An ongoing debate among followers of Judaism centers around the question: Who is a Jew? There are many viewpoints and definitions depending on the person's political and religious affiliation.Another question that can be asked about Jewish and Israeli culture is: What is Jewish music? What makes a particular kind of music Jewish in sound and substance? The answer to that is two-fold. There are certain specific kinds of Jewish music; genres which are immediately identifiable as Jewish. Then there is another, newer area of Jewish music gaining popularity that falls under the catch-all term of contemporary Jewish music. First, let's take a look at the three traditional kinds of Jewish music: Klezmer, Sephardic, and Hassidic. Klezmer is probably the best-known style of Jewish music. How do I know? There are Klezmer bands popping up like mushrooms, with members who are not even Jewish. When an ethnic style finds its way into the mainstream culture, that's proof the style has a large following. The word "klezmer" actually means "musician" in Yiddish, a language that combines elements of Hebrew and German [in Hebrew, the words klei zmer refer to musical instruments]. Klezmer has come to mean the musical style of the Ashkenazic -- Eastern European, particularly Slavic countries and Germany -- Jewish community. Characterized by its light, danceable feel laced with clarinets and violin, Klezmer is very popular at Jewish weddings and communal functions. Some of the big names of Klezmer include Joel Rubin, The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, and The Klezmatics. Klezmer is usually categorized by the kind of beat and rhythm a piece has -- whether it is a freyleich, bulgar, or hora. Some of these musical styles even have dance steps associated with them -- no wedding is complete without a Jewish circle dance usually accompanied by lifting the bride and groom in the air on separate chairs.
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