The film The Jazz Singer is about a Jewish boy who goes off the derech and portrays him positively.

What was the contemporary (1927) rabbinic response to the film and did cantor Yosselle Rosenblatt who appeared in the film experience any backlash?

  • 1
    I have often heard of Chazzan Rosenblatt that despite the beauty of his voice, he refused to sing things other than tefillah and Torah. So presumably his rav (or more likely, his rebbe) permitted him to perform considering the context. Also, having seen that scene (but unfortunately not the rest of the film) it shows Al Jolson's character remembering fondly the jiddischkeit of his youth. May 13, 2015 at 17:21
  • 2
    Rosenblatt only did the film because he desperately needed the money. During the height of his fame he provided financial guarantees for a religious Jewish newspaper. The paper went bankrupt, and though Rosenblatt was legally not required to do so, he did whatever he could to pay off the creditors. He didn't earn enough from gramophone recordings and the concerts, so he was forced to accept the movie role...
    – Ephraim
    May 13, 2015 at 19:55
  • I would assume for some it was a non starter as it featured AL jolsen who grew up in a frum family, and went off to become the biggest Hollywood star of his generation. Jun 9, 2015 at 4:44

1 Answer 1


This doesn't really answer your question definitively at all, but I thought it might interest you. I was reading through some of the autobiographical essays of R. Isaac David Essrig (1893-1976), who was a well-respected rabbi (although he wouldn't be considered a "gadol") originally from Israel but who moved during WW1 to America. For about seven years (1926-1933), he was a rabbi in Los Angeles.

He has several pages recounting R. Moshe Mordechai Epstein's visit to L.A. (during which he stayed at R. Essrig's house) at around the beginning of his tenure there. Before the great Rosh Yeshiva left, the Jews of L.A. had a large good-bye "mesiba", which he describes at length (link). But guess who else made a guest appearance:

בהמסבה הקדושה הזאת השתתף החזן המפורסם מנגן בחסד עליון ירא וחרד לדבר ה׳ ונכבד מאד ״יוסלי״ רוזנבלט ז״ל, שהיה אז אורח בל. א. לרגלי השתתפותו בעבודת התמונה הידועה ״סאני בני״ הביאוגראפיא של שחקן הדרמתי והמנגן הגדול והמפורסם ״על (עי״ן סגולה) דזאהנסאן וחלקו של יוסלי הוא תפלת ״כל נדרי״. אחרי שנגמרה נדבות הקהל נתכבד החזן י. להשמיע קולו כי ערב (עי״ן קמוצה ורי״ש צרוי׳) ושר תקליטו הידוע שלו ״אלוקי נשמה שנתת בי״

At this holy gathering participated the famous chazzan who sings with the grace of God, a God-fearing man who trembles at the word of God, the very honorable "Yossele" Rosenblatt z"l, who was then visiting L. A. on the occasion of his participation in the making of the film "Sonny My Son" (?), a biography of the drama actor and great singer Al Johnson [sic?]; and Yossele's part in it was the prayer "Kol Nidre". After the contributions of the community, Yossele the chazzan was honored to sing with his sweet voice; he sang [the song from] his well-known album: "Elokai Neshama Shenasata Bi".

I don't know what he's talking about. "סאני בני"? I looked around on the internet, but I can't find anything that would resemble this title featuring Yossele Rosenblatt. I think it's relatively safe to say that Rabbi Essrig here is relying on his memory to recall what happened some 40-50 years prior to when he wrote this. He's probably talking about "The Jazz Singer" which did come out around that time, and he probably means "Al Jolson" rather than "Al Johnson". (Also the movie plot was fictional rather than being a biography of Jolson.)

Whatever the case may be, though, R. Essrig ceratinly seems to have had a high regard for Rosenblatt, both as a singer and as a person.

  • Wow. Perhaps the producers misled Rosenblatt when they hired him (like the soldiers in the music video for zombie by the cranberries) Jun 19, 2015 at 2:15
  • Al Jolson has a song called "Sonny Boy", which featured in a 1929 movie by that name, though I couldn't find anything linking Rosenblatt to that song, or to that film.
    – MTL
    Jul 13, 2015 at 15:01
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    @Shokhet, Cool, thanks. It could be R Essrig was confusing the two movies.
    – jake
    Jul 13, 2015 at 19:48

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