More on Synagogue Life (and a 360-degree panoramic view)

Samuel Heilman based his study on Synagogue Life on a participant-observer approach that combines “the ethnographic approach, which in its description embodies explanation, with the sociological one, which tends toward analytic generalization.” His research was based on a year-long fieldwork process, during which he assiduously frequented a “modern-Orthodox” synagogue in Queens, NY (which in the book he calls “Kehillat Kodesh,” or Holy Community, an alias designed to preserve the anonymity of the congregation and its members), describing what he experienced there according to a specific point of view.

Heilman considers synagogue life as “the interaction generated within and by the members of [a] synagogue.” (In the book, he refers to the synagogue with a Yiddish term, shul, that is popular among Ashkenazi Jews in the United States). Synagogues offer a specific “setting” for the interaction among individuals who, in the context of daily worship, study, and assembly, fulfill definite symbolic roles, acting within a space of “institutional sanctity.”

The symbolic roles are outlined by Heilman as those of a predefined “cast of characters.” The theatrical and performative connotations of this approach are obvious and inspiring in many ways. The characters that act on the stage of synagogue life include:

According to Heilman’s study, the characters that act on the stage of synagogue life include:

1. males and females
2. the gabbai (a dispenser of kibbudim, or ritual honors)
3. the synagogue’s lay leadership (the “President”)
4. the Chazan (cantor)
5. the “quasi-Chazan” (a figure that stands in a dynamic relationship with the cantor)
7. chiyuv and yartsayt (relating to those whose presence at services is mandated by prescribed ritual obligations, i.e., reciting a memorial prayer for deceased family members)
8. rabbinic authority [note: not necessarily a Rabbi]
9. strangers and guests
10. mendicants, beggars, shnorrers and meshulachim
11. children

The “cast of characters” moves in the architectural space of the synagogue, which is its “stage.” The website, synagogues360, provides access to synagogues across the world through 360 panoramic photographs. The closest one to Berkeley found on the site is Temple Sinai in Oakland.


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.

Time, or Rhythm? Some (Visual) Thoughs on Jewish Liturgy

Over time, I have found that a useful way to discuss Jewish liturgy (or the complex array of liturgical and paraliturgical rituals found in Jewish communities across the global diaspora) is through visual means.

Here are some iPad-generated infographics. I created them long ago, and every time I review them, I end up questioning them in new ways. Consider them as “conversation starters,” rather than fully formed ideas…

1. Jewish liturgy: an ecosystem?

The Jewish Liturgical Ecosystem

As I review the idea that Jewish liturgy is like an ecosystem (aka, a complex network), I feel strongly that it is entirely based on time, and that text and music (or sound, or interpretation) come after. But, recently, I have started to wonder whether the foundation is better defined by rhythm than by time: the rhythm provided by the interpretation of nature, to begin with (sunset/sundown; the lunar cycle; the yearly cycle). [Note: not by nature, but by its (human) interpretation].

The Time/Text relationship in Jewish liturgy

2. A complex network of liturgical texts

The corpus of Jewish literature (mostly in Hebrew and Aramaic, but at times in other Jewish languages) is activated in the context of the liturgy. Here’s a quick (but really, really quick) summary/list.

The Texts of Jewish Liturgy

Please note that just as “Bible” is a network of texts, “Talmud” is a placeholder for a broader network of texts, and that texts like the Midrash are also part of the network. These networks are thus part of an ecosystem. See for example the visualization of the intertextual connections between the Bible and the Talmud provided by the awesome Sefaria:

Connections between Talmud and Tanakh | Sefaria Visualization

Then think that the interconnections between these texts and poetry are constantly activated in the context of the liturgy.

In analyzing the first stanza of the liturgical poem, Lekhah dodi:

שָׁמוֹר וְזָכוֹר בְּדִבּוּר אֶחָד
הִשְׁמִיעָנוּ אֵל הַמְּיֻחָד

Hebrew transliteration
shemor ve-zakhor be-dibur echad
hishmi’anu el ha-meyuchad

English translation
‘protect’ and ‘rember’– in one utterance
the unique god let us hear

Abraham Z. Idelsohn (Jewish Liturgy X:128-129; please note that this is our textbook) highlights the intertextual connections of the text, thus uncovering the textual network it activates, and at the same time points to the wide variety of its musical renditions across the diaspora:

“Come, my friend, to meet the bride…” — Lecha dodi — is a poem by Solomon Alkabetz (1505-diest after 1572); he was the brother-in-law of Moses Cordovero, lived in Safed, and was encouraged by Isaac Luria to compose this poem about 1571 (Hemdath Yamim, Leghorn, 1763, I, 41; Seder Hayyom, l.c.).

This poem spread to all Jewish communities and became a favorite text for Synagogal composers, so that over two thousand settings were composed to it.

The name of the author is to be found as an acrostic at the beginnings of the stanzas: Shelomo hallewi. The poem starts out with a refrain based on b. Sabbath 119a. In the first stanza: “Observe and Remember,” the author refers to the Midrashic explanation (b. Shevuoth 20b) of the discrepancy between the two versions of the fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:8 and Deuteronomy 5:12, according to which God uttered both words simultaneously.

