Exploring this Job

You can explore the work of cantors by participating in Jewish chorale groups or other music-related activities. Another good strategy is to talk with cantors about their careers. Professional cantor associations can provide you with contact information for cantors who would be willing to discuss their careers. Consider attending a service at a local synagogue to watch a cantor at work. Finally, check out the following resources to learn more about Judaism and the work of cantors: 

  • Judaism 101: http://www.jewfaq.org
  • Career Paths in Scared Music: https://majoringinmusic.com/career-paths-sacred-music
  • Cantors Assembly Blog: https://www.cantors.org/category/blog
  • Women Cantors’ Network Blog: https://womencantors.net/blog
  • Sacred Sounds: The Newsletter of the Cantors Assembly: https://www.cantors.org/sacred-sounds-the-newsletter-of-the-cantors-assembly

The Job

The cantor sings liturgical prayers and leads the congregation in a “call-and-response” to his or her own sung responses during Jewish worship services. Cantors also play a role in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian services, as well as in the Muslim faith, but this article focuses solely on cantors in the Jewish faith.

The cantor is a member of the clergy and also an accomplished singer. At some synagogues, cantors work under the supervision of rabbis, while at others they may work as partners with rabbis and share equal responsibility. Some synagogues may not have a rabbi, but only a cantor, or vice-versa. Job responsibilities vary for cantors by religious movement, size of the congregation, and other criteria, but typical duties include:

  • leading the congregation in chanting and singing prayers
  • presenting myriad styles of traditional and contemporary music during worship and in other settings
  • being responsible for other parts of the service, such as chanting selections from the Torah (the central source of Jewish religious traditions, which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and Haftarah (the books of the Prophets)
  • playing the shofar (an ancient musical horn made of a ram’s horn) on Rosh Hashanah to serve as a reminder of how Abraham sacrificed a ram in place of his son, Isaac, in the Tanakh (or Old Testament to Christians) and as a reminder to repent for one’s sins
  • singing liturgical prayers and otherwise officiating at weddings and funerals (in the absence of the rabbi)
  • leading synagogue choirs and other musical groups
  • working closely with the congregation’s rabbi
  • training children for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations (in some congregations)
  • providing spiritual counseling to congregants (especially in synagogues that do not have a rabbi)
  • visiting congregation members when they are sick (in some congregations)
  • running synagogue teen programs
  • creating and presenting cultural programs that are related to Jewish life and traditions