Torah, music led to National Jewish Book Award


A winner of the 2017 National Jewish Book Award, a Wisconsin native, is influenced by his transformative connection to others through playing music.

Joey Weisenberg, 36, a musician and composer, is the 2017 National Jewish Book Award winner for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice. He won for his book, “The Torah of Music.”

Weisenberg captures the philosophical, the religious, the emotional and the mystical elements of music expressed through the Torah.

“The Torah of Music”

The book includes a collection of 180 quotes from the Torah which all relate to music. The book is meant to invoke a deeper spiritual connection to music through Weisenberg’s analysis of the quotes.

With the inclusion of quotes from the Torah, Weisenberg intends to “synthesize them and try to describe the musical dreamscape of the Jewish tradition,” he said.

The book explores the “story of music as a Jewish, spiritual practice,” Weisenberg said.

His inspiration to write the book has come from his active participation in the music world. Weisenberg is the creative director of Hadar’s Rising Song Institute, located in Philadelphia.

The Institute serves to “cultivate grassroots of the musical, spirit and creativity of the Jewish community,” Weisenberg said.

Community members attend musical gatherings at the institute and musicians play traditional Jewish music and prayer music.

Weisenberg described it as, “raw sound of people singing together in community and song.”

Weisenberg has traveled all over the world for the last 15 years, singing ancient Jewish music with Holocaust survivors, Catholics, Muslims, people who are transgender and Jews of all denominations.

Weisenberg composes nigunim, wordless melodies, that “allow people to sing without having to know all the words,” Weisenberg said.

This form of music is meant to heighten spiritual connection. When experienced, a nigun “allows people to express spirit, soul and feelings,” Weisenberg said. The essence of the nigun is explored further in “The Torah of Music.”

A nigun breaks down cultural barriers where music becomes universal. Weisenberg hopes that through this expression people can, “hear each other better and become more in tune with the whole world around us.”

Joey Weisenberg

These musical sessions allow people of all backgrounds to “speak the musical language,” Weisenberg said.

The musical gatherings are highly emotional and spiritual. Weisenberg asserts that music can transport a person to “the world that is beyond human.”

Weisenberg attended Milwaukee Jewish Day School, Nicolet High School and Congregation Beth Israel.

At 13 years old, Weisenberg would play electric guitar at the blues bars. He describes the jam sessions as, “playing the 12 bar blues over and over again; almost exactly like a nigun; it allows the musicians and people in the room to express their deepest feelings.”

Weisenberg has studied the classical and jazz genres, but “in the realm of the nigun, Jewish soul music speaks most directly to me,” Weisenberg said.

Even though Weisenberg has written three books, he does not see himself as an author, but primarily a musician.

In regards to his book award, his hope is “that people will read the book and feel inspired to go out and sing with their people in the community.”

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About this story

Joey Weisenberg, a Wisconsin native, has traveled all over the world for the last 15 years, singing ancient Jewish music with others.