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?
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].
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.
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:
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
shemor ve-zakhor be-dibur echad
hishmi’anu el ha-meyuchad
‘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
4. The relationship between text, music, and (cultural) identity