Jewish Nightlife: Course Introduction

Jewish Nightlife: Poetry, Music, and Ritual Performance
From Renaissance Italy to Contemporary Israel

MUS 74 & 139 | MO & WE 2-4 PM | The Magnes, 2121 Allston Way

Instructors: Dr. Francesco Spagnolo (lectures); Yair Harel (music lab).
(Read more about the instructors here).

Jewish Nightlife is a multi-disciplinary exploration of the nexus between the ritual performance of Jewish texts and social changes across Jewish history, including the study of Hebrew poetry, music, and synagogue liturgy in Renaissance Italy, in North Africa, the Middle East, and present-day Israel.


The course explores the inter-relations between the ritual performance of Jewish texts and social change across Jewish history, and focuses on three related topics: the rise of Kabbalistic nocturnal rituals in the Italian ghettos in early-modern period; the performance of Hebrew poetry in North Africa and the Middle East in the modern era; and the renaissance of piyyut (Hebrew liturgical poetry) in Israel from the 1970s to the present, from the singing of bakkashot among Syrian and Moroccan Israelis to the current transcultural activities of online and participatory communities.

The course will incorporate field trips to Berkeley synagogues, and will leverage the resources of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, including liturgical and poetic manuscripts and printed texts, written music manuscripts, audio and video recordings, iconographic sources, and ritual and everyday life objects from the global Jewish diaspora. In addition, the course will be complemented by weekly workshops led by Israeli artist, Yair Harel, during a residency at The Magnes, sponsored by the Schusterman Visiting Artists Program of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation. Harel is also the creator of the website, An Invitation to Piyyut, which integrates scholarship, digital archiving, and crowdsourcing, in the study and the performance of Hebrew liturgical poetry and music.