Searching For (and Finding) Jewish Nightlife

A set of suggested discussion topics for a class debriefing session, following two field trips in Berkeley during the Sukkot Festival.

  1. Setting
  • Where (location, real estate, interiors)
  • How (to get there, to get inside)
  • Who (genders, ages, attires)
  • Languages (of prayer books, spoken, sung)
  • Atmosphere & relationship with locals (welcoming, unwelcoming, indifferent…)
  1. Music & Sound
  • Voices: gender, style
  • Instrumentation (yes, not, if yes: what kind/s?)
  • Melodies
  • Chants (and Modes)
  • Rhythm (clear beat; flowing rhythm)
  • Texts
  1. Body language(s)
  • Individual and group behavior
  • Dress codes and body language
  • Ritual body language (prayer leader/s vs. congregations)
  1. Food(and Drinking)
  1. Broader topics/questions
  • The “I” in the fieldwork (individual perspectives, emotions, etc.)
  • The “We” in the fieldwork (group visits)
  • Comparative approaches to fieldwork (visiting more than one site)
  • A sense of otherness
  • How it felt to be there with other students
  • The original assignment: nightlife
  • Holiday (festival of Sukkot/Simchat Torah vs. a “ regular” Shabbat evening)
  • Any other topics/questions/issues?
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More on Synagogue Life (and a 360-degree panoramic view)

Samuel Heilman based his study on Synagogue Life on a participant-observer approach that combines “the ethnographic approach, which in its description embodies explanation, with the sociological one, which tends toward analytic generalization.” His research was based on a year-long fieldwork process, during which he assiduously frequented a “modern-Orthodox” synagogue in Queens, NY (which in the book he calls “Kehillat Kodesh,” or Holy Community, an alias designed to preserve the anonymity of the congregation and its members), describing what he experienced there according to a specific point of view.

Heilman considers synagogue life as “the interaction generated within and by the members of [a] synagogue.” (In the book, he refers to the synagogue with a Yiddish term, shul, that is popular among Ashkenazi Jews in the United States). Synagogues offer a specific “setting” for the interaction among individuals who, in the context of daily worship, study, and assembly, fulfill definite symbolic roles, acting within a space of “institutional sanctity.”

The symbolic roles are outlined by Heilman as those of a predefined “cast of characters.” The theatrical and performative connotations of this approach are obvious and inspiring in many ways. The characters that act on the stage of synagogue life include:

According to Heilman’s study, the characters that act on the stage of synagogue life include:

1. males and females
2. the gabbai (a dispenser of kibbudim, or ritual honors)
3. the synagogue’s lay leadership (the “President”)
4. the Chazan (cantor)
5. the “quasi-Chazan” (a figure that stands in a dynamic relationship with the cantor)
7. chiyuv and yartsayt (relating to those whose presence at services is mandated by prescribed ritual obligations, i.e., reciting a memorial prayer for deceased family members)
8. rabbinic authority [note: not necessarily a Rabbi]
9. strangers and guests
10. mendicants, beggars, shnorrers and meshulachim
11. children

The “cast of characters” moves in the architectural space of the synagogue, which is its “stage.” The website, synagogues360, provides access to synagogues across the world through 360 panoramic photographs. The closest one to Berkeley found on the site is Temple Sinai in Oakland.

Poetic Subversions: Piyyut (Hebrew poetry), Love, and Liturgy

Enter LOVE (as in, songs about).

At last!  (Follow the link for W’s entry on Etta James’ 1960 hit…)

This week, as we continue to visit Berkeley synagogues, we also focus on piyyut, aka, “Hebrew liturgical poetry.” This is the last, and crucial, “building block” in our construction of Jewish Nightlife as a research topic.

In class, we discussed the subversive nature of the addition of new poetry to the liturgy of the synagogue: a subversion carried out through language, interpretive takes on biblical narratives, a predominant focus on the ambiguous theme of divine/human love, and, of course, music.

