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    Temple choir – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Was there a choir in the Temple in Jerusalem?

    Depiction of the Second Temple from a Haggadah, Amsterdam, 1695

    A. Temple worship included instrumental and choral music, directed and provided by the Levites. The number of instruments in the orchestra was restricted, but there was no maximum limit to the number of singers; the minimum was 12 (Arach. 11a, 13b; Sukk. 50b-51a). The singing was more essential than the instrumental music.

    Like other Levites, the choristers commenced their training at the age of 25, entered active service at 30 and retired at 50 (Num. 4:5 etc., 8:24:25; Hull. 24a). There were male singers only. Boys, who could normally not enter the court of the Sanctuary, were allowed to join the choir k’dei littein tevel bane’imah, “to add flavour to the music”. They were known as so’adei halevi’im, “assistants to the Levites”, though, by a play on words, their critics called them tzo’arei halevi’im, “tormentors of the Levites”, since they had high, unbroken voices, and adult choristers could not reach such high notes (Arach. 13b).

    After the Temple was destroyed, as a mark of mourning the sages discouraged the use of music. Henceforth, synagogue officiants generally chanted the services; instrumental music vanished, and there was no organised choral singing for many centuries. Such choirs as did exist were small groups of male vocal assistants to the cantor.

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