Traditionally, Jewish law has not allowed women to lead the prayer service in the synagogue. Even the Reform movement did not train female cantors until the early 1970s. Two forms of female cantors have developed:
- A chazante is a woman performing cantoral music outside the synagogue. The word is a Yiddish declension of chazan (Hebrew and Yiddish for cantor), to the feminine.
- A chazaneet is a women leading Jewish prayer services. The word is the feminine, Hebrew declension of the word chazan.
Chazantes generally performed cantorial music outside the synagogue. Famous chazantes in the mid 20th century include: Betty Simonoff, Liviya Taychil, Sabina Kurtzweil, Sophie Kurtzer, Perele Feyg, Jean Gornish and Freydele Oysher. Most of the chazantes followed the tradition of their male counterparts and played up their European pedigrees by adopting nicknames like "Di Odesser chazante" (The Odessa chazante) or "Di Ungarishe chazante" (The Hungarian chazante).
The term chazaneet is a more recent one referring to a woman leading the prayer services. In recent decades, both the reform and conservative communities have allowed women to lead services. Betty Robbins was possibly the first female cantor in 1955 though Barbara Ostfeld is usually given that distinction since her investiture at the Hebrew Union College in 1975. With the creation of orthodox, egalitarian minyanim, orthodox women are allowed to lead parts of the prayer services.
- Article on Sophie Kurtzer, known as "Sheindele di Chazante"
- Contributions of Jewish Women to Music and Women to Jewish Music