Diverse Jewish Heritage in Music

All too often Judaism is seen as a homogeneous religion, a homogeneous culture. Yet it is, under its image of unity, an extremely diverse religion. It is one of the few religions I know where atheism is tolerated among its members. It seems racially uniform, but when one looks into the depth of Jewish experience around the world one finds a racial diversity that spans every continent. There are Chinese Jews, Indian Jews, Latin American Jews and African Jews as well as the well known Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Mizrahim Jews.

The Jewish experience is amazingly diverse. Even though a large part of Judaism share genetic links to an ancient tribal culture in the Middle East, Judaism has always been more open to converts than has generally been recognized. Though the tribal/genetic aspect of Judaism is important to Jews, it is by no means a requirement and once someone converts they are recognized as FULLY Jewish, whatever their heritage. Judaism has grown in diversity both through the diaspora (perhaps a form of divergent evolution), and through conversion (more of a convergent evolution, perhaps), more often than not encouraged by the Hasidic Jews more than the more reform side of Judaism.

Below I present an incomplete survey of Jewish diversity represented in music, from Israel to India to America to Uganda.

Ashkenazi heritage, from the movie “Train de vie”: (one of my favorites)


An unusual version of an Ashkenazi satire on the Tsar (sung by Paul Robeson in near perfect Yiddish)


A Yemenite Jewish song, “Gul Lilhbib” by Gila Beshari:


More Yemenite Jewish music:


Turning to Sephardic Jewish music: (with LOVELY Arabic influences!)


The Israel Andalusian Orchestra:


Moroccan Jewish wedding song:


A Sephardic Shema Israel: (almost Celtic in nature)


Which leads to what to me is one of the more amazing Jewish communities, the Ugandan Abayudaya, singing Shema Israel: (who converted to Judaism on their own and only later came into contact with the wider Jewish world)


More from the Abayudaya Jews: (L’cha Dodi)


Turning to the Bene Israel of India, The Hora at an Indian wedding:


Ger Tzadik (a black Hasid originally from Ohio):


And what survey of Jewish music would be complete without Matisyahu, the (formerly, it has been pointed out to me) Lubavicher Hasidic Reggae/Rapper:




Judaism is among the more diverse religions, though most people are only familiar with the Ashkenazi branch. But the skin color of Jews around the world is as diverse as in any religion and though Hebrew is a common religious language, Jews around the world speak a huge diversity of languages. And when it comes to music, I think we hold our own.


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