In Search of Jewish Night Rituals

…and thus we begin tracing the long journey (ca. 1570 to the present) of night-time Jewish communal singing.

Question: When does nightlife happen (so that it counts as nightlife)?

Ours is a history of the movement of ideas/practices from the Mediterranean into a global network. It involves:

  • A social history of religion
  • A religious history of society
  • A musical history of religion and society

Here’s a preliminary list of where (textually/liturgically) we may want to look for Jewish nightlife:

  • The Creation (and the Kiddush)
  • Blessing of the New Moon
  • Kabbalat shabbat
  • Sabbath & festival table
  • Havdalah
  • Tiqun chatzot (9 of Av, reading Ekhah at night))
  • Passover Seder
  • Tiqun leyl shavuot
  • Simchat bet ha-shoevah (Sukkot, refers to Temple of Jerusalem)
  • Hosha’na rabah
  • Simchat Torah
  • Passover Seder
  • Purim (reading the Megillah at night)
  • Hanukkah
  • Lag ba-‘omer (the 33rd day of the counting of Omer, after Passover)
  • Bakkashot (between ST and Passover: winter time, longer nights)
  • Brith milah (night watches for the ritual circumcision)

Here’s an example of a visual text created for night rituals celebrated ahead of a ritual circumcision:

Manuscript [68.83]: Amulet for the protection of pregnant women and newborn children ([India, Kochi, Kerala (collected in)], 18th-19th cent.)


Resources and Guidelines for Fieldwork in Berkeley Synagogues (2017 Edition)

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;” the link will take you to the “Sukkot” entry in EJ, assigned this week), 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 Jewish 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 falls on Wednesday, October 5, and shemini ‘atzeret falls on Wednesday, October 12 (both days begin the night before, as we’ve learned in class…).

This presents us with the chance to conduc 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 Tuesday (October 3). If the trips present a challenge of any sort, promptly inform me by email (ASAP).

All the best,

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!).



Visit two (2) synagogues during the two weeks of the Sukkot Festival

1. Consult the list of Jewish congregations in Berkeley
Make sure you know where you are going ahead of time!
A list of Berkeley congregations is available online at this link. It includes addresses, contact information, and website links as of a couple of years ago (this information is also available via the links posted in the Field Trip Registration Form I shared with you weeks ago; see bCourses announcements).
Note that these congregations 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.
IMPORTANT NOTE: 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
  • 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 limited number of students can visit a synagogue at the same time (to limit your impact on the congregations you will be visiting).
  • You must use your login to bDrive to access the registration spreadsheet (more information here).
  • 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)
  • Read the congregations’ websites (links provided in the shared spreadsheet), and document yourself on the background and history of each of the two congregations you are planning to visit (How? Read the /about section of the websites to begin with!).
  • Plan your trip (all congregations are located within walking distance, and near public transportation), to make sure you maximize the time at your disposal.
  • 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. You won’t be the only one in that situation (we have learned that Jewish ritual rules can be fairly complex), but… Be as respectful as you can of your (unfamiliar?) surroundings!
  • 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)
  • Silence and put away your phone
  • Stand when people stand, sit when they sit
  • Find a Prayer Book (see where they are located, usually outside the “sanctuary,” and don’t be shy in picking one up), and remember to return it to its place before leaving
  • Ask for page numbers in the Prayer Book (Don’t be shy about asking for assistance!).
  • Introduce yourself if anyone asks you why you are there. As we discussed some weeks ago, there is a long-standing history of synagogue visits done by “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.
  • 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
  • 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:
  • Architectural space: what does it look like, how is space distributed and occupied, etc.
  • Population: number of people attending, age, gender, dress code(s).
  • Use of space gender and age.
  • Languages (of the prayer books, of people conducting the prayers, etc.).
  • Sounds and music: any particular sounds? recognizable melodies? identifiable musical style or styles?
  • Also, refer to the four parameters listed in the Listening Guide we referred to for the past three weeks (soundscape; performance stylelanguage; and context), to the visual charts discussed in class, and to the articulation of the synagogue’s “cast of characters” in this week’s assigned reading (excerpted from S. Heilman’s Synagogue Life, also assigned this week).
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 the instructor’s participation
Your instructor (that’s me!) will be also visiting Berkeley synagogues at this time. But I will not register online, and will only see those of you who are registered for the same field trips on such occasions. I plan to share my observations with the class as well.


