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Musical Memories

Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Music has always been part of Jewish life, and the new Hebrew Music Museum in Yerushalayim celebrates all the instruments we’ve used throughout history

Thursday, September 20, 2018

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The greatest part of Succos in the Beis Hamikdash was the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah. And just like today, a simchah has to have music. wherever we’ve traveled. Entering the museum is a journey through the history of music, from ancient harps to the modern electric violin.


Instruments Then and Now

All instruments can be grouped into three categories: wind instruments (instruments you blow, like a trumpet), percussion instruments (which you hit, like drums), and string instruments (instruments with strings, like a guitar).

Some fall into more than one category. A piano might seem like a percussion instrument, because you’re hitting keys, but if you peek inside, you’ll see that you’re actually making a little hammer strike a group of strings. The piano is a good example for another reason — it dates back much farther than most people think... all the way to the Beis Hamikdash!


Music in the Beis Hamikdash

The time of the Beis Hamikdash was the Golden Age of Jewish music. Leviim played and sang in groups of 12 and spent a lot of time practicing. Unlike today, they played every single day of the year, using instruments like...


The Psanterin

This is the ancestor of today’s piano, though there’s not much resemblance, unless you count the fact that the modern Hebrew word for piano is “psanter,” reflecting this origin. In English, it’s sometimes called the dulcimer or psaltery. The psanterin is harder to play than a piano. You have to hit the strings precisely with delicate hammers — a lot tougher than pressing keys.


The Chatzotzrah

This instrument is mentioned 31 times in Tanach. Moshe received detailed instructions to make them out of beaten silver. These wind instruments were used to call the Jews together. The museum has several replicas, but they’re not easy to play. They’re very long and have to be held up and blown at the same time, meaning you need a combination of musical ability and good, old-fashioned muscle.


The Kinor

Though it’s often translated as “harp,” kinor is also the modern Hebrew word for violin. (Israel’s lake, the Kinneret, is named for its harp shape!) The museum has many kinds of harps, including the nevel. When most people picture David playing music to calm King Shaul, they imagine a rounded Irish harp, but he probably played something more like this boxy wooden version.


Going into Galus

When Nevuchadnetzar destroyed the first Beis Hamikdash, he stole the Jews’ musical instruments in order to break their connection with Hashem. It almost worked. In Al Naharos Bavel, we read, “How can we sing Hashem’s song in a foreign land?” The Jews refused to sing and hung up their harps, fearing they’d forget Yerushalayim.

After destroying the Second Bais Hamikdash, the Romans built the Arch of Titus in Rome, which shows soldiers triumphantly hauling away the keilim, including the menorah and the chatzotzros. The Romans, too, recognized the special connection music gave us with Hashem. But they couldn’t kill Jewish music. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 728)


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