We also focus on the history of one piyyut, with incipit (beginning words):

kol berue ma’ala umatah (“All creatures above and below” [in Heaven and on Earth])
Bakkashah with acrostic “shelomoh” (Solomon)
Attributed to Solomon ibn Gabirol (Malaga-Valencia, 11th ccenturyCE)

On bakkashot, see Idelsohn p. 157:

Among the Oriental and Levantine communities, there is an old custom to rise before sunset on Saturdays, to assemble in synagogues, and to sing religious songs. These songs are called BakkashothShevahoth, and Pizmonim. The authors of these songs are Jehuda Halevi, Abraham ibn Ezra, Israel Najara, and many other Oriental poets who lived between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

Find several musical versions of this poem (discussed by Idelsohn, p. 217), which celebrates the unity of all “creatures” in acknowledging the unity of the divine, at this link.

I published an Italian musical version of the poem in 2001. In recent years, a Jerusalem-based singer, Hadass Pal-Yarden, has popularized (in the best sense of the word) this poem according to a musical version she collected in Turkey:

But the poem has a long history, going back at least to the 17th century

Publication history (selection) of kol berue ma’ala unmatah, based on Davidson’s Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry

Kol Berue publication history (Davidson no. 282)

Pay attention to the intersection between chronology and geographical span. For your convenience, I have arranged select entries (listed above and decrypted through the Thesaurus’ key) in chronological order.

1. Not dated
Bakkashot rash”ad, Ms. Bodleian Library (Oxford) n.d.

2. 17th century
Sidur tefilah, Mantua 1676

3. 18th century
Zavche shlemim, Constantinople 1728
Sidur ya’avatz (Italy), Altona (Germany) 1731
Z”Y Izmir, Smirne [Izmir] 1766
Arba’h ta’aniyot, Constantinople 1780
kapa, Mezhirov (Ukraine) 1793

4. 19th century
Yiztchaq yeranen, Jerusalem 1855
Ms. Tunis 1, Livorno 1861
Bet av, Livorno 1877
M. Argil 1, Livorno 1878
Liqute zvi hachadash, Warsaw 1879
Bet habechirah, Livorno 1880
Yigal, Jerusalem 1885
Bet ya’aqov, Tunis 1898

5. 20th century
Mishmeret hachadash, Baghdad 1908
Machzor Elohei Ya’aqov, Jerusalem 1908
Meshat Binyamin, Jerusalem 1909 (Persian)
Bakkashot yerushalayim, Jerusalem 1913
Otzar hatefilot, Vilnius 1914

In Search of Jewish Night Rituals

…and thus we begin tracing the long journey (ca. 1570 to the present) of night-time Jewish communal singing.

Question: When does nightlife happen (so that it counts as nightlife)?

Ours is a history of the movement of ideas/practices from the Mediterranean into a global network. It involves:

  • A social history of religion
  • A religious history of society
  • A musical history of religion and society

Here’s a preliminary list of where (textually/liturgically) we may want to look for Jewish nightlife:

  • The Creation (and the Kiddush)
  • Blessing of the New Moon
  • Kabbalat shabbat
  • Sabbath & festival table
  • Havdalah
  • Tiqun chatzot (9 of Av, reading Ekhah at night))
  • Passover Seder
  • Tiqun leyl shavuot
  • Simchat bet ha-shoevah (Sukkot, refers to Temple of Jerusalem)
  • Hosha’na rabah
  • Simchat Torah
  • Passover Seder
  • Purim (reading the Megillah at night)
  • Hanukkah
  • Lag ba-‘omer (the 33rd day of the counting of Omer, after Passover)
  • Bakkashot (between ST and Passover: winter time, longer nights)
  • Brith milah (night watches for the ritual circumcision)

Here’s an example of a visual text created for night rituals celebrated ahead of a ritual circumcision:

Manuscript [68.83]: Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children ([India, Kochi, Kerala (collected in)], 18th-19th cent.)

Resources and Guidelines for Fieldwork in Berkeley Synagogues (2017 Edition)

Dear Class,

As we have been discussing since the beginning of the Semester (and as indicated in our Class Syllabus), this Fall we are taking advantage of the fact that our class time coincides with a major Jewish Festival, Sukkot (Hebrew for “booths” or “tabernacles;” the link will take you to the “Sukkot” entry in EJ, assigned this week), to plan two field trips to local (Berkeley) synagogues in order to explore Jewish nightlife and to learn about fieldwork.

