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What IS a Cantor?


Cantor-concert in the Vienna Stadttempel synagogue
Gryffindor/Wikimedia Commons

In Judaism, a cantor - also known as a "chazzan" or "hazzan" - is the person who leads the congregation in prayer along with the rabbi. The position of cantor is significant because music plays a major role in Jewish prayer services.

Kinds of Cantors

A cantor is usually trained in the musical arts and/or has attended cantorial school. Professional cantors who have attended cantorial school are ordained clergy.

There are some cantors who are simply people from the community with in depth knowledge of the prayer services. At other times, the rabbi might fill the roles of both rabbi and cantor. Volunteer cantors and rabbi/cantor prayer leaders are especially common in small synagogues.

In Orthodox Judaism a cantor must be male, however, in Conservative and Reform Judaism a cantor can be either male or female.

What Do Cantors Do?

In addition to leading prayer services cantors have a variety of responsibilities which vary from synagogue to synagogue. Often their duties will include teaching bar/bat mitzvah students to read from the Torah, teaching members of the congregation how to participate in prayer services and working with the choir. As ordained clergy, cantors can also perform pastoral duties such as conducting weddings or funeral services.

Also Known As: hazzan, chazzan
The cantor leads the congregation in prayer and helps bar mitzvah students learn their torah portion.
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