I am a music teacher and many students request that I teach either Jewish music or classsical music.

What makes classical music appropriate ? What is considered Jewish music ?

Many famous chassidic Niggunim and zmirot as well as modern, Jewish music copied secular songs and just changed the lyrics. Many of those songs are still instrumental.

For example, Chabad niggunim are taken from Cossack drinking songs in Ukraine.

As I understand it, the lyrics and the intention of the composer/performer is what defines Jewish music as halachically permissible to write and perform.

Is “classical” music considered appropriate to play according to halacha?

Many instrumental classical pieces were commissioned to be written for the church. I still do not understand aside from lyrics , what defines Jewish music.

Are there any halachic sources ?

Jewish music has evolved over so many years and is always changing. Some Jewish music such as “Klezmer” music, although traditional in America, is frowned upon in the orthodox community because the lyrics poke fun at rabbis . On the other hand , modern chassidic music takes arrangements form 80s dance club music which is not appropriate for Jewish music .

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    Does this answer your question? Music and Judaism
    – Dov
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:11
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    Hello! Rather than spend endless hours going in circular logic with @DoubleAA , may I ask you some clarifying questions? Are you dealing with primarily Ashkenazi (Jews from Europe) Jewish students? And are you struggling because these students seem to view their music as unique and not a borrowing from their European neighbors?
    – Aaron
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:28
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    I'm not sure this has to do with Judaism. Why can't you define it however you choose? Is there a specific halacha involving Jewish music that would be affected by your definition?
    – Jay
    Nov 11, 2021 at 19:08
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    @Chatzkel The Vilna Gaon died in 1797. Per [Wikipedia](), Beethoven’s first major orchestral work premiered in 1800. While he had composed/published some music prior to then, I’m not sure it would have been famous enough for the Vilna Gaon to comment on.
    – Alex
    Nov 12, 2021 at 3:40
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    "It's only Jewish if and when // It brings us closer to Hashem" - Abie Rotenberg
    – chortkov2
    Nov 14, 2021 at 21:46

2 Answers 2


In his book With Hearts Full of Faith, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon says that it is fine to listen to classical music, as long as you don't know that the composer was a bad person. So you could listen to music composed by a good person, or just avoid learning about the composer's personal life.

As for what qualifies as Jewish music, there is no official definition. The most sensible standard for your request would be to teach tunes popular among Jews, regardless of their origin. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef writes in his work Yabia Omer that almost all Jewish tunes originated with non-Jewish songs. He says it is fine to repurpose any song for use in the synagogue except songs composed for idol worship (and brings some opinions that even permit that, although he seems to disagree or consider them a minority).

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    It would help the quality of your answer greatly to make a specific citation in Yabia Omer and to provide a quote and/or link. Nov 14, 2021 at 19:28
  • I don't have the sefer currently, but hopefully I can add that later.
    – N.T.
    Nov 14, 2021 at 22:16
  • I do have the set and if you are OK with it, and give me the page citation in Yabia Omer, I will upload a screen shot to your answer. You would then have to add your translation or summation of the screen shot. Let me know... Nov 14, 2021 at 22:22
  • It is quite a few pages to translate.
    – N.T.
    Nov 15, 2021 at 0:01
  • Then my suggestion would be for you to summarize it. Is there a specific paragraph that you are looking at, or is the whole letter necessary? Rabbi Yosef tends to be verbose and to write answers exhaustively and comprehensively.But you still haven't given me a specific citation. Do you want the screen shot upload? Nov 15, 2021 at 0:06

"Jewish music" is almost undefinable. Jewish music between Ashkenazim and Sepharadim is wildly different in almost every conceivable way: From modes, rhythms, or even how words are pronounced. Jews don't even chant the Torah in a similar way across our musical systems, and we would expect Torah chanting to be the least "changed" or "diverse" amongst ourselves. And as you are asking this question in English and are raising objections to where "Chabad" and Klezmer music comes from, it sounds like you are dealing with an additional problem of defining Jewish music: Ashkenormativity. Ashkenormativity is often defined as "a unique form of eurocentrism that has found its way into Jewish culture."

When people in English talk about Jewish music, they almost always mean European Jewish Music, and almost never any other kind of Jewish music. Even in the Wikipedia Page on Jewish Music, the "prayer modes" section is strictly about European Jewish Music, completely ignoring the dozens of prayer modes of Sephardic Jews. But what makes klezmer more Jewish than say Yemenite folksongs in Arabic? If you ask the Yemenites, they believe their music is the most closely related to what was done in Judea and therefore Jewish music should really be defined as their music. But their musical tradition is different than the rest of world Jewry, which leads to the following question: Is "Jewish Music" better defined as what many Jews do musically, or the music most closely related to what was done in ancient Judea? This is a question that has yet to be answered but it hasn't stopped many English speaking Jews from talking about "Jewish music" or "Jewish food."

As if the idea that Jewish music being limited to European music wasn't odd enough considering how vast and different Jewish music is amongst the different communities, I've noticed the following fallacy amongst Ashkenazi Jews in America. They have some weird notion that their music and food are unique to them and not just copied from their non Jewish neighbors back in Eastern Europe. I think this fallacy is constantly re-enforced because in America only Ashkenazi bakeries make "Challah," and only Ashkenazim play music in public from the Eastern European traditions, and so they think these things are unique to them. What I've also found fascinating is I've often heard these American Ashkenazim sharing their view of Sephardic culture as being "less unique" because they view Sepharadim as just "copying" Middle Eastern Food and Middle Eastern Music, not realizing they've done the same thing themselves. I haven't noticed this fallacy amongst Ashkenazim who are still in Europe, because they are able to see on a daily basis how their musical and food culture are related to the peoples around them. So as a teacher you may have to push back against these Ashkenormative ideas as part of your teaching.

My opinion: If your students want to learn Jewish music, then a good place to start is having you and your students grapple with the question: Is it the music that many Jews use? Or is it the music most original to Judea? As part of answering that question teach them where all Jewish music came from, whether it's Eastern European folk music or Church/Choral music, or Arabic Balads and love songs. And then teach them that Jewish music as we have it now is not unique, but rather it's our personal interpretation/appreciation of the musical cultures we find ourselves surrounded by. This is true for Ashkenazim and Sepharadim alike. I'm not versed enough in the music of Yemen to know if Yemenite music is unique compared to their Arab neighbors, I also have the same ignorance regarding Ethiopians.

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    I've noticed a fallacy by one member of this site. They think that all Ashkenazim like to bash Sefardim all the time so they think the best way to deal with this is to try to bash Ashkenazim all the time. My opinion: if they want to promote respect they should lead by example.
    – Double AA
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:15
  • I'm sorry. Have you not noticed that a large majority of Ashkenazim think their music is unique, exactly as the OP described?
    – Aaron
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:17
  • Not at all. I can't even imagine having asked a large majority of Ashkenazim their opinion on the matter let alone imagine tallying their responses. That's millions of people.
    – Double AA
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:18
  • @DoubleAA Well then how do you explain the OPs confusion? He seems to be in a situation where Jews are asking him to teach Jewish music as if it's unique and separate from other music. I'm not the one who invented the OPs confusion on this matter. It's the Jews he's dealing with. How much you want to bet they're Ashkenazim and not Sepharadim or Yemenites?
    – Aaron
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:19
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    No, you're just the one who projected it onto millions of people and used it to needlessly besmirch them en masse publicly.
    – Double AA
    Nov 11, 2021 at 18:24

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