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Roman Chazanut Lab

14Sep6:00 pmRoman Chazanut Lab6:00 pm(GMT+00:00) Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16 Street, New York, NY 10011

Event Details

The first session of the Rome Lab features Rav Alberto Funaro, teacher and cantor of the Spanish Temple in Rome. Join us to learn the most beautiful tunes of the Roman liturgy for the Selichot and the High Holidays.

Free and open to the public.


Traditional liturgical melodies of the Italian and Spanish rite in Rome have been handed down orally, through generations, by practitioners and only seldom formally transcribed. With few exceptions, Roman cantors, did not have musical training. Those who did, applied it to learn the melodies composed by the various maestros of the Temple’s choir.

Rome is a central place of memory for the preservation of the Italian rite, which, through the centuries, was transformed by various influences. Some liturgical songs are no longer part of the ritual; of some only the initial and final passages are sung; and others have been introduced over the course of time by rabbis and cantors from elsewhere.

Liturgical songs have always been transmitted from teacher to pupil, in some cases, rare or difficult melodies have been lost or transformed as a liturgical text of which the original melody is no longer known is likely to become obsolete.

It is to be noted that since the first half of the 19th century Rome has not had a Roman Chief Rabbi. Each newcomer, brought with him the melodies from his city of origin that were dearest to him and implanted them onto the local rite. Moreover, the fact that the Tempio Maggiore and the Spanish Temple are located in the same building, caused a coalescing of tropes and a continuous exchange between the two rites.

The most striking example of this phenomenon is that the traditional Italian cantillation of Torah reading is no longer used in Rome. The Italian tradition is distinguished by its

simple and elegant reading style  obtained through a reduction of the “Té amim” (flavors or accents, the musical notations in Jewish liturgical text).

Today, this tradition is heard only in Turin or Milan (with some difference from the ancient Roman use). In Rome for reasons that have not been fully explained, the Torah reading is no longer Roman but Sephardic Roman. I tried to explain this peculiarity, and with the approval of some of the experts I came to my personal conviction, that the alternation of chazanim at different times and different synagogues prompted a continuous exchange of melodies that coalesced into a mainstream style.

Another important consideration is the lack of ancient manuscripts that makes it impossible to assess when various melodies were composed. One last consideration should be made on the melodies of the psalms according to the Roman tradition (probably Spanish). These have been mostly lost, but some of them arrived to me through my Father z.l. and were collected for what was possible at the time in the transcriptions of liturgical songs by M ° Elio Piattelli z.l.


Rav Alberto Funaro is chazan of the Spanish Synagogue of Rome. Known for his melodic style, his knowledge of the Roman and Sephardic liturgy and his embracing communal spirit, he took his first professional steps under the late Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff of whom he remained close collaborator. His recordings have contributed to preserve the Roman Jewish cantorial tradition which was collected and handed down to his generation by cantors and rabbis who had survived fascist-nazi persecution. Rav Funaro received his degree as “Rabbino Maggiore” from the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano in 1979 where he has taught since 1977. He is the director of the Rome Talmud Torà and a judge of the Rabbinical tribunal of Rome and of the Rabbinical Office of the Jewish Community of Rome since 2002.

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