Jewish Nightlife | (Un)Announced Response Exercise #3 | 12.1.2014

On the occasion of the final response exercise for Jewish Nightlife this Fall Semester, all students are asked to reflect on and practice FIELD WORK, by completing the following:

  1. Work in chavruta (pairs) by re-composing the same pairs of students already created on the occasion of our Mid-term exam
  2. Access this document via bDrive (you already know the drill…) at this shortened URL:
  3. Formulate the three extremely focused questions:
    1. Jewish music and art: one question for Yair Harel (investigate his personal/artistic background, his knowledge and skills)
    2. Jewish music and research: one question for Francesco Spagnolo (investigate his personal/academic background, his knowledge and skills)
    3. Fieldwork of the Self: one question addressing your personal relationship with the specific piyyut that is assigned to your chavruta on the basis of the following parameters
      • text of piyyut
      • music of piyyut
      • culture of origin of piyyut
      • own culture(s) of chavruta partners
  4. Post your three questions (preceded by the names of each chavruta partners) on this document no later than Tuesday, December 2nd, at Noon

Select questions will be discussed and answered by the instructors on the last day of class, on Wednesday, December 3rd.

The Biography of Piyyut | PopUp Test #3

As we have discussed in class, both during lectures and during the music section, piyyutim (Hebrew liturgical poems) have many dimensions.

Moreover, each piyyut has a distinctive biography, which at the very list includes:

  • a literary history and a publication history
  • an intellectual agenda (involving the interpretation of the Bible, theology, and more)
  • a political dimension (how its performance may bring certain segments of a community together, or not)
  • a spiritual dimension (how its text and performance concur to create a defined link among those who perform it)
  • a musical dimension (how the many musical settings of each piyyut may reflect all of the above)

For today’s assignment, select one piyyut from the ones we have explored in class (also listed below), and write three short paragraphs (max 1 page) describing the following:

  1. Biography and character of the piyyut in as many dimensions possible
  2. How you believe these dimensions come together to create a spiritual impact on those who perform it and on those who participate in its ritual performance
  3. How you would describe the “essence” of the piyyut you choose? (I.e., what is the specific piyyut, text, music, and all, really about?)

As usual, create a document on bDrive and share it with your instructors (spagnoloacht[at]berkeley and yairharel[at]berkeley). Please, include your name in the title of the document. If you do not have a way to post this during class time, do so by midnight tonight.

For your convenience, here is a list of the incipits of the piyyutim that have been performed by the class during the music sections thus far:

  • Kol beruei
  • Shema’ qoli
  • Adon ‘olam
  • Ben adam
  • Rachamana de’anei
  • El eliyahu
  • Amar adonai leya’aqov
  • Qarev yom
  • Simu lev ‘al haneshamah

Modern Hebrew Night Poems | A Lecture by Professor Robert Alter

Next week, we will have a chance to further explore the theme of Jewish Nightlife with Professor Robert Alter.

Robert Alter is Professor of the Graduate School and Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967, and where he is the Founding Director of the Center for Jewish Studies. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, and past president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He has twice been a Guggenheim Fellow and has been a Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, and Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton University. Professor Alter has written widely on the European novel from the 18th century to the present, on contemporary American fiction, on modern Hebrew literature, and on literary aspects of the Bible. His 25 published books include two prize-winning volumes on biblical narrative and poetry, and award-winning translations of Genesis and the Five Books of Moses. In 2009, he was given the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Contribution to American Letters by the Los Angeles Times. In 2013, he received the Conference on Christianity and Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Charles Homer Haskins Prize given by the American Council of Learned Societies.

In preparation for his lecture, professor Alter shared with us his translations of Hebrew poetry.

​​Midnight Vigil

Gloomy night, a strong wind sends a strong raincloud
rolling over the town,
and all the little town sinks
in deep mire and in sleep.

The dark entrances are silent.
The rustle of rain alone stirs in them,
and collapsing houses, bleak and desolate,
show black faces here and there.

And like a wretched orphan to whom
the charity people have forgotten to give a blanket for warmth,
roofs laid bare, they bend low,
huddle, and silently groan,

as if they reflected and pondered
voiceless evil thoughts:
Are they cracked to their foundations
and show defiance to all?

And driving rain rolls down
like streams of tears on the walls;
the roofs shrink more and more
and the town weeps bitterly.

Those who sleep in the dark curse
in their dreams the morrow and yesterday—
oh, rest complacent, eternal beggars, schnorrers!
and dream a good dream, you heavy-yoked people.

From between the cracks
the wind’s howl bursts forth, blood-freezing.
Ah! who knows if the curse
of an innocent perishing brother is bound up there?

Not a single star remains on high,
not a spark of light, not a beam—
just a solitary window still shows some light:
a Jew getting up for the midnight vigil.

​​​​​H.N. Bialik


​​​In Praise of the Night​​​

Very ancient the night in our blood,
dense, dark as old wine.
Like wine it’s sweet and bitter too.
It sings, it sings in the depth of our dream.

It is in us of old, buried, hidden,
it walks by day at our heels,
lies in wait till our love is ripe
to burst forth in the gladdened body.

But if we betray it and do not love
and its ferment and its singing are in vain,
in hateful darkness it will flood us.

In it our soul and body sink
and in our eyes a sun bereaved
will find its dark reflection.


Its glory fearsome
its hand is heavy,
the brilliance of its stars
for its lovers.

Its secret deep
for it alone,
its autumn scents
its springs’ as well.

It hides in the garden
the bridegroom’s lips,
in the darkness—
the arms of the bride.

Its shadow conceals
the knife,
and blood is swallowed up
in the darkness.

Praise, oh praise
the black of night,
its eyes are fair,
its eyes ablaze.

Praise, oh praise
we sing to the night,
by desire scorched,
our bodies ablaze.

​​​Leah Goldberg


Bats, fugitives of light who wait in the crevice,
their feet against the ceiling
upside down angels of rubber, who follow
with big ears, with precision,
the dull ticking within them
to the final count,
the signal to burst out
of the quivering tangle—dark upon dark—outside​​​​​​​​​

​​​Dan Pagis


​​​​But We Must Praise

​​​​ We must praise the Lord of all.
–Hebrew liturgy

But we must praise
a familiar night. Gold borrowed from the abyss.
Cypresses rose forever. Far away,
long hair still flows, Lord of the loss of all.

What are you doing to me, far-away woman?
As on branches you hung me with weeping thoughts.
From far away your hand touches me as if testing
my bridges. They bear the weight and tremble. Yours is the kingdom.

Behind my words dark as a moon
come to me, make me tired.
But we must praise the loins of all: your lap.
Shout of the shoulder

that bore you to me on the night of reversal,
stars of forgetful man above us.
Your body’s style, sky’s manner here in the hollow
of this narrow world. But we must.

​​​Yehuda Amichai