The Unfinal

Dear Class,

Next Tuesday, December 11, our Final Examination will be held at The Magnes from 3 to 6 pm.

Attendance is mandatory. No exceptions.

You can bring ANYTHING you wish to the Final. Laptops, smartphones, tablets, books, notes, post-it’s, puppets, musical instruments, other instruments… Really, anything that you think will help you.

We are hopefully going to make good use of the time that UC Berkeley has given us for this occasion. As we already discussed in class, the examination will take place in the form of a user-generated, multi-tasking workshop. Thus, the definition of “unfinal” for our collaborative work. (More on this here).

A draft of the schedule is available HERE for your review and INPUT (see below). The unfinal will only be as good as the content we inject into it.

The “unfinal” will be comprised of three parts:

1. 10 Questions: A short test.
During the last week, each student “nominated” 3 sources listed in the Syllabus through a shared Google document. This resulted in a selection of 5 sources upon which the 10 questions in the test will be based.
(Disclaimer: I also cast my vote, but by the point I did, the selection was already pretty much a done deal…).
It was interesting for me to see how the collective mind of the class selected a group of readings that truly reflect the inter-disciplinary perspective fostered during the semester.
The sources nominated are:

  1. Our textbook–the evergreen study of Jewish Liturgy and Its Development by Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (published 80 years ago this year…)–which situates liturgical structures, texts, performance practices and music in the complex context of synagogue life; the chapters selected focus on the Sabbath (Chapters 10-11), which, as we have seen in class, serves as a condensed time of ritual performance, and the Jewish Life Cycle (Chapter 13).
  2. Our “ghost-textbook”: the entry on “Jewish Music” in Grove Music Onlinehttp://www.oxfordmusiconline.com (sections I: Introduction, and III: Liturgical and Paraliturgical).
  3. Our other “ghost-textbook”: the Encyclopaedia Judaica, a solid summary of major scholarship in Jewish Studies, and an excellent go-to source to clarify the contours of virtually all topics in this field; the selection was for the entries on Piyyut and Kaddish. 
  4. Laura S. Lieber’s essay on “The Rhetoric of Participation: Experiential Elements of Early Hebrew Liturgical Poetry” (The Journal of Religion 90/2 (April 2010): 119-147 – JSTOR): a study of piyyut (Hebrew liturgical poetry), its literary origins and practices, and the context of its performance within synagogue liturgy.
  5. Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig’s essay, ‘May He Grow to the Torah…’: The Iconography of Torah  Reading and Bar Mitzvah on Ashkenazi Torah Binders, in Langer and Fine eds. Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue, 2005: 161-176, available on bSpace): a study of ritual objects that reflect the Jewish Life Cycle, and of the interaction between iconography and ritual performance.

As we can all see, history, ethnography, music, literature and material culture all all well-represented in this selection. Architecture is probably the only major topic missing from the “unfinal,” although it received a lot of attention in our class discussions. The unfinal selections thus ended up reflecting the initial assumptions of the seminar, as stated in our Syllabus at the beginning of the Semester:

A core aspect of Jewish life and creativity in the global Diaspora, liturgy involves the interaction of texts, sounds, objects, architectural spaces and body language within the performative space of the synagogue. These elements and their related sources are often studied as separate cultural entities, according to distinct methodologies. A multi-disciplinary perspective on liturgy and ritual must instead integrate the study of language and literary texts with musicology and ethnomusicology, the study of visual and material cultures, anthropology and the investigation of everyday life.

The multi-disciplinary aspect of our research will be the topic of the 10 questions, based on the 5 sources listed above, that students in the Performing Texts seminar will be confronted with in our user-generated “unfinal.”

I expect that we will devote the first our of the Final Examination to this task.

2. Fieldwork: A Conversation
Fieldwork has been a crucial component of our work throughout the Semester. We visited three synagogues in Berkeley (Congregation Beth El on the occasion of Rosh Hashannah; Congregation Netivot Shalom on Sukkot; and Congregation Beth Israel on Simchat Torah) observing individual and group dynamics; architectural spaces; dress codes; prayer books; body language; music sources and performance styles; ritual objects and more… Each visit was followed by class discussions, and all of our experiences were compared and confronted with our sources. We also discussed the issue of field work in the synagogue, and studied its historic roots in the research on Jewish music and Jewish cultural antiquity since the early modern times. Last but not least, we listened to archival field recordings, and investigated a variety of social media platforms (including YouTube, Facebook and more) as ethnographic sources.
We are thus quite well-equipped to welcome to our class Yonatan Cohen, Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley.

