Mordechai Hershman

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Mordecai Hershman (1888–1940) was a Russian-Jewish cantor ("hazzan") and singer.

Biography[edit]

Mordechai Hershman (1888–1940) was born in Chernigov in the Ukraine. Although as a child he showed musical talent at an early age, participating in several synagogue choirs, when his father died when he was six years old his adoptive family did not encourage him to pursue his talent. At age twelve he was adopted by his grandfather, who moved with him to Solovio, where he began receiving formal training from cantor Dorfman. In 1904 he was appointed to the post of hazzan in Zhitomir, but he stayed there only a few months before he was offered a position as assistant hazzan of Vilna. After several years, the principle hazzan died and Hershman took up the position.

During World War I, Hershman was drafted into the Russian army. Legend has it that his commanding officer was so impressed by his tenor voice that he released him from duty. After the war, Hershman returned to his post in Vilna. The community granted him leave to lead the services only two Sabbaths a month so that he could tour and concertize the rest of the time. Hershman appeared throughout Europe, singing both liturgical works and operatic arias.

In 1920, Hershman emigrated to the United States where he took a position as chief hazzan at the Beth El Temple in Brooklyn, New York, a position he held for 10 years. During his time at Beth El Temple and afterwards, he continued to tour throughout America, Europe and Palestine. As was customary of noted hazzanim of the time, Hershman released several records of cantorial and Jewish folk music.

Hershman died in 1940.

Hershman's voice[edit]

Hershman ranks among the great cantors of the golden age of Jewish cantorial music at the start of the 20th century. His mellow tenor voice thrilled his audiences, and his cantorial arias have become classics of the Ashkenazic cantorial repertoire. Some of his most famous melodies are: "Aylu Devarim", "Akavia ben Mahalael" and "Modim Anachnu Lecha". In addition to liturgical material, Hershman also recorded Yiddish songs as well as opera selections. Many of his liturgical recordings were composed by the noted composer Yaakov (Jacob) Rapoport. Hershman himself did not compose music. In 1925, Pinchas Yasinovski composed a segment for Hershman, entitled "At the end of days" ("Vehaya Beacharit Haymim") for the inauguration of the Hebrew University campus at Mount Scopus. The text is from the Book of Isaiah, and the tune is based on the traditional cantillation notes. Hershman recorded the segment in the U.S., accompanied by strings and wind instruments, and it is considered one of his finest recordings.

External sources[edit]