A Simchat Torah Synagogue Field Trip (London, 1663)

During the semester, we conducted two field trips to Berkeley synagogues, and we continued to discuss the role of visitors to synagogues, and their possible impact on synagogue sounds.

This week, we are specifically working on the idea that what has long been presented as “Jewish art music”–a corpus of music composed in Italy, as well as in Southern France and Amsterdam, during the 17th and 18th centuries–may instead be understood as a specific type of musical production directed (at least in part) at non-Jewish synagogue goers.

A recent article in Tablet Magazine brought forth the 17th-century diary of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), an English Member of Parliament, diarist, and book collector. The October 14, 1663 entry in Pepys’ diary centers upon the account of a visit to Congregation Shaar Hashamayim in London on the night of Simchat Torah.

After all, Pepys’ account is not too different from what was reported in class after our own visits. But his reactions clearly are:

Wednesday 14 October 1663

Up and to my office, where all the morning, and part of it Sir J. Minnes spent, as he do every thing else, like a fool, reading the Anatomy of the body to me, but so sillily as to the making of me understand any thing that I was weary of him, and so I toward the ‘Change and met with Mr. Grant, and he and I to theCoffee-house, where I understand by him that Sir W. Petty and his vessel are coming, and the Kingintends to go to Portsmouth to meet it. Thence home and after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles, and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. Away thence with my mind strongly disturbed with them, by coach and set down my wife in Westminster Hall, and I to White Hall, and there the Tangier Committee met, but the Duke and the Africa Committee meeting in our room, Sir G. Carteret; Sir W. Compton, Mr. Coventry, Sir W. Rider, Cuttance and myself met in another room, with chairs set in form but no table, and there we had very fine discourses of the business of the fitness to keep Sally, and also of the terms of our King’s paying the Portugees that deserted their house at Tangier, which did much please me, and so to fetch my wife, and so to the New Exchange about her things, and called at Thomas Pepys the turner’s and bought something there, an so home to supper and to bed, after I had been a good while with Sir W. Pen, railing and speaking freely our minds against Sir W. Batten and Sir J. Minnes, but no more than the folly of one and the knavery of the other do deserve.

In class, we discussed the perceived need to appear (and sound) more orderly in the case of official visits to synagogues, or visits by notable guests, and how this need may indeed be manifested in the production of musical compositions. Composed music is, almost by definition, much more orderly than orally transmitted music. It is more predictable, can be controlled more, and yields to a certain effect.

Class Field Trips | Resources and Guidelines for Fieldwork in Berkeley Synagogues

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”), 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 Hebrew 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 fell on Wednesday, October 8, and shemini ‘atzeret falls on Wednesday, October 15.

This presents us with the chance to make 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 Monday (October 13). 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
The list is available online at this link. It includes addresses, contact information, and website links (this information is also available via the links posted in your Field Trip Registration Form). Note that they 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. 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
a) 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 shared Google Spreadsheet linked here.
b) No more than ten students can visit a synagogue at the same time (to limit your impact on the congregations you will be visiting).
c) You must use your @berkeley.edu login to bDrive to access the registration spreadsheet (more information here).
d) 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)
a) Read the congregations’ websites (links provided online, AND in the shared spreadsheet), and document yourself on the background and history of each of the two congregations you are planning to visit.
b) Plan your trip (all congregations are located within walking distance, and near public transportation), to make sure you maximize the time at your disposal.
c) 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. Be as respectful as you can of your (unfamiliar?) surroundings.
a) 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)
b) Silence and put away your phones
c) Stand when people stand, sit when they sit
d) Ask for page in prayer book (don’t be shy about asking for assistance!).
e) Introduce yourself if anyone asks you why you are there. There is a long-standing history of visiting synagogues on the part of “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.
f) 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
g) 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:
a) Architectural space: what does it look like, how is space distributed and occupied, etc.
b) Population: number of people attending, age, gender, dress code(s).
c) Use of space gender and age.
d) Languages (of the prayer books, of people conducting the prayers, etc.).
e) Sounds and music: any particular sounds? recognizable melodies? identifiable musical style or styles?
Also, refer to the four parameters listed in the Listening Assignment Guide for Week 4 (soundscape; performance style, language, and context), as well as to the articulation of the synagogue’s “cast of characters” in this week’s assigned reading (excerpted from S. Heilman’s Synagogue Life).
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 instructors’ participation
Both instructors (Francesco Spagnolo & Yair Harel) will be also visiting Berkeley synagogues at this time. But we will not register online, and we will only see those of you who are registered for the same field trips on such occasions. We plan to share our observations with the class as well.

“Chant,” or “Tune”? (Schindler’s List opening scene)

Here’s the opening scene of Schindler’s List (1993), which presents viewers with an essential moment in Jewish para-liturgical practice, the qidush (Heb. קידוש, commonly spelled Kiddush), or the blessings recited at the eve of the Sabbath (and of other Holidays, albeit with slightly different texts) around the family table. (Note that the Kiddush is also recited in the synagogue, but that’s another story…).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24fwJMLsyNs]

There are two lines of questions that may arise from (re)watching this scene.

On the one hand, the musical aspect: does this pertain to the musical area we generally defined as “chant,” or to the one we generally defined as “tune” (and what kind of chant/tune it may be, based on our knowledge of musical culture in the Jewish diaspora)?

On the other hand, the layers of meaning (and especially the related musical representations of identity) that this scene may contain: here, ritual is both presented as a symbol (of what?) and as a staged performance. Why was this scene chosen to open Schindler’s List?

Link

The Myth of the 8-hour sleep, or Nightlife between cultural history and popular culture

As we move into Week 6 of Jewish Nightlife, it’s time to take a look at how cultural historians understand the “rise” of nightlife in the Modern Era.

Here’s a link to an article in the BBC News Magazine:

http://m.bbc.com/news/magazine-16964783

Check out this reference:

In his new book, Evening’s Empire, historian Craig Koslofsky puts forward an account of how this happened.
“Associations with night before the 17th Century were not good,” he says. The night was a place populated by people of disrepute – criminals, prostitutes and drunks.
“Even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”
That changed in the wake of the Reformation and the counter-Reformation. Protestants and Catholics became accustomed to holding secret services at night, during periods of persecution. If earlier the night had belonged to reprobates, now respectable people became accustomed to exploiting the hours of darkness.
This trend migrated to the social sphere too, but only for those who could afford to live by candlelight. With the advent of street lighting, however, socialising at night began to filter down through the classes.
In 1667, Paris became the first city in the world to light its streets, using wax candles in glass lamps. It was followed by Lille in the same year and Amsterdam two years later, where a much more efficient oil-powered lamp was developed.

As we had discussed previously, and continue to explore during the coming weeks, the history of “Jewish nightlife” begins in the 16th century. It’s associations are with the prohibited, the mysterious, and especially the mystical. Through the influence of Jewish mysticism (often referred to as “Kabbalah”), new rituals were created, and existing night-time rituals acquired new meaning and significance.

It goes without saying that you can take a look at Evening’s Empire in our University Library.