The major resources for the study of Jewish music are the oral traditions of the various communities worldwide. These have been documented only from the beginning of the 20th century, at first sporadically but later more systematically. Written sources relating to Jewish music are mainly of a literary nature. The primary sources – such as the Bible, the Oral Law (Mishnah and Talmud), Midrash (biblical hermeneutics), mystical treatises and rabbinical writings, particularly responsa – provide information about the uses, functions and character of Jewish music during its formative period, as well as the attitudes of religious authorities towards it (see below, §4). These sources are supplemented by secondary, circumstantial evidence such as travellers’ diaries. The substantial use of Western musical notation in Jewish music, especially in print, is a later development (after c1840) and was generally employed for the perpetuation of new compositions rather than the preservation or recording of oral traditions.
Among the rare and sporadic notations of traditional Jewish music prior to 1840 are a 12th-century, single-leaf manuscript (notated in Beneventan neumes) by Obadiah the Norman Proselyte found in the Cairo Genizah (fig.1), the notations of musical motifs of the Masoretic accents by Hebraists, such as Johannes Reuchlin's De accentibus et orthographia linguae hebraicae (Hagenau, 1518; see below, §III, 3, fig.15), the specimens notated by early musical historiographers (and subsequently reproduced until the 19th century), such as Anastasius Kircher's Musurgia universalis (Rome, 1650), and the documentation by composers interested in ‘ancient Hebrew music’ as a source of inspiration, such as Benedetto Marcello's Estro poetico-armonico (Venice, 1724–7). From the mid-18th century onwards, a few cantors in Germany began to document their new tunes in manuscript, ushering in the era of musical notation in European Jewish music (Adler, 1989). Notations of traditional Jewish music from the Middle Eastern communities date from a much later period, for example the specimens included in the scientific reports from Syria by Dom Jean Parisot (1899; 1903).
The major collections of Jewish music documentation, either oral or written, are associated with prominent scholars in the field. The Birnbaum Collection of Jewish music at the Klau Library of the HUC in Cincinnati is the largest repository of manuscripts and documents of Jewish music. The collection covers Jewish musical life in Europe, with special emphasis on Germany, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Other major repositories of scores and written documents are the Eric Mandell Collection (Gratz College, Philadelphia), the funds of the JTS (New York) and the Jacob Michael Collection (Jewish National and University Library – JNUL – in Jerusalem). The Music Department of JNUL includes the vast Noy-Wachs collection of Yiddish and Hebrew songs (over 15,000 items), as well as the estates of many Jewish composers, scholars (including the Idelsohn Collection) and institutions (e.g. the short-lived World Center for Jewish Music; see Bohlman, 1992).
The National Sound Archives, located at JNUL, houses the largest repository of field recordings of Jewish music in the world. It incorporates the historical recordings of Idelsohn, Lachmann, Edith Gerson-Kiwi, Leo Levi, Johanna Spector and those of the younger generations of Israeli scholars. Renanot, the Institute of Jewish Music in Jerusalem (formerly Institute of Religious Music), also possesses a sizeable collection of recordings. Important assemblages of recorded Jewish music outside Israel include the Phonograph Archiv in Vienna and the private collections of American researchers, such as the Samuel Armistead, Israel Katz and Joseph Silverman Collection of Judeo-Spanish Songs, the Kay Kaufman Shelemay Collection of Ethiopian and Syrian Jewish Music, and various assemblages of klezmer and Ashkenazi liturgical music by Mark Slobin, Walter Zev Feldman, Andy Statman, Hankus Netzky, Judit Frigyesi and others. The Milken Archive of American Jewish Music is a new project dedicated to the preservation of previously unrecorded traditional and newly composed Jewish music from the USA. Another important source of sound recordings that can contribute substantially to research are the early 78 r.p.m records. This is an area, however, in which substantial research and cataloguing is still required.
Basic bibliographical tools are Sendrey (1951/R) followed by Weisser (1969), Heskes (1985; incl. a comprehensive bibliography of bibliographies), Seroussi (1993) and Adler (The Study of Jewish Music, 1995). (Updates are found in the journal Musica judaica.) The systematic compilation of texts concerning Jewish music and scores was initiated by Birnbaum and Idelsohn and continued with the work of Avenary. Catalogues of Hebrew writings concerning music and of notated sources of Jewish music up to 1840 have been published by Adler in RISM (1975; 1989), providing a fundamental resource for the study of Jewish music history. Shlomo Hofman contributed compilations of passages about music and musical instruments in the Bible (1965, 2/1974) and in the Mishnah and the Talmud (1989), while Shiloah and Tenne (1977) have done the same for the major work of Jewish mysticism, the Sefer ha-zohar (Book of Splendour).