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Indiana University Bloomington
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Judah Cohen

The Lou and Sybil Mervis Professor in the Study of Jewish Culture; Professor of Jewish Studies and Musicology

My training as a musicologist and an anthropologist, and my professional activity within Jewish studies, has allowed me to explore many aspects of Jewish culture and history. As a child, I spent two years in St. Thomas, USVI; and I returned to this island in my first book (Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, USVI [Brandeis University Press, 2004]), which is both a historical narrative and a meditation on writing the history of a small community. Since then, I have explored the meaning of becoming a Reform Jewish cantor at the turn of the twenty-first century, based on three years of ethnographic study with cantorial students. Subsequent projects have led me to investigate the history of Jewish music scholarship in the United States, musical theater works that address Holocaust memory, contemporary forms of Jewish musical expression, and musical representations of such cultural figures as Anne Frank and Shylock. 

Throughout my research, I address Jewish cultural expression as a dynamic and ever-changing process, created and recreated over time by artists, religious leaders, philosophers and activists. I aim to understand this idea largely through the prism of sound, and its relationship to ideas of Jewish identity.


  • B.A. Yale, 1995
  • M.A. Harvard, 1998
  • Ph. D. Harvard, 2002

Publication Highlights

Jewish Religious Music in 19th Century America: Restoring the Synagogue Soundtrack. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (expected April 2019).

“Higher Education: Debbie Friedman in Chicago.” Journal of Jewish Identities 10.1 (2017): 7-26.
“Embodying Musical Heritage in a New–Old Profession: American Jewish Cantorial Schools, 1904–1939.” Journal of the Society for American Music 11.1 (2016): 1-20.

“A Holy Brother’s Liberal Legacy: Shlomo Carlebach, Reform Judaism, and Hasidic Pluralism.” American Jewish History 100.4 (2016): 485-509.

Sounding Jewish Tradition: The Music of Central Synagogue. New York: Central Synagogue, 2011. 

The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor: Musical Authority, Cultural Investment. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2004 (Paperback 2012).


  • JSTU-J258/FOLK-F252: Musical Theater and Ethnic Representation
  • JSTU-J357/FOLK-F357: American Jewish Popular Music
  • COLL-C103: A Matter of Identity: The Case of Judaism
  • JSTU-J358/FOLK-F358: Music in Judaism
  • JSTU-J359/FOLK-F359: Exploring Jewish Identity Today