Jewish Nightlife | Unannounced Response Exercise #1

Complete the two-part assignment below, and post your responses to this document within 30 minutes from the beginning of the exercise, listing your name and student Number.

  1. Survey/Review

Select a term from one (any one!) of this week’s assigned readings that was unfamiliar to you, and briefly describe its meaning and what sources you used to clarify it. If all terms in the readings were already fully familiar to you, chose the one you felt was the least so ;-)

  1. Comparative Approach/Use of Class Resources (+ a treasure hunt)

Cultures of the Jews (assigned reading this week) mentions a depiction of three ritual duties pertaining to women (baking challah bread for the Sabbath; observing ritual purity; and lighting the Sabbath candles).

  1. Find the exact mention in Culture of the Jews
  2. Go on a “treasure hunt,” and locate a similar item in “Gourmet Ghettos” (which we “visited” on Monday)
  3. Briefly describe each of these two items (the one in the reading and the other in the exhibition) by highlighting the following elements:
    1. Place of origin (embrace the complexity of the Jewish diaspora in describing geography)
    2. Historical period (here, too, be critical of possible assessments)
    3. Language(s)
  4. List which ones among this week’s assigned readings can best help shedding light on each of the two items discussed in this assignment (the one in Cultures of the Jews, and the one in Gourmet Ghettos), and provide a full bibliographic citation for each reading (i.e., Author, Title, year: page number/s; bibliographic format is your own choice). Hint: you may need to refer to both EJ entries, and to Idelsohn…

Once you are ready, post this assignment to (just below this text). Remember to add your name to the completed assignment!

Personal computers or other devices may be used to complete today’s assignment. If you are without a portable device, you may pair with another student in the class. In this case, list both your names under the completed post. 

How Languages Evolve (And How Hard it is to Represent That)

This excellent summary is a valuable resource in our “mapping diaspora” project this week.

Following the thought process explained in the video, we see how the two-dimensional mapping approach (the visual representation of linguistic evolution as a “linguistic tree”) suggested at the beginning is valuable, and, at the same time, it simply does not work.

Looking at the advantages and the disadvantages of linguistic approaches to the evolution of language is a great way to introduce a discussion of the multi-dimensionality of (Jewish) culture!

The Night of Kabbalah, or, When Reality Matches the Classroom


My friend and colleague, author Ruth Ellen Gruber, posted today on her Facebook feed about how the European Day of Jewish Culture is being celebrated in Italy this weekend. The Europe-wide celebration, which is now well into its second decade, draws crowds to Jewish sites, and takes place each year in the beginning of September.

In Rome, a panoply of events — ranging from site visits, to food, lectures, and, of course, musical performance — are being advertised under a general title that is particularly revealing of the nature of Jewish nightlife we have been exploring in class: The Night of Kabbalah.

It’s not clear how much mysticism is actually involved in this “night.” But all the elements we have been dissecting thus far seem quite present: a nod to Jewish exoteric knowledge, ritual, music, inter-cultural exchanges, and, of course, the night. Most events take place at dark, and have been drawing a crowd of 20,000, mostly non-Jewish, synagogue-goers.

Who knew…

A Historical Map of Jewish Liturgical Diversity

Historical Map of Jewish Liturgies (Nusḥaot-Tree-2.4.5)

This map, which was created by Aharon Varady and posted at, is one of the best resources I’ve ever seen describing the rainbow of Jewish identities. Hat tip to its creator for summarizing so much in so little space, and with so much clarity.

We will spend some time in class going over (and over, and over again) this. (But you could try to match its various boxes and threads with your readings this week… then we can get to the music!)

Painting the Jewish Diaspora

Ward Shelley's Jewish Diaspora Painted Mindmap

This painted “mindmap” was created by Ward Shelley. I found it here. Make sure you click on it and view it full screen, and expand it to see its details.

I’ve published other diaspora maps and timelines in my “Jewish History in 20 Minutes” blog post, which I’m also re-posting below:

With all apologies to our colleagues in the History Department…

There are some strange resources online. I looked at this (a little simplistic, and only about the Jews, as if a diasporic culture did not always constantly interact with major, and minor, events), then I looked at this (according to this “Jewish timeline,” Adam and Eve were created in 3760 BCE), and also at this (a maniacally granular, decade-by-decade, month-by-month, “history of the Jewish people”). Wow.

Of course, you can read UC Berkeley’s John Efron, The Jews: A History (2009).

Or you can summarize several thousands of years in one image: the world, and its history, painted on a clover leaf, with Jerusalem at its core (1581).

Die gantze Welt in ein Kleberblat, welches in der Stadt Hannover, meines lieben Vaterlandes WapenDie Gantze Welt in ein Kleberblat, welches in der Stadt Hannover, meines lieben Vaterlandes Wapen 

Author: Bèunting, Heinrich
Publisher: [s.n.]
Date: 1581.

Scale: Scale not given.
Call Number: G3200 1581.B8

From The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center (NBL Map Center) at the Boston Public Library (BPL).

More and more maps can be found online. Here are my favorite resources:

What to Expect on Week 3

Next week, we will continue to work on the necessary building blocks that allow us to then examine specific cases of nightlife rituals across the history of the Jewish diaspora. As discussed in class, and as described in our Syllabus, we will focus on the general resources (maps, timelines, etc.) and core concepts that can enable us to study the “cultures of the Jews.”

The syllabus lists the following:

Week 3 | MON 9/15 & WED 9/17
Studying Jewish culture: time, space, language

READING: Biale, Cultures of the Jews (Preface); Idelsohn VII (Prayer Codes p. 56-70); EJ: History: The Middle Ages, and History: Modern Times – to 1880
RESOURCES: Gourmet Ghettos: Modern Food Rituals (@Magnes);

As a reminder, Biale and Idelsohn are in bCourses, while the two EJ History entries are in the online Encyclopaedia Judaica.

  • Biale’s article is an excellent introduction to the study of “Jewish cultural history.” Please read it carefully.
  • The two EJ articles give you a sense of the historical development of Jewish communities around the world in early-modern and modern times. There’s a lot there, of course, and you are not required to memorize anything. But please do use these as references to understand the historical flow of Jewish cultural diversity. (Also, check the blog for some additional resources that I will be posting either before the end of today, or on Sunday).
  • Idelsohn’s chapter frames Jewish history and cultural diversity in terms of liturgical literature. As we have discussed and will continue to discuss, liturgy is not only an accurate reflection of Jewish cultural identity–often, throughout history–it actually embodies it, and defines it. (As an example: when you read in the EJ about “ashkenazi” and “sephardic” Jews, keep in mind that ritual, much more than geography, defines the cultural differences between these two Jewish groups…). So, how should you try to read this chapter? Make sure you understand (or “map”) the historical and geographic flow of Jewish ritual diversity. Here, too, check the blog for some additional resources, which, of course, we will discuss in class.