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:

Hebrew
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

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Jewish Nightlife: A Midterm Collaborative Examination

Jewish Nightlife
Midterm Examination
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For our midterm examination, we will combine a traditional collaborative Jewish learning format (chavruta) with the use of collaborative digital tools. (Take that, #digitalhumanities!).

1. TEAMS: Form teams of 2, to work in “chavruta style” (as discussed in class and posted on the course blog)

2. METHODS: Each team must create one multi-media flash card for each of the 3 topics (choose one in each group, so that at the end you will have produced a total of 3 flash cards), using the Google Apps available to UC Berkeley students via the bConnected suite)

Cultural Identity & Cultural History (multi-dimensional notions of time, space, and language)
– Sephardic
– Ashkenazi
– Jews in the Lands of Islam

Ritual and material culture (ritual performances, texts, objects)
– Simchat Torah
– Prayer Book (Siddur)
piyyut
– quasi-Hazzan

Music & Sound (in their relationships to cultural identity and to ritual)
– “chant” (Psalmody and Biblical reading)
– “tune”
– para-liturgical

3. CONTENT: Each card must include the following elements:

  1. Two short paragraphs representing different (possibly conflicting) points of view on each of the topics selected
  2. A visual element
  3. A sound (or video) element
  4. Source citations (no specific style requested) for each of the elements above

4. COLLABORATION: Each team must share its flash cards with the instructor (spagnoloacht[at]berkeley.edu)

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.