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(To maintain standards of academic integrity, the regular editor of Musica Judaica Online Reviews has removed himself from the review process for this book. Mark Kligman, co-editor of the Musica Judaica journal, has graciously stepped in as guest editor. -Ed.)
The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor: Musical Authority, Cultural Investment. Judah M. Cohen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. 272 pp. + CD. ISBN 978-0-2533-5365-8
In the midst of a promising career as a scientist and academic neuropsychologist, I made the unusual decision to go back to school (at the Jewish Theological Seminary) to study for the cantorate. My department chair at the time made the off-handed comment in an interview that it was like watching your child go off to the circus (this from a knowledgeable Jew who often served as a lay “cantor” in his synagogue). Why did I need to go to cantorial school? After all, many years of Jewish education and especially Jewish camping had left me with a very good working knowledge of cantillation and nusach ha-t’fillah; I was a classically trained musician and had a good voice. What more did I need? My response to that common set of questions has remained the same to this day—namely, that I wanted to be an authentic cantor, an authority on synagogue liturgy and music, and I felt the only way to truly achieve that goal was through seminary study, and eventual investiture by a religious body.