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Shabbat and the Professional Musician

February 19, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, February 19, 2016.


Shabbat and the Professional Musician

Thelma Yellin (1895-1959) was a Palestinian Jewish Musician, a cellist. She grew up in London in a Jewish, Zionist, and musical family and immigrated to Palestine in 1919 at age 24. Music was her life - she was an accomplished musician who studied with the great cello master Pablo Casals. However, she was a traditional Jew, and for her, the life of a professional musician in England was a challenge. Friday nights and Saturdays, of course, were the most important times for performance and for her the commitment to perform on Shabbat as a traditional Jew was impossible – traditional Judaism forbids the playing of musical instruments on the Sabbath. Her problem, however, was solved by deciding to live in Palestine. She was a visionary performer and teacher among the villages and cities of the Jewish Yishuv (settlement) in Pre-State Israel. She was a world renowned cellist, but because she was part of the Jewish settlement of Palestine, she didn’t have the pressures to perform on the Sabbath as she would have had outside of Israel. In 1921, she founded the Jerusalem Music Society and the Jerusalem String Quartet which played to the sophisticated Jews, Brits, Arabs, Germans and other segments of the Palestine population, and in 1951 she joined the Israeli String Quartet. She inspired the Thelma Yellin Gymnasium, a music high school for talented youngers which was founded in 1962, eleven years after her death.

Shabbat Shalom