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.

A Piyyut and Its Publication History

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 centurty CE)
On bakkashot see Idelsohn p. 157

Publication history (selection) based on Davidson’s Thesaurus
Otzar hatefilot, Vilnius 1914
Arba’h ta’aniyot, Constantinople 1780
Bet av, Livorno 1877
Bet habechirah, Livorno 1880
Bet ya’aqov, Tunis 1898
Bakkashot yerushalayim, Jerusalem 1913
Bakkashot rash”ad, Ms. Bodleian Library (Oxford)
Zavche shlemim, Constantinople 1728
Z”Y Izmir, Smirne 1766
Yigal, Jerusalem 1885
Yiztchaq yeranen, Jerusalem 1855
apa, Mezhirov (Ukraine) 1793
Liqute zvi hachadash, Warsaw 1879
M. Argil 1, Livorno 1878
M. Tunis 1, Livorno 1861
Machzor Elohei Ya’aqov, Jerusalem 1908
Meshat Binyamin, Jerusalem 1909 (Persian)
Mishmeret hachadash, Baghdad 1908
Sidur ya’avatz (Italy), Altona (Germany) 1731
Sidur tefilah, Mantua 1676

In class, we discussed how the publication history of a piyyut can be researched, and how it points to the following directions:

– Social history: impact of a liturgical poem on a given community, or on a network of communities across the global Jewish diaspora
– Intellectual history: the intellectual debates involved in the creation and diffusion of a piyyut, and the spiritual dimensions involved in its textual and musical meanings
– A “history of feelings” (in the nexus between text and music)

We discussed all of this around the fact that the class is learning and rehearsing the poem illustrated above.

“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?

Week 5 | Listening Guide

This week we continue to explore the world of “Jewish music” (keeping in mind that this expression is a construct, rather than a definite cultural entity). We will continue to listen to the anthology introduced last week, and also focus specifically on the sounds of Jewish liturgy.

As discussed last week, liturgical sounds introduce us into one of the most intimate aspects of Jewish culture, in which text and music, material and spiritual cultures, tradition and innovation, seamlessly coexist.

Jewish liturgy takes place every day, and thus expresses the experience of every day life, just like the many objects of material culture that we have examined in the weeks past. And at the same time, it voices the most complex aspects of religious life, thus addressing an intricate texture of literary traditions (first and foremost, the Hebrew Bible), of spiritual yearning, and of cultural creativity and aesthetic expressions. Finally, liturgy is a performance, in which music is central. In its performative aspects, liturgy and its music reflect a variety of social dynamics, ranging from inter-generational conflicts to gender relations, to politics and, as we will see in focusing onnocturnal rituals, inter-cultural exchanges.

Titgadal wetitqadash betokh Yerushalaim | Jerusalem in Hebrew Prayer and Song (available on bCourses)

Building up from last week’s listening experience, this compilation, which is based on a concert program presented in Berlin, Germany, in 1995, focuses entirely on liturgical and para-liturgical songs (refer to Grove, “Jewish Music” III:1 to fully assess the importance of these terms) of various Jewish musical traditions as they are presented by traditional culture bearers (rather than re-created by artists). Make sure to also refer to the CD notes to learn about each track and the ideas that informed the concert program (curated by Edwin Seroussi, and also available via bCourses).

While listening, focus on two aspects:

  • Diversity of sound: as in last week’s listening materials, very diverse worlds of sounds are brought together as part of one culture (“Jewish (musical) culture);
  • Unity of (theological) message: each selection expresses the two ­thousand year longing for Jerusalem and the return to the land of Israel, as represented in Jewish liturgical texts.

Are  these  two aspects  reconciled  in  the concert  program documented  in  this CD? Probably not in terms of sounds: the traditions represented in the concert are indeed very different from one another). Yet, perhaps,  such a  relation can be only understood within the comprehensive notion of “Jewish music” summarized in the assigned sections of the Grove article on this topic: a host of diverse cultures with distinctively similar (textual, material social, political) practices across the span of a diasporic landscape.

In listening to this week’s compilation, make sure to focus on the following tracks:

1. Shofar blowing: the only Biblical musical instrument that remains in Jewish liturgy

5. Lekha dodi: liturgical poem for the Sabbath liturgy, text by kabbalist scholar Sh. Alkabetz (melody from the Turkish tradition)

12. Arim al shefayim koli: a Moroccan kinah (dirge), part of the vast repertoire of liturgical poems sung on the 9th of Av (the liturgical commemoration of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, first by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE, and later by the Romans in the 1st century CE)

13. Yerushalaim ir mehulalah – Hohil yom yom eshtahe: Moroccan song medley praising Jerusalem and the city of Tiberias

15. Mimekomkha malkenu tofi’a: Ashkenazi prayer for the return of God’s rule over Zion and Jerusalem (a line from this prayer gives  the Hebrew  title  to  the CD:  titgadal wetitqadash bethokh yerushalayim, or “May You be exalted and sanctified within Jerusalem”)

19.  Im nin‘alu:  a poem by Sh.  Shabazi   from  the Yemenite  tradition of  sacred poetry  (Diwan),  which was popularized as a “dance hit” in the 1980s by Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza (you may want to listen to her subsequent versions, easily found on YouTube).