Israel Meyer Japhet (1818-1892)
Israel Meyer Japhet was born in Kassel, Germany on March 7, 1818. At the age of seventeen, he secured his first position as choral director and religious teacher in Wolfhagen. Subsequently, he held a similar position in Gudenberg, where he came into contact with Rabbi Mordechai Wetzlar, who was to have a strong influence on Japhet's development and outlook.
In 1853 he was appointed choir master and teacher at the Realschule (Adass Jeschurun), an Orthodox Synagogue in Frankfurt am Main, where Samson Raphael Hirsch was the rabbi. He remained at this post until his death. Japhet composed a large body of Jewish liturgical music for use in his Synagogue. His compositions were melodically and harmonically simple and were heavily influenced by German Leid and Protestant hymns. In keeping within halakha, his choirs consisted solely of men and boys. Aside from halakhic issues, Japhet felt that instruments and elaborate compositions could not compare with the feelings inspired by simple melodies and a cappella vocal music.
Japhet’s seminal work was Schire Jeschurun (published posthumously in 1922), a three-volume collection of over 100 synagogue melodies for cantor and choir, covering the liturgy for Shabbat and the festivals, which included commendations from noted composers such as Ignaz Lachner, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Louis Spohr. He also published a wide range of instructive texts on Hebrew grammar, and on the correct cantillation of the Bible according to the German tradition. The most known and widely used of these texts were: Metek Sefatayi; Hebraeische Sprachlehre (1926); Moreh ha-Kore; and Die Accente der Heiligen Schrift (1896).
Japhet died November 10, 1892 in Frankfurt am Main.