The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Music, Mobility and the Transmission of Jewish Tradition: the Nordic Cantors in the 20th Century (together with Riikka Tuori)

Dr Simo Muir

In the early 20th century, the office of the cantor (hazzan) in the small Orthodox Jewish congregations of Helsinki and Turku was typically an “honorary” office and did not entail musical education. For high holidays, however, the congregations hired musically educated cantors outside of Finland, among them professional cantors. The Finnish Jewish community was at the fringes of a vast transnational East European Ashkenazi Jewish diaspora and the cantors brought with them various repertoire and musical styles that formed the base of the local synagogue music tradition. Cantors were often recruited from areas where the members of the congregations hailed from and music was a way to connect with the communities of their origin. During the cold war (visiting) cantors from the Soviet Union, Scandinavia and Israel influenced further this tradition. Based on the study of archival sources and interviews, our paper discusses the history and mobility of cantors who worked in the Finnish Jewish congregations and their impact on the local musical traditions.