By using the Piyyut website, you can listen to many of the thousands of musical settings of this fundamental poem.

3. Music (or sound): Different modes to interpret text 

Music in Jewish Liturgy: "chants" and "tunes"

4. The relationship between text, music, and (cultural) identity

Musical Expressions of Jewish Identity

“Jewish Music”: 10 Competing Notions

Let’s scan through ten (at times competing) notions of “Jewish Music” that have emerged during the last, well, 500 years.

Background information for this discussion can be found in this (and last) week’s reading, but especially the “Jewish Music” entry in Oxford Music Online, which opens with the following statements.

‘Jewish music’ as a concept emerged among Jewish scholars and musicians only in the mid-19th century with the rise of modern national consciousness among European Jews, and since then all attempts to define it have faced many difficulties. The term ‘Jewish music’ in its nation-oriented sense was first coined by German or German-trained Jewish scholars, among whom the most influential in this respect was A.Z. Idelsohn (1882–1938), whose book Jewish Music in its Historical Development (1929) was a landmark in its field that is still widely consulted today . Idelsohn was the first scholar to incorporate the Jewish ‘Orient’ into his research, and thus his work presents the first ecumenical, though still fragmentary, description of the variety of surviving Jewish musical cultures set within a single historical narrative. In his work Idelsohn pursued a particular ideological agenda: he adopted the idea of the underlying cultural unity of the Jewish people despite their millenary dispersion among the nations, and promoted the view that the music of the various Jewish communities in the present expresses aspects of that unity. Moreover, Idelsohn’s work implied a unilinear history of Jewish music dating back to the Temple in biblical Jerusalem. […] Despite its problematic nature, the concept of ‘Jewish music’ in its Idelsohnian sense is a figure of speech widely employed today, being used in many different contexts of musical activity: recorded popular music, art music composition, printed anthologies, scholarly research and so on. The use of this term to refer both to the traditional music of all Jewish communities, past and present, and to new contemporary music created by Jews with ethnic or national agendas is thus convenient, as long as its historical background and ideological connotations are borne in mind.

Below, I attempt to highlight some of the connections that “Jewish music” elicits.

I’m not pretending to be exhaustive, and I’m also having some fun in choosing related visual and musical examples to make my points.

1. The Invention of Jewish music as Musica Haebreorum

The notion of a “music of the Hebrews [aka, the Jews]” really begins with Christian Humanists (who wrote most of their works in Latin, hence, musica haebreorum)  and their heirs. These scholars studied how Jews made music inside synagogues and described (at times including musical examples) what they heard with their own ears. In doing so, they were often confronted with the inherent diasporic variety of Jewish synagogue music.

An example I particularly like (because it has been eminently understudied, so far, and also because it refers to the wide variety of Jewish musical traditions at one time found in the Italian peninsula) is drawn from Ercole Bottrigari, Il trimerone de’ fondamenti armonici, ouero lo essercitio musicale, giornata terza, 1599 (“The Three-Day-Long-Dialogue of the Fundaments of Harmony, or The Musical Practice;” source: Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, MS B44, 1-23, see also a description here).

Bottrigari specifically addressed the specificities of il Canto degli Hebrej (“the Song of the Jews”) and the musical rendition of the “Masoretic accents” that govern the singing of the Hebrew Bible in synagogue liturgy. After discussing details pertaining to Hebrew letters, and the rules for chanting Biblical texts, Bottrigari states the following:

After discussing details pertaining to Hebrew letters, and the rules for chanting Biblical texts, Bottrigari states the following:

Il Canto degli Hebrej nelle Sinagoghe loro esser come ‘l Canto fermo, ò piano nelle nostre Chiese


The Song of the Jews in their Synagogues is like the cantus firmus [a monophonic melody], or plain, of our Churches

And, furthermore:

Soggiungerouj anco poi, che mouimenti tai nel Canto sono molto differenti [24. in marg.] nelle Sinagoghe de’ Giudei secondo le Nationj loro ò Francesi, ò Spagnuole, ò Tedesche, od Italiane, ò Leuantine, od altre. E questo non ui dico io solamente per quello; che ne scriuono essi Reuchino e Vallense: Ma per quello che io stesso ne intesi già da qualcuno hebreo in Ferrara; Doue, sicome in Mantoa sono hebrej di tutte queste Nationj dimandatine da me: et anco ne pigliaj in iscritto da un principal Rabì della Sinagoga Spagnuola tutta l’ aere del Salmo 51.


I would add that the melodic character is extremely diverse in the synagogues of the Jews according to their origins, either French, or Spanish, or German, or Italian, or Levantine, or others. And I am not only arguing this in accordance with [what others have published] but on the basis of I have myself heard from a Jew in Ferrara, where, since in Mantua there are Jews belonging to each of these denominations, I asked myself, and transcribed the complete melody of Psalm 51 from a Rabbi in the Spanish synagogue.

