Rosh Hashanah Musaph

Welcome to the newest version of E-Hazzan; the E-Hazzan blog. I began several years ago sending out an e-mail with attached sound files. My next innovation was to upload the sound files to the internet and link to them in the e-mail. With the launch of this blog we are able to create together an E-Hazzan community. As in the past, I will be posting short articles about subjects related to our prayer service and our Jewish Musical Heritage. By commenting on the posts and contributing ideas, questions and suggestions; everyone can participate in this project. I am also available to help you if you need help with a Torah reading or Haftara and are not fortunate to have the services of a professional Hazzan available. If you would like to receive notification when this blog is updated, or to contact me directly, please send an e-mail to

Rosh Hashanah Musaph

Perhaps the best way to launch this newest version of E-Hazzan is through a topic dealing with Rosh Hashanah, specifically the Musaph or additional service. As you may know, each day we pray three times; evening, morning and night. On festivals, in reminiscence of the additional sacrifice that was added during the time of the Jerusalem Temple, we add this additional Musaph service.

Musaph consists mainly of an Amidah or standing Prayer that is composed of five Brachot or blessings. On weekdays, the Amidah contains a number of petitions that bring the total of blessings to 19. We have discussed the Amidah in previous editions and I am sure we will revisit this important topic again.

Throughout the High Holiday period, we alter the text of the Amidah in order to reflect themes that are central to this holy period such as the monarchy of God, the desire for forgiveness and cognizance of the process of Heavenly judgment. For example, the third blessing of the Amidah, the blessing of God’s Holiness, changes form referring to the Lord as the “Holy God” to the “Sovereign of Holiness.” Here is a beautiful, uplifting setting of the conclusion of this blessing, “Kadosh Atah,” “You are Holy,” sung by Hazzan David Lefkowitz and the Park Avenue Synagogue Choir.    What a great point in the service to insert a short, lively choral number! This setting is featured on a collection called The Spirit of the High Holy Days produced by the Cantors Assembly and the United Synagogue.

The Musaph service for Rosh Hashanah however, is unique among all services of the year in that the Amidah contains three extra Brachot. Each of these Brachot is comprised of a selection of verses drawn from all parts of the Hebrew Bible, which are woven together in a fabric of poetic prayer. If you would like to see a listing of the biblical verses that form each of these sections of the Amidah, please click here. As always, the Brachot are concluded with a Chatima, or “Seal”, a section of prayer that summarizes the themes of the particular blessing. Because of the poignancy and enduring significance of the three added Brachot of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah, they have been the subjects of many musical treatments throughout the ages. Our talented composers and Hazzanim endeavor to express the deep meaning of these prayers through music. The sounding of the Shofar is used to delineate each of these prayer sections.

The first of these sections, Malchuyot – “Royalty” refers to our experience of God as Sovereign of the Universe. Employing the prophetic verses of Malchuyot (Isaiah 44:6, Obadiah 1:21, Zachariah 14:9), this classic setting by the Great Hazzan Zavel Kwartin is entitled, “V’Al Y’dei Avodecha,” “and Your servants the prophets declared….”  Kwartin brilliantly expresses phrases such as, the verse used to conclude the popular prayer, Aleinu: “The Lord shall be King over all the earth; on that day the Lord shall be One and His name One.” Aleinu, incidentally, is originally found as part of this Malchuyot section of Musaph. We also find in this rendition by Kwartin the words of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), “Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, The Lord is One.” This piece is certainly one of the greatest hits of Rosh Hashanah music and one of my personal favorites. Our sample can be found on many recordings including the source of this version, a CD entitled, The Complete Cantorial Collection.

Zichronot – “Remembering” is the second section of these Musaph Blessings; it refers to our place in God’s Plan. Although the verses quoted from the Pentateuch deal with themes such as the flood and God’s covenant with Abraham; the prophetic verses (Jeremiah 2:2, Ezekiel 16:60, Jeremiah 31:20) are particularly striking in their imagery. Here God is depicted as a parent reminiscing about the innocence of a child who now is the cause of visceral anguish; nevertheless God promises to demonstrate parental compassion. The power of the above verses has moved many creative composers and singers to profound emotional expression. Here is a rare but most intriguing recording of this prophetic section of Zichronot by Leib Glantz, of one of the enduring greats of the Cantorial pantheon.   This cut is part of a CD collection enclosed in a book written by his son Jerry about Glantz entitled, The Man Who Spoke to God.

Finally, the third of the three central Brachot of the Rosh Hashanah is Shofarot – “Sounding the Shofar,” God’s Shofar and our Shofar, past, present and future. Early biblical references in this section remind us of times when the Shofar was used as signaling device, such as to proclaim the new moon or to sound a battle cry. Drawn from the Kituvim, or the “Writings” division of the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 150, “Hallelujah! Praise God in God’s Sanctuary; praise God in God’s mighty heavens…” refers to the sounding of the Shofar as a method of worship. Shofarot’s prophetic verses yearn for the day when the Shofar will proclaim the messianic age. The Chatima, or concluding paragraph of the section begins with the exhortation, “Tika B’shofar Gadol L’Cheiruteinu,” “sound the great Shofar to herald our freedom.” Clearly expressing our hope that soon the sound of the Heavenly Shofar will signal a time of universal piece and freedom, Zichronot asks God to mercifully accept our sounding of the Shofar as a way to give voice to our innermost prayers. Mischa Alexandrovich, an extremely sensitive and talented Hazzan whose sweet lyric tenor voice inspired congregations and audiences around the world, sings this setting of “Teka B’Shofar Gadol L’Cheiruteinu.”   I am particularly found of Hazzan Alexandrovich perhaps because I had the privilege of singing with him when I was a teen aged member of a synagogue choir. He also served my current congregation, Temple Sinai of Hollywood, many years ago.

Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot the three special sections of the Rosh Hashanah Amidah serve to highlight the significance of this Holy occasion. These Brachot embody the notion that each year on Rosh Hashanah the world is created anew. On the festival which celebrates the creation of the world, and the coronation of the Almighty, these three blessings remind us not only of our deep rooted connection to our past, but of the possibility of renewal and growth. The magnificence and insight of the High Holiday Music serves as a source of inspiration to all who truly listen.

Please feel free to comment on this post below.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you and you dear ones a Shanah Tovah U’Mtukah; a good and sweet year.

6 thoughts on “Rosh Hashanah Musaph

  1. Good job. Lots of great information! Being able to easily access the tidbits of music was also great. I might even read the next one.

  2. Excellent.
    The only thing is that the mp3 files sounded like the chipmonks!!.
    I don’t know why.

    Probably an issue of speed!!?
    Have a Wonderful really wonderful shabat and Rosh Ha shana.
    Shana tova


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s