Yonatan Cohen is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, a Modern Orthodox community in Berkeley, California. He joined the shul in 2006 after receiving ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical School in Manhattan, NY. He was born in Israel and grew up in Montreal, Canada. R. Cohen completed a B.A. in Philosophy at McGill University, and studied at Kollel Torah Mitzion, the Metivta and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 2008-2010 Congregation Beth Israel together with R. Cohen were awarded a prestigious grant from the Legacy Heritage Innovation Project for Congregational Education. R. Cohen served on the Board of Directors of Hillel, UC Berkeley. He serves on the founding advisory board of the Merkvah Torah Institute as well as on the founding board of Kevah (http://kevah.org/). R. Cohen is also a fellow at the Rabbinic Leadership Institute of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is on Tumblr at http://rabbiyonatancohen.com

Yonatan Cohen’s visit to our class will be the perfect occasion to continue, and conclude, our conversation about Jewish liturgical performance. The congregation he serves was the last one on our field trip schedule, and the celebration of Simchat Torah we observed there was particularly dense with performative elements. Here are some reminders:

  • Multiple prayer books used by congregants
  • Division of the ritual architectural space between male and female congregants (gender dynamics)
  • Dress codes
  • Musical materials: we all noticed the use of the melody of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in the recitation of the Hallel…
  • Generational dynamics: younger and older congregants; adult and children; and their respective body languages, musical materials, etc.
  • Use of ritual objects: we noticed the “banging” of the hand of the prayer leader on the machzor, to mark the tempo of the musical performance; and of course we all saw the dancing with Torah scrolls during the haqafot
  • Food

We will thus continue our field-work in a student-led interview session with Yonatan Cohen. The conversation, which will be video-recorded, can point to a variety of directions, including both what we observed in our field trip(s) as well as general issues relating to what we discussed in class. The Semester brought us many different questions relating to identity (and its ritual performance), to rabbinic sources governing the ritual, to the relationship between congregations and rabbinic authorities, the role of prayer leaders (the hazzan, the quasi-hazzan, etc., as delineated by Heilman’s study of synagogue life), and more…

I have created an ONLINE CANVAS, where students in the class are invited to contribute. Please visit the canvas, and add your suggested topic for the conversation with Yonatan Cohen.

I expect our field work session to last for approximately one hour (until 5pm).

3. Summary, Final Words, & Farewell

You can post suggestions, single words, one-liners, links, and more, to the shared canvas for the “unfinal.”

There will be food. :-)

Reading Ritual Objects: Torah Binders & the Jewish Life Cycle

This week’s topic is co-territoriality, a concept that anthropologists use when they discuss the sharing of cultural materials by different (ethnic, religious) groups within the same territory or region.

I find it interesting that, in considering Jewish ritual, co-territoriality can be best studied when we confront the Life Cycle, or the series of para-liturgical events that mark the life of individuals (and their families and groups) from birth to death. These include prominently the ritual circumcision (or brit mila; or, in Yiddish-influenced American English, bris), religious majority (Bar and Bat Mitzvah), and wedding ceremonies.

One of the essays we are using in our seminar (Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig, “‘May He Grow to the Torah…’: The Iconography of Torah Reading and Bar Mitzvah on Ashkenazi Torah Binders,” in Langer and Fine eds. Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue, 2005: 161-176), presents us with the unique opportunity to build enough background information to conduct a study of the Ashkenazi Torah binders in The Magnes Collection.

Wimpel (Torah Binder) [67.1.21.17]: Made for David b. Yonah (Bechhofen, Germany, 1742)

Wimpel (Torah Binder) [67.1.21.17]: Made for David b. Yonah (Bechhofen, Germany, 1742), The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. The boy for whom this textile was created was born in the month of Sivan in the Jewish calendar, under the sign of Gemini, which are depicted in the detail above, along with the Hebrew inscription מזל תאמים (mazal teumim, or the Gemini constellation).

