Exploring Music's Complexities

Jewish Holiday Music

Overview of Jewish Holiday Music

For over 2000 years Jewish people have enjoyed music whose roots are in the Middle East with branches everywhere in the world.  Sharing so many cultures has provided Jewish musicians an opportunity to create a unique cross-cultural music unlike any other.  The uniqueness of Jewish Music is the result of an integration of cultural influences and new ideas into traditional frameworks (1,2).

Much of Jewish music belongs to the modal genre.  Usually when the term “modal music” is used it refers to any music that is tonal, but neither predominantly major or minor.  Harmony is not emphasized.  Rather ¼ tones and rigorous rhythm are important features (1).d

What is Hanukah?

The Jewish holiday of Hanukah occurs around Christmas.  It commemorates a miracle of light in Israel’s history and is therefore also called the Festival of Light.  “Hanukkah celebration tends to be informal and based on custom rather than law. Three widely practiced customs include:

Consumption of foods prepared in oil, commemorating the miracle of oil.

Playing the game of dreidel (called a sevivon in Hebrew), symbolizing Jews’ disguising of illegal Torah study sessions as gambling meetings during the period leading to the Maccabees’ revolt.

Giving children money, especially coins, called Hanukkah gelt. However, the custom of giving presents is of far more recent, North American, origin, and is connected to the gift.

Some Hanukkah songs are specifically for children, including the song “Oh, Chanukah, Oh Chanukah.” This song celebrates the lighting of the Menorah and the party and feast. Another example of a children’s song is “Sivivon, sov, sov, sov.” Translated from Hebrew, this song talks about the dreidel, the holiday celebration and the “great miracle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBeAKt4FJvo by Jeff Wolpert offers an opportunity to listen to songs celebrating the holiday (3).


  1. An Overview of Jewish music. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/an-overview-of Jewish Music
  2. Jewish Music 101.  Jewish Music 101 | My Jewish Learning http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/music101
  3. Jeff Wolpert.  Songs of Celebration.
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