The festival of Sukkot lasts seven days, followed, on the eight day, by shemini ‘atzeret (Hebrew for “eighth [day] of closing [assembly]) and Simchat Torah (Hebrew for “rejoicing of the Torah,” when the yearly cycle of reading the Hebrew Bible in the synagogue begins anew). Our field trips are scheduled so that we can witness the end of the festival, and hopefully the dancing and singing on the night of Simchat Torah, as well as a more “normative” Friday Evening (Sabbath Eve) Service.

As a reminder, the Jewish calendar is “lunisolar,”that is, based on the lunar cycle, but also integrated with the solar cycle. Therefore, Jewish holidays always fall during the same season each year, but not always on the same date of the Gregorian calendar. This year, the first day of Sukkot falls on Wednesday, October 5, and shemini ‘atzeret falls on Wednesday, October 12 (both days begin the night before, as we’ve learned in class…).

This presents us with the chance to conduc two field trips to local (Berkeley) synagogues and witness Jewish nightlife “in action”! Since at this point of the semester we have been learning about the different Jewish musical traditions in the diaspora, and about how sounds can define the identity of a group, everyone in the class is required to visit two different synagogues, and reflect on the similarities and the differences presented by each one. This will be a unique chance to experience and reflect upon the cultures we are studying in class by observing some of its manifestations in situ, and to further our understanding of fieldwork dynamics.

Below I am detailing how the field trips can take place.

Please read the whole message, and register for the field trips (a registration form has already been shared with you). If the instructions are not clear, ask questions during lecture time on Tuesday (October 3). If the trips present a challenge of any sort, promptly inform me by email (ASAP).

All the best,
Francesco

PS: Try clicking on the links above. If you are off Campus and you can read the corresponding entries in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, it means you’ve successfully configured your access to UCB’s electronic resources… Otherwise, read here. (If you are reading this post and do not have UC Berkeley or other academic credentials, the links may not work at all… Sorry about that!).