On the Politics of Jewish Nightlife: A Dispatch from Venice, 1798

In exploring the “sounscapes” of the Venetian Jewish ghetto, the place where our narrative of Jewish nightlife effectively begins, musicologist Edwin Seroussi tells the following story:

On July 1797, as the army of Napoleon Bonaparte approached Venice, the gates of the Venetian ghetto came down. The Napoleonic conquest of the Veneto was short-lived and, from the Jewish viewpoint, not an encouraging one. Once the news of the return of Mantua to Austrian rule following the Treaty of Campo Formio (18 January 1798) reached Venice, the Jews led by Rabbi Abraham Jona (c. 1745-1814), the last rabbi of the Venetian ghetto, held a special synagogue service. In his autograph diary, Rabbi Jona describes in detail this performance, which he conducted at the synagogue on the Fourth of Shevat (21 January 1798).  After he recited Psalm 18 in a simple style (pashut), ‘a choir (kat hameshorerim) sang Hallelujah odeh ladonay be-khollevav [Psalm 111] with instrumental accompaniment (beniggun ha-musiqa) with the additions that were added [as required] by the event.’ Then Rabbi Jona ‘sang with the congregation Hodu l’adonay qir’u bi-shmo [Chronicles I,16; opening verses of the Sabbath and Holidays’ morning services] to the tune of Simhat Torah (be-niggun kmo yom Simhat Torah), and the entire congregation joined him in the Hallel [Psalms 113-118],… The musicians then started all over again with singing and instrumental music.’ As it grew dark, all the lights of the ghetto were lit and the festivities continued outdoors. Part of the celebration included solemn prayers for the wellbeing of the Austrians.
As you can see from my emphasis, political events (and fear for the status of civil rights in an era of shifting political powers), synagogue life, liturgy, and nightlife, all come together in this historical description. The address towards the wellbeing of the Austrians also suggests and inter-cultural (and inter-faith) assembly.

Who Knows One? A Passover song from 13 different corners of the Jewish diaspora

Listen to the Passover enumerative song, Echad mi yodea’, in thirteen different versions from the global Jewish diaspora, as preserved in the National Sound Archives (est. 1964) of the National Library of Israel.

Since the Soundcloud playlist is in Hebrew, here’s the list of places of origin: 1) Morocco, Tetuan; 2) Morocco, Meknes; 3) Salonika (Thessaloniki, Greek Macedonia); 4) The Netherlands (in Hebrew); 5) The Netherlands (in Yiddish); 6) Turkey; 7) Hassidic (Chabad); 8) Corfu, Greece (Southern Italian); 9) Iran; 10) Yemen; 11) Israel; 12) Hungary; and 13) Italy.


Vote on Everything: Best Songs About #Night

Who knew?

It’s a free country, and one can even vote on the “best songs about night” via Ranker:

Also, here are 10 top-ranked rock “night songs” are listed at

And yet, to me, these are the winners:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Eine kleine Nachtmusik KV 525 (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major), whose title loosely translates into “a small nighttime music,” composed in 1787:

Also on YouTube with score visualization:

An American classic, Night and Day (1932, by Cole Porter):

And a Jewish classic, bin el barah oul youm (“Between twilight and day”), a North-African popular song set to Arabic and Hebrew lyrics about life, hope, love, and, of course, night and day. The melody is also commonly used to sing the text of the Sabbath table song (zemirah) in Hebrew, Ki eshmerah shabat (follow the link on Firefox to listen to various versions from the global Jewish diaspora), attributed to Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (12th century).

Performed here by the Moroccan Israeli singer, Emil Zrihan:

On the basis of a much earlier version (in Arabic) by the Algerian-Jewish gay pop music star, Salim Halali (Algeria 1920 – France 2005) [the main song theme begins at circa 1’50” into the recording, following a heart-melting introduction; if you like SH, read on here, a delightful post by Chris Silver on the Jewish Morocco blog]:

A common thread? The nexus between #nighttime, #love, and #subversive behaviors. Regardless of musical styles, languages, or geographic origins.