Jewish society in the land of Israel and the challenge of music in the roman period

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During the Second Temple period, music had an important role in Jewish society. Alongside it was Greek music, which at times made inroads into Jewish cultural life. However, the Jewish institutions of the time managed to filter out the religious and cultural influences of this foreign musical tradition. After the destruction of the Temple, by contrast, Hebrew sources point to pagan ritual music that had significant, damaging influence on Jewish society. The sages tried to counter this influence through sermons, but, surprisingly, not by absolute prohibition. The influences of pagan music increased in the Talmudic period, even as the halakhic prohibitions waned. This paradox requires an explanation. This article suggests that the way the sages treated pagan music was an aspect of their complex attitude toward the Greco-Roman culture, one that alongside prohibitions increasingly tended toward leniency once it became clear that prohibitions did not provide a defense against pagan cultural influences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-88
Number of pages28
JournalReview of Rabbinic Judaism
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012


  • Mishnah
  • Music in Roman Palestine
  • Second Temple Judaism
  • Talmud


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