Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jane Sugarman

Committee Members

Samuel Heilman

Mark Kligman

Peter Manuel

Jane Sugarman

Subject Categories

Ethnomusicology | Jewish Studies | Religion


Hasidism, Niggun, Ethnomusicology, Bauman, Orthodox Judaism


In this dissertation I seek to understand tensions regarding boundary maintenance, music, and cultural continuity among the contemporary Haredi (“Ultra-Orthodox”) Jewish community of Greater New York in the context of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s theory of liquid modernity. While Bauman suggests that modernity has melted familiar institutions and created an unstable and rapidly shifting world, I argue that for Haredim, the non-liberal religious community and its cultural productions solidify social bonds. While many Haredi Jews strive to continue the musical practices of pre-WWII Europe, some Haredi musicians push or disregard the boundaries of accepted practice by experimenting with Western popular music to varying degrees. This has led to vibrant debate that often invokes rhetoric of spiritual health and danger. This dissertation examines four spheres of music making in order to better understand how these negotiations play out in contemporary cosmopolitan environments. First, I examine Hasidic niggunim, with a focus on composer Ben Zion Shenker and the Modzitz Hasidic dynasty in order to show the manner in which they are believed to encapsulate an idyllic Haredi life. Second, I study tensions over traditionalism and assimilation in the context of Haredi popular music, particularly a watershed moment involving Hasidic singer, Lipa Schmeltzer. In this chapter I offer an example of music as a site of public reasoning in which the inherently pluralistic Haredi community continually negotiates its identity. Third, I look to Haredi boys choirs, arguing that they stage a secure future through the display of cultural continuity in the next generation of Haredi Jews. Finally, I examine music of the “Haredi periphery.” Individuals in this community have one foot in the Haredi world and the other in the larger host culture, a negotiation that they believe ultimately enhances their religiosity. Through examining these four domains of music making, I demonstrate that Haredim are adept at negotiating boundaries and that their cultural productions help them to reinforce social bonds within their community.