Week 5 | Listening Guide

This week we continue to explore the world of “Jewish music” (keeping in mind that this expression is a construct, rather than a definite cultural entity). We will continue to listen to the anthology introduced last week, and also focus specifically on the sounds of Jewish liturgy.

As discussed last week, liturgical sounds introduce us into one of the most intimate aspects of Jewish culture, in which text and music, material and spiritual cultures, tradition and innovation, seamlessly coexist.

Jewish liturgy takes place every day, and thus expresses the experience of every day life, just like the many objects of material culture that we have examined in the weeks past. And at the same time, it voices the most complex aspects of religious life, thus addressing an intricate texture of literary traditions (first and foremost, the Hebrew Bible), of spiritual yearning, and of cultural creativity and aesthetic expressions. Finally, liturgy is a performance, in which music is central. In its performative aspects, liturgy and its music reflect a variety of social dynamics, ranging from inter-generational conflicts to gender relations, to politics and, as we will see in focusing onnocturnal rituals, inter-cultural exchanges.

Titgadal wetitqadash betokh Yerushalaim | Jerusalem in Hebrew Prayer and Song (available on bCourses)

Building up from last week’s listening experience, this compilation, which is based on a concert program presented in Berlin, Germany, in 1995, focuses entirely on liturgical and para-liturgical songs (refer to Grove, “Jewish Music” III:1 to fully assess the importance of these terms) of various Jewish musical traditions as they are presented by traditional culture bearers (rather than re-created by artists). Make sure to also refer to the CD notes to learn about each track and the ideas that informed the concert program (curated by Edwin Seroussi, and also available via bCourses).

While listening, focus on two aspects:

  • Diversity of sound: as in last week’s listening materials, very diverse worlds of sounds are brought together as part of one culture (“Jewish (musical) culture);
  • Unity of (theological) message: each selection expresses the two ­thousand year longing for Jerusalem and the return to the land of Israel, as represented in Jewish liturgical texts.

Are  these  two aspects  reconciled  in  the concert  program documented  in  this CD? Probably not in terms of sounds: the traditions represented in the concert are indeed very different from one another). Yet, perhaps,  such a  relation can be only understood within the comprehensive notion of “Jewish music” summarized in the assigned sections of the Grove article on this topic: a host of diverse cultures with distinctively similar (textual, material social, political) practices across the span of a diasporic landscape.

In listening to this week’s compilation, make sure to focus on the following tracks:

1. Shofar blowing: the only Biblical musical instrument that remains in Jewish liturgy

5. Lekha dodi: liturgical poem for the Sabbath liturgy, text by kabbalist scholar Sh. Alkabetz (melody from the Turkish tradition)

12. Arim al shefayim koli: a Moroccan kinah (dirge), part of the vast repertoire of liturgical poems sung on the 9th of Av (the liturgical commemoration of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, first by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE, and later by the Romans in the 1st century CE)

13. Yerushalaim ir mehulalah – Hohil yom yom eshtahe: Moroccan song medley praising Jerusalem and the city of Tiberias

15. Mimekomkha malkenu tofi’a: Ashkenazi prayer for the return of God’s rule over Zion and Jerusalem (a line from this prayer gives  the Hebrew  title  to  the CD:  titgadal wetitqadash bethokh yerushalayim, or “May You be exalted and sanctified within Jerusalem”)

19.  Im nin‘alu:  a poem by Sh.  Shabazi   from  the Yemenite  tradition of  sacred poetry  (Diwan),  which was popularized as a “dance hit” in the 1980s by Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza (you may want to listen to her subsequent versions, easily found on YouTube). 

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