Jewish Organ Music Recital

From Deutsch via Lewandowski to Würzburger – A recital of 19th and 20th century German Jewish organ music, with recitalist Dianne Halliday

Monday 21 August 2023 at 7:30pm
Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, Molesworth Street

All Welcome.

Dianne Halliday

The use of a pipe organ in Jewish temples and synagogues to enhance and assist services by accompanying singing or enhancing ambience is a controversial matter both within and across the various strands of Judaism. Australasian synagogues and temples have at various times used harmoniums, American reed organs, and electronic organs usually to accompany cantors, choirs or congregational singing. It is thought that the only pipe organ was to be found in Melbourne’s Temple Beth Israel in the 1960s. This was later replaced with a Rogers electronic organ. Here in Wellington the generic “harmonium” has been used in both Beth El and Temple Sinai.

In 1998 Rabbi John Levy who is associated with the founding of Wellington’s Temple Sinai, was instrumental in the release of a CD entitled The Musical Tradition of the Jewish Reform Congregation in Berlin. The CD was derived from a collection of 78rpm records recorded in Berlin circa 1930. Works by Louis Lewandowski (Berlin), Solomon Sulzer (Vienna) and even Franz Schubert are included. A pipe organ is used to accompany the singing.

In 19th century Germany the Jewish community were faced with a complex set of challenges. These included increasing secularisation, the influence of Enlightenment ideas, and the quest for Jewish integration into wider society. Reform Judaism emerged as a response to the challenges. German Reform Judaism sought to modernize contemporary Jewish worship by including elements from Protestant Christianity, including the use of the pipe organ. From about 1830 until finally extinguished in 1938 by Night of the Broken Glass there was a thriving German Reform Judaism organ building, organ playing and composing culture within German Reform Judaism. This culture had enormous influence on Reform Judaism in the United States, other parts of Europe and elsewhere.

The organ has been used in the Western Christian church for many centuries. The instrument and the institution are highly linked in the public mind. Musicians tend to consider the organ as a “Christian” instrument simply because churches are generally where the instrument is to be found. That is unless you live in a city such as Wellington with a large Town Hall or school of music where “secular” instruments may be found. Much of the music played in secular organ recitals has a Christian basis using liturgical melodies whether they be hymn tunes, plainsong or more current song-forms.

Jewish organ music often uses traditional Jewish chants primarily passed down through oral tradition in the same way. This creates interesting notational and interpretational issues for both composer and performer as cantillations are often highly ornamented and rhythmically flexible. Folk tunes such as those used in Klezmer music are easier to deal with.

The forthcoming August recital will demonstrate the organ compositions of Jewish composers written for liturgical use rather than secular concert recitals. All bar one of the composers (William Bolcom (1938 -)) are German born. They include Moritz Deutsch (1818-1892), Louis Lewandowski (1821-1894), Siegfried Würzburger (1877-1942) and Ludwig Altman (1910-1990).

The recital is jointly supported by the Wellington Abrahamic Council and Wellington Organists’ Association. Admission is free but donations are welcome to help defray expenses. The recitalist has waived a professional fee.

Euthanasia Seminar Audio

The Council held a public seminar on Wednesday 22 October 2014 looking at the views of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths on euthanasia.

The three speakers were:

  • Dr John Kleinsman, Director, Nathaniel [Cathoilic] Centre for Bioethics
  • Dr Khalid Sandhu, Muslim Physician and
  • Yitzchak Mizrahi, Rabbi, Wellington Jewish Community Centre

Dr Sinead Donnelly, a palliative care specialist at Wellington Hospital also participated in the Q&A after the talks.

The main questions posed to the speakers were:

  • Are there situations in which ending the suffering of a sick person can be justified?
  • Can euthanasia be safely implemented?
  • Should people who wish to die be forced to stay alive?

