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

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