The music libel against the Jews

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Explores the stereotype - stemming from the Middle Ages in Europe - and the historical categorization of the Jew as a producer of noise in a Christian universe perceived as dominated by harmonious sounds. The liturgical singing in the synagogue was seen as an acoustic organ producing noise. This allegation of "noise-making" was not only used to argue that the Jew was a person "that hath no music in himself", but was also regarded as a kind of Jewish "sonar aggression" against the Christian world: the contention was that the Jews could not stand the harmony of the Christian liturgy. Paradoxically, it was Luther's Reformation which paved the road to the eventual inclusion of Jewish music in European music. Many composers, Jewish or of Jewish origins - Meyerbeer, Halévy, Mendelssohn, Schoenberg, and others - suffered from the "noise allegation". Shows how, in the modern period, mainly in Germany and Austria, Jewish (and sometimes non-Jewish) musicians and artists tried to counter this stereotype of Jewish noise-making. At the same time, European antisemites, from Thomas Rowlandson through Richard Wagner to the Nazis, revived the "noise allegation" and tried to demonstrate that Jews could not be genuine composers, and that they were alien to European, or German, musical harmony. Dwells on the sonic configuration of the Nazi film "Jud Süss", examining how it contrasts the supposedly Jewish synagogue music with the harmonious German one. - This deeply imaginative and wide-ranging book shows how, since the first centuries of the Christian era, gentiles have associated Jews with noise. Ruth HaCohen focuses her study on a "musical libel"--A variation on the Passion story that recurs in various forms and cultures in which an innocent Christian boy is killed by a Jew in order to silence his "harmonious musicality." In paying close attention to how and where this libel surfaces, HaCohen covers a wide swath of western cultural history, showing how entrenched aesthetic-theological assumptions have persistently defined European culture and its internal moral and political orientations. Ruth HaCohen combines in her comprehensive analysis the perspectives of musicology, literary criticism, philosophy, psychology, and anthropology, tracing the tensions between Jewish "noise" and idealized Christian "harmony" and their artistic manifestations from the high Middle Ages through Nazi Germany and beyond. She concludes her book with a passionate and moving argument for humanizing contemporary soundspaces.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew Haven, CT
PublisherYale University Press
Number of pages507
ISBN (Print)0300167784, 9780300167788, 9780300194777
StatePublished - 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'The music libel against the Jews'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this