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ASSIGNMENT / FIELD TRIPS

Visit two (2) synagogues during the two weeks of the Sukkot Festival

1. Consult the list of Jewish congregations in Berkeley
Make sure you know where you are going ahead of time!
A list of Berkeley congregations is available online at this link. It includes addresses, contact information, and website links as of a couple of years ago (this information is also available via the links posted in the Field Trip Registration Form I shared with you weeks ago; see bCourses announcements).
Note that these congregations are not listed in order of importance (but the first two are very close to Campus), and that not all of them will be holding services during the upcoming holiday.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Each congregation operates according to different (and often site-specific) guidelines. It is important to notice these differences, and to plan your fieldwork accordingly.
2. Choose two (2) different synagogues
Individual visits should be long enough for each student to be able to observe nightlife as it is happening (plan to be on site for at least one hour).
Please remember that you must visit two (2) different synagogues on two separate field trips.
3. Register for each field trip
  • Add your name (First, Last) and the date/time of each of your planned visits to the corresponding synagogue on the Field Trip Registration Form.
    A limited number of students can visit a synagogue at the same time (to limit your impact on the congregations you will be visiting).
  • You must use your @berkeley.edu login to bDrive to access the registration spreadsheet (more information here).
  • Registration closes at the times indicated on the Field Trip Registration Form. Make sure you name is on the spreadsheet for both field trips by then! 
4. Plan your visits (field trips)
  • Read the congregations’ websites (links provided in the shared spreadsheet), and document yourself on the background and history of each of the two congregations you are planning to visit (How? Read the /about section of the websites to begin with!).
  • Plan your trip (all congregations are located within walking distance, and near public transportation), to make sure you maximize the time at your disposal.
  • In general, make sure you have as much information with you BEFORE your trip, so that DURING the trip you can focus on researching your surroundings.
5. During your visits: seven general rules of conduct
Remember that you will be visiting ritual spaces, and that you may not be aware of all the rules of conduct that govern them. You won’t be the only one in that situation (we have learned that Jewish ritual rules can be fairly complex), but… Be as respectful as you can of your (unfamiliar?) surroundings!
  • Dress appropriately (use your judgment), and be quiet (i.e., not loud: this will also enhance your chances of observing as much as possible of your surroundings)
  • Silence and put away your phone
  • Stand when people stand, sit when they sit
  • Find a Prayer Book (see where they are located, usually outside the “sanctuary,” and don’t be shy in picking one up), and remember to return it to its place before leaving
  • Ask for page numbers in the Prayer Book (Don’t be shy about asking for assistance!).
  • Introduce yourself if anyone asks you why you are there. As we discussed some weeks ago, there is a long-standing history of synagogue visits done by “strangers” (Jewish visitors from out of town, Jewish members of other congregations, and non-Jewish visitors), so your presence will not be out of the ordinary. But it will definitely be noticed.
  • Do not take notes, do not take photographs, do not make audio recordings, do not use any electronic devices while you are inside a synagogue: many congregations (but not all) ban the use of electricity and writing during certain holidays and the Sabbath
  • Do your best to minimize your luggage (backpacks, etc.), and try to not have any with you if possible (unless, of course, you absolutely need your backpack with you).
6. During your visits: observe and listen to your surroundings (field work)
Be as aware of your surroundings as you can. Look for the following:
  • Architectural space: what does it look like, how is space distributed and occupied, etc.
  • Population: number of people attending, age, gender, dress code(s).
  • Use of space gender and age.
  • Languages (of the prayer books, of people conducting the prayers, etc.).
  • Sounds and music: any particular sounds? recognizable melodies? identifiable musical style or styles?
  • Also, refer to the four parameters listed in the Listening Guide we referred to for the past three weeks (soundscape; performance stylelanguage; and context), to the visual charts discussed in class, and to the articulation of the synagogue’s “cast of characters” in this week’s assigned reading (excerpted from S. Heilman’s Synagogue Life, also assigned this week).
7. After your visits: Take Notes (field notes)
As soon as you are able to, write down your observations on the points listed above (No. 6), or on additional details and impressions you may have gathered from your visit.
Try to be as systematic as you can in collecting your notes, so that you can compare them from one field trip to the next.
8. After your visits: Class Work
We will be comparing notes and impressions in class, and you will be asked to incorporate your observations in class discussions.
9. About the instructor’s participation
Your instructor (that’s me!) will be also visiting Berkeley synagogues at this time. But I will not register online, and will only see those of you who are registered for the same field trips on such occasions. I plan to share my observations with the class as well.

 

On the Politics of Jewish Nightlife: A Dispatch from Venice, 1798

In exploring the “sounscapes” of the Venetian Jewish ghetto, the place where our narrative of Jewish nightlife effectively begins, musicologist Edwin Seroussi tells the following story:

On July 1797, as the army of Napoleon Bonaparte approached Venice, the gates of the Venetian ghetto came down. The Napoleonic conquest of the Veneto was short-lived and, from the Jewish viewpoint, not an encouraging one. Once the news of the return of Mantua to Austrian rule following the Treaty of Campo Formio (18 January 1798) reached Venice, the Jews led by Rabbi Abraham Jona (c. 1745-1814), the last rabbi of the Venetian ghetto, held a special synagogue service. In his autograph diary, Rabbi Jona describes in detail this performance, which he conducted at the synagogue on the Fourth of Shevat (21 January 1798).  After he recited Psalm 18 in a simple style (pashut), ‘a choir (kat hameshorerim) sang Hallelujah odeh ladonay be-khollevav [Psalm 111] with instrumental accompaniment (beniggun ha-musiqa) with the additions that were added [as required] by the event.’ Then Rabbi Jona ‘sang with the congregation Hodu l’adonay qir’u bi-shmo [Chronicles I,16; opening verses of the Sabbath and Holidays’ morning services] to the tune of Simhat Torah (be-niggun kmo yom Simhat Torah), and the entire congregation joined him in the Hallel [Psalms 113-118],… The musicians then started all over again with singing and instrumental music.’ As it grew dark, all the lights of the ghetto were lit and the festivities continued outdoors. Part of the celebration included solemn prayers for the wellbeing of the Austrians.
As you can see from my emphasis, political events (and fear for the status of civil rights in an era of shifting political powers), synagogue life, liturgy, and nightlife, all come together in this historical description. The address towards the wellbeing of the Austrians also suggests and inter-cultural (and inter-faith) assembly.