Il Canto degli Hebrej in E. Bottrigari, Trimerone (1599)

(Image source)

2. The Ongoing Quest for Jewish (musical) Antiquity

“Jewish music” is by default associated with antiquity. But whose antiquity really is it? Venetian composer Benedetto Marcello, and many more in his footsteps, searched for “Jewish musical antiquity.” (You can read more about this topic here).

This quest has often lead to essentializing Jewish musical practice in the name of a higher call (the expectation that Jewish cultural manifestations are by default vestiges of an ancient past). It continues into the present.

See a contemporary incarnation of the belief in Jewish musical antiquity as presented by Jordi Savall-Hespèrion XXI, Lavava y suspirava (romance) (Anónimo Sefardí), in which the rather modern Sephardic Jewish past is presented as Medieval:

3. The Re-invention of “Jewish Music” by Jewish Scholars

An interesting byproduct of 19th-century Jewish scholarship (also known, in German, as Wissenschaft des Judentums, or the Science of Judaism) was the construction of the “Italian Jewish Renaissance” as a golden age of musical production, and of Jewish music as “art music.”

Listen below to Salamone Rossi (ca. 1570-1630), ‘al naharot bavel (Psalm 137), by The Prophets of the Perfect Fifth (I profeti della quinta). While Salamone Rossi, who was active in Mantua and published the first collection of Hebrew polyphonic music in Venice in 1622-23, did indeed write “art music,” it is hard to prove that his Hebrew compositions were performed inside a synagogue (if they were ever performed at all), or directed to a Jewish audience. And yet, such music has been presented in the guise of “Jewish Art Music.”

4. The “Music of the Jewish People”

The idea that Jewish music can be defined as the music of the Jewish people (with the related notions of Nationalism & Identity) as a cohesive cultural corpus is deeply connected with the activities of the “St. Petersburg Society for Jewish Folk Music” and in related Zionist musical agendas.

Lazare Saminsky (Odessa 1882- NY 1959), composed Conte Hebräique (Hebrew Fairy Tale) in Palestine in 1919, en route from Russia to America (via the UK). Many other composers wrote music in the same vein.

5. “Judaism in Music” (an expression made quite popular by the composer Richard Wagner, 1813-1883) brings with it a certain passion for singling out “the Jewish elements” in the music of eminent composers of Jewish descent. This is a trademark of many 20th-century scholarly contributions to the field.

An excellent (albeit not scholarly) summary on the relationship between Wagner and modern Jewish sensibilities can be found in the form of a satire in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 2, Episode 3: Trick or Treat (October 7, 2001). (Please note the moment when Larry David whistles the melody of Springtime for Hitler, from The Producers, a feature film written and directed by Mel Brooks in 1967).

6. Jewish music as “Degenerate Music” (Entartete Musik, in German) and the passion of making lists of “Jewish” composers, compositions, etc., so that music can be “purified” from their influence, were a staple of the Third Reich.

Note that not only Jews, but also people of color (and especially African Americans), were considered agents of degenerate musical activity.

Entartete musik poster.jpg


Well, these were/are the Nazis…

See them enjoying their right to free speech in John Landis, The Blues Brothers (USA 1980):

A book published in Nazi Germany, listing Jewish music professionals, is included in the music holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and can be made accessible to interested students.

Interestingly enough, this passion for defining music according to the biological specification of the musicians who make it (regardles of cultural context), is still quite present in contemporary sensibilities…

7. Jewish music as lost (or suppressed) music: in the view of post-Holocaust cultural agendas, any sample of Jewish culture is worthy of attention, and the enormity of the historical legacy of the Holocaust trumps any aesthetic consideration.

Watch, for example, this news report on Francesco Lotoro’s KZ Musik project, conducted with the support of the European Union:

8. Jewish music as revival. I

n her essay, Sounds of Sensibility (1998), Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett outlines several implications related to the (American) revival of “Klezmer” music.

In his fascinating eulogy of Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011), one of the protagonists of the American revival of Ashkenazi culture, Canadian writer, Michael Wex, thus articulated the special relationship that late 20th-century Jewish revivalists had with tradition:

[Adrienne Cooper] had a talent for subversion along with an innate sense of decorum that let her reverse a tradition, turn it inside out, before any of its guardians had actually noticed.

The New-York band, Klezmatics, turned the socialist song, Ale brider into an anthem for Queer rights. Here, they sing it together with Israeli folk music (and protest song) icon, Chava Alberstein, in Berlin, Germany:

9. Jewish music as “soul” and “fusion” (or, how to market Jewish culture to the “masses”).

Here’s an example by Argentinian-Israeli musician, Giora Feidman, presenting a fusion of Klezmer (aka, Jewish instrumental music originating in Eastern Europe) and Nuevo Tango Argentino (based on the compositions of Astor Piazzolla, 1921-1992):

10. Jewish music as “world music” (or, how to market Jewish culture to the “elites”).

An example by Moroccan-Israeli cantor and singer, Emil Zrihan, blending Moroccan Jewish repertoires with Flamenco:

Disclaimer: A previous version of this entry is cross-posted here.