The music we hear during the High Holy Days is an integral part of our emotional and spiritual journey into the New Year.  Our prayers and texts come alive when they are sung to both ancient and modern melodies of our people.  The tunes of our tradition connect us to our past and to one another.  For many, hearing these melodies is a peak experience of the High Holy Days, touching us in ways beyond verbal expression.

There is a set of melodies associated with these Days of Awe, that come from the Jewish community of the Rhineland in the Middle Ages (1060-1500 CE).  There, in that time, the Jews were exposed to Christian minstrels, church melodies and folk songs.  Many of our most precious melodies, including Kol Nidrei, are an amalgamation of motifs and tunes that our ancestors wove together from their environs.  Over the centuries, these melodies attained a somewhat sacred status, being called MiSinai – coming to us as if from Mount Sinai itself.  They really date back to at least the time of Sefer Hasidim, a 12th C. book of early Ashkenazi origin; they represent the core of Ashkenazi spiritual memory.

These melodies are only one of many musical traditions that exist in Judaism.  Of course, they have become much of the American norm, as much of American Judaism traces itself back to its European ancestry.  Even so, as we listen to these traditions and explore how they open the Gate of Forgiveness for us in these days, we may find variations even from country to country and region to region.  Music surpasses the power of the word, lasting and echoing far beyond the present moment.

On this page, you will find some of the melodies of the High Holy Days. Go ahead and listen, let the sounds wash over you, or practice with them as part of your preparation and inspiration for the spiritual work ahead.  During the services, you may feel more comfortable singing out; other times, you may feel that that the prayers, both spoken and sung, can become a path for you on your spiritual journey of these sacred days.