Listen to or download Dr Kleinsman’s talk:

Listen to or download Dr Sandhu’s talk:

Listen to or download Rabbi Mizrahi’s talk:

The Binding of Isaac / Ishmael – Wednesday 20 October 7.30pm

The Wellington Council of Christians and Jews Presents
A Public Sacred Text Study

The Binding of Isaac / Ishmael: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives

Wednesday 20 October 2010 at 7.30pm
Myers Hall, Wellington Jewish Community Centre
80 Webb St, Wellington
Entry by koha, all are welcome


  • Rabbi David Alima – Orthodox Rabbi, Wellington Hebrew Congregation
  • Rev Jenny Chalmers – Anglican Priest, St Marks Carterton; WCCJ Co-Chair
  • Sheikh Mohammed Amir – Imam, Wellington Islamic Centre

The binding of Isaac (in the Jewish and Christian traditions) or Ishmael (in the Islamic tradition) is a turning point in each of our religions, with fascinating similarities and differences in interpretation between the three Abrahamic faiths.  Come find out more about the ongoing impact of this pivotal event over 3,000 years ago.

The three talks will be followed by an panel discussion.

For more information, contact Dave Moskovitz, 027 220 2202

Download the flyer

ICCJ Conference Berlin 5-8 July

The International Council of Christians and Jews has announced its 2009 conference to be held 5-8 July 2009 in Berlin, with the theme “A Time for Recommitment: Jewish-Christian dialogue 70 years after the war and Holocaust”.

Sunday July 5, 2009

13.00 Women’s seminar
18.00 Reception
18.30 Opening dinner
20.00 Opening session with presentation of the new ICCJ document
including the ‘Twelve Points of Berlin’/’Zwölf Berliner Thesen’.
Guest: Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble, German Minister for the Interior

Monday July 6, 2009

07.00 Denominational prayers at hotel
07.30 Breakfast
09.00 Meditative moment
09.30 Plenary session
Christian Key note speaker (to be invited)
Jewish Respondent: Dr. Edward Kessler, Cambridge
Theme: The necessity of developing theologies of Judaism that affirm its distinctive integrity.
11.00 Workshops (contributors and moderators to be invited) on theological themes
deriving from the Twelve ICCJ Berlin Points, such as:
– Paul and Judaism
– Mutual influencing of Jewish and Christian liturgy
– 21st century forms of supersessionism
– Reform of synagogue liturgy?
– How to work with the ‘Twelve ICCJ Berlin Points’ etc.
12.30 Lunch
14.00 Workshops (contributors and moderators to be invited)
on today’s issues in Jewish-Christian dialogue, such as:
– The Roman Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI
– The necessity of trilateral dialogue
– The political situation in the Middle East
– The input of Asia and Africa in dialogue. Etc.
15.30 Free evening in Berlin

Tuesday July 7, 2009.

07.00 Denominational prayers at hotel
07.30 Breakfast
09.00 Meditative moment
09.30 Plenary session
Jewish key note speaker: Prof. Ruth Langer, Boston College
Christian Respondent: Dr. Barbara Meyer, Jerusalem.
Theme: Re-examining Jewish texts and liturgy in the light of Jewish-Christian dialogue.
11.30 Outing by boat on the Spree river
15.30 Break at hotel
17.30 Celebration of the 60-th anniversary of the ‘Deutsche Koordinierungsrat’ at the
Französischer Dom. Special guest: Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor.
19.30 Reception and dinner

Wednesday July 8, 2009

07.00 Denominational prayers at hotel
07.30 Breakfast
09.00 Meditative moment
09.30 Plenary session.
A panel with a Jewish, a Christian and a Muslim speaker. (to be invited)
Theme: ‘The common commitment for justice in the global society’.
11.00 Workshops on the non-theological points from the ‘Twelve ICCJ Berlin Points’.
13.30 Visits in Berlin: The Holocaust Memorial, The Jewish Museum and other places.
18.00 Closing event and dinner.