High Holy Days Machzor Mishkan haNefesh

Introducing Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh: New Music for the High Holy Days

I remember the first moments that I sat in the sanctuary at Temple Beth El of Great Neck and heard my cantor, Barbara Ostfeld, sing the majestic Avinu Malkeinu of Max Janowski for the first time.  With the organ and the choir joining her, I felt the emotion well up inside of me as I realized the impact that this incredible music had on me. I had those same feelings the first time I sang Kol Nidre as a Student Cantor, and of course Max Helfman’s Shema Koleinu at my first full time pulpit.

I still feel the emotion of the music of the High Holy Days each and every time I put on my white robe and stand before the Kahal to intone the majestic and powerful music of the Days of Awe.  It is why I am so proud to have been part of a project to bring new powerful and emotional music to the Reform movement helping to bring to life the beautiful poetry in our new machzor.

After nearly two years of work, the American Conference of Cantors, in partnership with CCAR Press, is proud to present to our movement this book of new compositions for High Holy Day worship.   This book brings musical life to many of the magical new texts found in Mishkan HaNefesh while also bringing musical voice to other traditional texts found in the machzor.  All of us have our favorite melodies for Avinu Malkeynu, or Shema Koleinu….I know that I do.  However, the music contained in Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh provides beautiful alternatives and an opportunity to introduce new musical memories to our communities.  Like the new machzor, Mishkan HaNefesh, the music contained in this volume underscores the central value of Teshuvah, accompanying our journey during the Days of Awe, as together we seek repentance, new direction, and a sense of return to God and the Jewish people.

While I would never try to replace the melodies that are part of my life and my inner soul, I am so excited to join these new and exciting melodies to them thus enriching the musical life of the Jewish people for decades to come.

I look forward to sharing these new melodies with my community this coming High Holy Days and hope you will as well.


Cantor Steven Weiss is the project director for Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh and the Vice-President of the American Conference of Cantors.  He also serves Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, MA. 

4 replies on “Introducing Shirei Mishkan HaNefesh: New Music for the High Holy Days”

The dilemma is real. What do those of us who love Janowski, Steinberg, Freed, Helfman – even Lewandowski and Sulzer – do when the movement neglects them and offers all new tunes for an all new Mahzor? What happens to a couple of centuries of music written for the synagogue is discarded because it is not for guitar and amateur voices? What is the proper balance between the old and the new, the inspirational and the easily singable – not only on Shabbat, but especially on the “Days of Awe” when “awesome” is not even considered an option by the books published by our movement?

With all due respect to you,the dilemma is not the new music. It is the complete neglect of the old. I introduced new music when I served as Choir Director t the Cincinnati campus over fifty years ago, to not a little amount of criticism.At the same time, retaining some of the familiar and beloved Mi Sinai tunes. I love new music and introduced it in my congregation. But can there not be a balance between some great music and some more contemporary settings. I really love and listen to much contemporary classical music, but that doesn’t mean that I have to throw out the great compositions of the past.

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