"Lilienthal" Wimpel (Torah Binder) (Germany, 1814) [80.83_03]

Wimpel (Torah Binder) [80.83]: “Lilienthal” Wimpel [Torah Binder made from Circumcision Cloth] (Munich, Germany, 1814), The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. Textile commissioned by the Lilienthal family of Munich, Germany, in honor of their son, Menachem Mendel (later Rabbi Max) Lilienthal (1814-1882), to an embroiderer named Koppel Heller. The detail highlights three moments in the Life Cycle. From right to left: childhood (with a rare depiction of a young boy in a walker), religious majority (with a depiction of the ritual of “lifting the Torah” (Heb. hagbahah) before the congregation), and marriage (with the depiction of a couple standing under a wedding canopy; Heb. chupah).

Wimpel (Torah Binder) [88.0.14] (Rodalben, Germany, 1922)

Wimpel (Torah Binder) [88.0.14] (Rodalben, Germany, 1922), The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. The full name of the newborn boy for whom the textile was created appears in Hebrew (in painted Hebrew script) as Yosef bar Henekh, and, below, in smaller characters, in German as Joseph Jesias Koch.

A “Torah binder” is a Jewish ceremonial textile used to keep a Torah (Hebrew Bible) scroll closed tightly when it is not being used for synagogue reading. In some Ashkenazi Jewish communities, predominantly in Germany, Alsace and Denmark, Torah binders were made from the linen or cotton cloth used to cover new-born males during the Circumcision ceremony (brit milah). This kind of Torah binder, also known as wimpel, would be used to bind a Torah scroll once the child became bar mitzvah, and later again on the occasion of his wedding. The Magnes collection includes over a hundred examples of wimpel, most of them from Germany.

The wimpel, a ritual object that physically represents the ties between personal and family rituals on the one hand (the Life Cycle, beginning with the Circumcision), and synagogue and communal life on the other (Torah reading), is today a source of often unique biographical (and genealogical) information about the development of Jewish communities that have long disappeared.

The diverse decorative motifs and the varying quality of the textiles used in the embroideries offer precious insights in reconstructing the social history of the communities of origin, the dynamics of gender roles and relations, the financial status of the families that made them or had them made, as well as the overarching aesthetics that governed their production.

Below is a template that allows to detect, read and interpret the salient elements that compose a wimpel: 

Handle With Care: Performing Texts While Holding Delicate/Precious Ritual Objects

During the past two weeks, Performing Texts has been busy studying ritual objects, their function and their use in synagogue life.

As Vivan Mann writes, Jewish ritual objects:

fulfill  functions mandated by Judaism’s obligatory ritual practices, [but] their forms and decoration often are drawn from those of the surrounding cultures in which Jewish communities have lived. As a result, although the function of a ceremonial object made in a particular cultural area will be identical to one created within another culture, and while they may share a common vocabulary of symbols, their shape, techniques, and decorative motifs will differ. Therefore, a work of Jewish art or material culture must always be studied within two frames of reference: its place within the practice of Judaism, and its relationship to the art and material culture of its place of origin. (“Art and Material Culture of Judaism” in the Encyclopedia of Judaism, see the syllabus for a full reference).

Many of the examples we used to discuss this eminently multi-disciplinary topic came from the holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life (online database available here), as well as other cultural heritage collections. We have also used YouTube to see how objects (and the gestures that accompany them) are handled in “real life” performance settings. But museum collections seemed like an obvious go-to place to enhance the discussion.

We often see beautiful ritual objects in museum settings. They are kept with extreme care, and displayed with all the necessary precautions.

Lamp [83.46]: Oil lamp for Hanukkah (Morocco, late 19th century)

Lamp [83.46]: Oil lamp for Hanukkah (Morocco, late 19th century), The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley

 This is what cultural heritage collections do, and at The Magnes we pride ourselves of doing it very well. We take care of allobjects in our collection and we ensure that they are preserved “in perpetuity.” Whether they are indeed “beautiful” is not a primary concern, of course, and we are interested in display any item in the collection if the interest arises.

Tallit Bag, Morocco, ca. 1901-1930

Tallit Bag [75.183.142]: Bag for Yehudah bar Avraham Albo (Morocco, ca. 1901-1930), , The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley

However, some objects are obviously more delicate than others, and need to be handled with extra care. I’ve often heard my registrar colleagues refer to “TLC” in such cases. Brittle paper, parchment, delicate glass, silver objects with tiny little movable parts… Not only all inherently fragile (and old) objects, but anything that “moves,” really, has the potential of breaking. And we cannot allow ourselves to risk breaking anything in the collection.

