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Hidden voices : women's music in London's Lubavitch and Satmar Hasidic communities

Rosenfelder, Ruth (2003). Hidden voices : women's music in London's Lubavitch and Satmar Hasidic communities. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Testimony to the importance ludaism ascribes to music may be found in the earliest Biblical references; it is clearly demonstrated by the fact that responsibility for all organised music, profane as well as sacred, that rested with the most important tribe, the priestly Levites. The religion's attitude to woman is complex, as illustrated by the roles of Eve and the Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Lea and Rachel, whose contributions, whilst important, are occasionally subversive. Thus, a Talmudic diktat, 'kol b'ishah erva' (Heb. 'woman's voice is seductive') combines the forces of music and womanhood in prohibiting men from hearing a woman's voice. Over the centuries the injunction has been variously interpreted; a strict definition of the prohibition includes non-participation in sacred service as well as singing secular songs where men are present. Kol ishah has also been regarded as a metaphor for wider issues such as appropriate social intercourse between men and women.

Over the latter part of the twentieth century Hasidic sects have become the most prominent representatives of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. With its emphasis on mysticism, Hasidism lays particular emphasis on the power of music as a non-verbal conduit between God and mankind. Women in the society are particularly conscious of presenting themselves with restraint; in the burgeoning Hasidic community in North London, women therefore perceive themselves to be out of step with the aspirations of those in mainstream society. This study discusses the way two of the most important sects in this community, Lubavitch and Satmar, perceive and practise kol ishah. Although they share basic precepts, the two have very different histories and distinctive ideological outlooks that may contribute to divergent approaches to such socio-religious concepts and to their musical life.

The dissertation offers two case-studies from Lubavitch and Satmar, their 1998 Annual performances, to illustrate the above.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: Doctoral Theses
City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
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