom or Adon Olam for example. I find people join in if the niggunim is not difficult. Sometimes I'll add one for learning purposes. I might use a new melody at the start of the service or at another point when we plan to use later in the service with words.

    I started using a niggun when I first came to this congregation after we raise the Torah. First we do the traditional v'zot hatorah, that we all know, then while the Torah is being dressed I continue with one or two nigguns. The first one is the second verse to v'zot hatorah in Gates of Song #88. Then I sometimes add the one after that (using lai, lai, lai) or one of the ones in the Shabbat Anthology books from Transcontinental. It took some time, but now the first niggun has sunk in and more people participate by joining in; but that comes from a long time of repetition, especially since we do not have services every week.

    66+ families

  8. April 2007 Digest 069

    One area which is not generally used within the Reform Movement covers the niggunim of Rav Shlomo Carlbach--they are easy, heartfelt (and yes, some even have words attached to them).

    When we want to have something different, our soloist provides printouts of the music and/or words which are used during services, but also at a Music Learning oneg where we get our coffee/tea and whatever, and sit around the piano for a musical learning experience.

    We are most fortunate that the congregation will stay well past 9:30p-10p for these sessions.


  9. April 2007 Digest 070

    Other than respond with "traditions die hard" I might suggest there may be…more theological reasons that both lay and clergy prefer niggun to some the old standards.

    Does the worshipper in question really know the translation to such favorites as Adon Olam? Do they really believe in the underlying theological messages of these songs?

    Music is emotional and evocative, but it also carries other meanings and messages, and we are searching today for both liturgy and music that reflects how we feel about our relationship with God. Hence a new Prayer Book--Mishkan T’filah. Adon Olam just isn't as meaningful any more as it once was--at least theologically speaking.

    Every generation must decide for the next generation what traditions it will keep and what it will change. This may be one of them…


  10. April 2007 Digest 070

    … I agree, niggunim are a way to make space for prayer to happen.

    I've never used one to close a service. Along with the big three there are so many other songs that work well to close a service. I think a niggun there would feel that the service wasn't completed.

    160 Families

  11. April 2007 Digest 070

    [It’s a] surprising response that we cannot sing [a niggun] at the end of a service. If we remain consistent with that argument, then we cannot read Torah on Friday night--or skip Saturday morning services to play soccer--etc. Reform Judaism has made a lot of changes to the worship service that "can't" be done.

    I believe that as Reform Jews we take traditions and breathe new life into them--so I vote for a niggun at the end of service if it adds spiritual meaning to the service.

    I also wonder if the cantor tires of singing by herself/himself and a niggun offers an opportunity for all to join in...


  12. April 2007 Digest 070

    Singing a niggun at the end of the service seems to me rendering the service incomplete; a niggun is normally without words, just a melody setting the tone.

    Our congregation likes something that is uplifting to lead us out of the sanctuary and into the next phase of Shabbat--the oneg. Something like Esa Eynai, with a very upbeat tempo, spurs us on to tomorrow--leading to completing the Shabbat experience.

    That is not to say, 'who says it can't be done?' After all, women grace the pulpit, read Torah, lead services, etc. This is going to have to be something for each congregation to determine.


  13. April 2007 Digest 071

    niggunim in our services...have always felt artificial to me. True Hassidic niggunim are complex beasts, needing finesse and care when rendering them. What winds up happening in "Niggun Anthologies" or popular niggunim is that they become watered down shells of their former selves. They are not about preparing for prayer, but rather about getting people to sing--which is important--but not the only way to engage the congregation in song…

  14. April 2007 Digest 071

    …The conclusion of a service needs to be valedictory (which literally means, saying "Go forth!"--Lekh lekha!)--sending people forth from the service with renewed determination, commitment to ultimate values, sense of community, and uplift. That's why a benediction that ties together the various threads of the service (including the Torah reading and study) and something sung together by all are so important. That shared singing should have words that mean something and reinforce the message. There are many emotionally appropriate (but emotionally different) melodies for Adon Olam, Ein Keiloheinu, Yom zeh l'yisrael, etc., etc., that can do this...

  15. April 2007 Digest 071

    I thought the following might prove enlightening.

    "The movement with which we most closely associate the nigun today is that of the Chasidim. Founded in the 18th Century, the Chasidic movement consisted in large part of reactionaries who came to value dance and song as venues through which a person could approach and unite with God. To the Chasidim, a nigun was not just a melody or a succession of notes. Rather it was an opportunity for awakening, taming, and elevating the soul, so as to enhance one's sense of devotion to God.

    To do so, it was important to work oneself up to a frenzy, repeating a melody over and over until the goal of divine unity was achieved.

    By the mid-20th century, the Chasidic use of the nigun began to serve as an inspiration for other groups within Judaism. Re-envisioned as a wordless melody, the nigun began to take a place within the liberal Jewish worship service as a time of religious reckoning: transitioning from the outside world into the world of prayer, emphasizing the lessons of a sermon, marking a particularly personal moment, or serving as an appropriate means of ending a ritual. Its growing popularity in liberal Jewish life has led cantors, song leaders, rabbis and laypeople to create a whole new repertoire, exploring the nigun with harmony, instrumental accompaniment, and a widely varied palette of musical insights."

    Judah Cohen (excerpted from the foreword of "Nigun Anthology", Volume 1
    —published by Transcontinental Music Publications)

    The excerpt above explains both the popular derivation of the niggun and its interpolation into the worship services of many liberal synagogues today. As with all worship, care must be taken to craft the weave of prayers and melodies toward an effective worship experience. Finding the perfect blend and balance is at times elusive--particularly when the composition of the congregation is inconsistent from week to week, the level of Hebrew literacy is varied, and the pathway into the sanctuary has multiple points of entry--from the secular world to Orthodox Judaism, to the Jew by choice…

    Cantor Alane S. Katzew
    Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living

  16. April 2007 Digest 071

    What would be so wrong if a representative group of congregants sat down with the rabbi and cantor of a temple and discussed the issue of niggun with them? Perhaps a group of closing pieces of music could be adopted, which would include niggun and other types of music, and the cantor would vary the use of closing pieces so that all congregants at a service could feel that at some time, during a given period of time, their musical preference would prevail. That would make it unnecessary for anyone to stand up and sing some personal favorite when a niggun was being used.

    The one thing we want to avoid in the Reform Movement is musical cement, where only certain types of music are acceptable, or else a group of people will walk out of the service or disrupt it by standing up and singing another piece of music than is being sung at the moment. Everyone who pays dues, from the most secular, to the most formerly from now Reform, has a right to experience musical satisfaction at a service, but not to the total exclusion of the musical satisfaction of others all the time.


  17. April 2007 Digest 072

    We use niggunim at the beginning of services to help set the worship mood. I also find it is a good way to start the service. Instead of waiting for everyone to quiet down, I just start singing a niggun. Eventually people hear, begin to join in, and stop their conversations…


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