The Cantor, the Mystic, and the Jurist

Posted by Levi Cooper on June 22, 2014
Topics: Rabbinic Literature, Hasidut, Halakha, Modernity

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt (1882-1933) was offered an opportunity that would make any performer swoon: a star role in the ground-breaking film The Jazz Singer (1927). Yet Rosenblatt refused this artistic opportunity of the lifetime. This paper contextualises Rosenblatt’s baffling decision, by exploring one possible relationship between art and law; in this case – the art of storytelling and the Jewish legal system. The study demonstrates where the two pursuits tread separate, unlinked paths to a common end. This vector is refracted through the lens of performance of prayers outside of the religious synagogue service; specifically the propriety of cantorial concerts that presented prayers from the High Holy Day liturgy. This issue appears in Jewish legal writing and in storytelling – each modality using its own tools to tackle the trend. It is noted that legal systems without effective enforcement mechanisms – such as Jewish law in the late modern period – could use arts as compensatory media for achieving societal order. More significantly, however, arts are not umbilically connected to law; each cultural creation independently strives to fashion society.  The full article is available at

About Levi Cooper

Levi teaches Bible, Hasidut, Maimonides and Midrash at Pardes. Originally from Australia, Levi holds an LL.B., LL.M. and Ph.D. from the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University, and is a member of the Israel Bar Association. He is currently an adjunct professor in the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University and post-doctoral fellow in the Law Faculty of Tel Aviv University. Click here to read more.

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