Are Cantors Ordained?

JSLI Ordains Cantors who complete their course of study in Nusach (religious melodies), liturgy and life-cycle courses.

Over the years, there has been a significant shift in the role of a Cantor. Rather than just being responsible for the musical elements of the service, they have full clergy status. There is a difference between ordination and investiture, or more specifically the latter term is used to make a clear distinction between Cantors and Rabbis. However, different movements have different perception towards Cantors being ordained.

The Jewish Theological Seminary H.L. Miller Cantorial School of the Conservative Movement invests its Cantors, while the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion ordains them. On the other hand, the Reconstructionist movement previously invested Cantors, but no longer provides a Cantorial program.

The Hebrew Union College of the Reform Movement has announced ordination of its graduating class of Cantors, rather than investiture. They strongly recognize the elevated position that Cantors have in contemporary times and make an effort to eliminate some blockades they have faced in their clergy work. Obviously, a deserving person has to be given that exclusive position.

For Cantors who serve in association with Rabbis, it’s imperative for the congregation to realize that the Cantor is not there just as a musician, but (s)he is there to serve and help followers with all aspects of Jewish life. No one can take away the position of Rabbi as the final leader of the congregation, but understanding the role of a Cantor beyond musical elements is equally important.

The change that has been long thought of, is a matter of concern for many who believe ordination of Cantors will blur the lines between them and Rabbis. Those who fully support the decision to give Cantors a professional status are intellectual people rather than the passionate ones, who are firm on their opinion of ordaining Cantors as something that can challenge reason and reality.