A group of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in Israel has released an album of Hasidic tunes performed by female voices only, breaking with tradition that typically bans women from singing in public. The album, titled “Kapelya,” features songs that have been passed down through generations and are typically sung by men in Hasidic communities. The all-female choir hopes to give new life to these aging nigunim (melodies) and showcase the talent of women who are often relegated to the sidelines in ultra-Orthodox society. The album was produced by a female sound engineer, recorded in a women-only studio, and even features original compositions by one of the choir members. The project has faced criticism from some ultra-Orthodox leaders who view women’s singing as immodest, but the choir hopes to inspire other women to pursue their musical passions within the bounds of Jewish law. The album has garnered positive reviews and has been well-received by many in the Jewish community. The choir hopes to continue breaking barriers and expanding opportunities for women in the ultra-Orthodox world.

The opening track and first released single of KAPELYA, RAZA’s debut album.
“Shalosh T’nuos”, literally “Three Stanzas”, is composed of three sections, and attributed to the Hasidic founders, the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch and the Alter Rebbe, respectively. This somber, introspective and ever-reaching melody signifies the spiritual generational relationship, and the forever yearning that emerges as we connect back to our roots while humbly forging our own path.

Enjoy an outtake from our rehearsals for the KAPELYA album. An old Hasidic nigun from the time of the Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, first generation of Chabad, often sung at a spiritual Hasidic gathering, or “farbrengen”, in Yiddish. I relate to this particular melody as a nigun for the ordinary moment, when I am called neither to ecstasy nor deep contemplation. This nigun reminds me that right here in this present, neutral moment, the Divine is here, too. This nigun is dedicated to our dear Nachman Futterman, of blessed memory, who truly lived the Divine in each moment.

A joyous nigun from the Russian (now Belarusian) city of Klimovitch, where my maternal grandparents were born and raised. This nigun is dedicated to them, R’ Mordechai Eliyahu “Monyeh” and G’nesha Shneur, founders of Kfar Chabad in Israel, and deeply devout chasidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I can feel my roots calling me and grounding me in this deep, joy-filled nigun.

A tender and old Hasidic melody in Yiddish and Hebrew, “Ah Shtarker Bistu” (“You are a mighty One”) is a love song to the Divine. There are notes in this nigun that are reminiscent of other important Chabad melodies, and the use of the informal “du” in Yiddish, invites the singer to converse intimately with the Divine.

Keyli Ata, an exquisite nigun by R’ Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe or Admor HaZaken, founder of Chabad Hasidut. One of ten nigunim attributed to him, these words from Tehilim are traditionally sung during the Hallel prayer. In Chabad, this powerful melody is sung at meaningful life-cycle ceremonies, such as the Brit Mila. It is also sung is at the very end of the Passover Seder, accompanying a special Chabad custom where the wine from Elijah’s cup is poured back into the wine bottle. As small children, my father would sing it to us as a lullaby, and that inspired this tender recording for RAZA’s “Kapelya”, a soft, powerfully caressing close to the album.