This necessary attitude towards collection items blends conflicting approaches:  curating with cherishing,  intellectual appreciation with pragmatic object handling guidelines, and emotional attachment with physical detachment. And it is not just an attitude towards the “past,” but rather towards the immediate presence of the (cultural) past.

As a student and an observer of Jewish liturgy and synagogue life, I often wonder about the difference of attitude towards Jewish ritual objects I witness in the “field.” Torah scrolls are meant to be rolled and unrolled, and lifted and raised, and carried around. And their embroidered covers are put on and taken off in a haste, to keep up with the pace of the liturgy and the rhythm of synagogue song. Torah arks are opened, and closed, and opened and closed again and again. And the beautiful curtains that cover them are pulled back and forth, from side to side. Silver cups are filled with wine (or grape juice, which is even stickier), lifted, drank from. Prayer books are leafed through, left open on a synagogue seat while performing other ritual duties. Passover Haggadah books are read during a meal, and are often stained with wine and food. And so on. Actual Jewish life is a museum curator’s nightmare. Or, is it?

I’ve often encountered the idea that the museum world and real life have opposite and conflicting attitudes towards cultural objects. But, in studying Jewish liturgical performance, I am no longer so sure that this paradigm always holds true.

In “actual Jewish life” we also come across special and delicate objects. Ancient prayer books and scrolls, often passed down from generation to generation within a family, are a well-known example. When used in the context of synagogue life, they often generate the “wow” effect of a Stradivari on the concert stage. They are the object of widespread admiration, and they are definitely handled with care. Perhaps not with white cotton gloves, as is the case of museum holdings, but definitely with TLC…

Manuscript [2012.2.1]: Decorated Esther Scroll (Salonika, 18th cent.)

Manuscript [2012.2.1]: Decorated Esther Scroll (Salonika, 18th cent.), The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley. The Magnes recently acquired this manuscript as a gift from Prof. Guy Benveniste (UC Berkeley). It remained in the Benveniste family of Salonika, Greece, for two centuries.

Some of these fragile ritual objects can be very precious, and have great monetary value. Just like some of the objects in museum collections.

A type ritual object that epitomizes the notions of preciousness and fragility is the etrog container.

Etrog Container [76.272.2], 1849-1850 (front view)

Etrog Container [76.272.2], (1849-1850), The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley

These containers, often in the shape of a box, are not only typically precious in their own right, but they are also designed to contain inherently precious (as in rare, and costly) objects: the citrus fruits that are counted as part of the “four species” used (waived, actually) during the liturgy of Sukkot (or Tabernacles; see notes about our recent Sukkot field trip here).

Following rabbinic interpretations (based on the Mishnah and the Talmud, Sukkah), the “Four Species” (a date palm frond, myrtle and willow branches, and an etrog) are typically acquired during the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and, when not locally grown, are often ordered months in advance.

Citrus fruits used on Sukkot are particularly rare items, found in limited quantities on the banks of the Mediterranean, and need to be especially grown, selected, ordered, and exported in time for the beginning of the Festival. At the end of the festival, the fruits are used in culinary recipes, or for their aromatic scent, according to customs that vary throughout the Jewish Diaspora.

Containers have been created throughout the Jewish Diaspora to house one’s etrog for the eight days of the duration of the Festival, so that the fruit can be kept safe when not in use, and thus remain unblemished and usable for ritual purposes. Their shape and materials vary greatly. On occasion, the containers bear inscriptions (generally in Hebrew), including the word etrog and the phrase peri etz hadar (Heb. פרי עץ הדר, “fruit of a beautiful tree,”), derived from Leviticus 23:40. (You can read the rest of my blog post on etrog containers here).

What is interesting to me in the context of ritual performance, is that these containers are not only designed to hold precious and delicate objects: they often are themselves precious and delicate objects. And, when used (I’ve seen some beautiful silver ones used in synagogues in Italy), they are handled with extreme care by their owners. A type of care that is not unlike that applied in a museum context.

Even though most ritual objects are supposed to be created to fulfill a function(see V. Mann above), and thus to be used in the context of ritual performance,  it is their form that bears a direct impact on their use. This is the case of fragile and precious ritual objects described above. Function and form, therefore, may not be the sole categories that allow us to frame the study of Jewish ritual objects. The examination of their performative use may also  yield fruitful  insights on the relationship between ritual and material culture.

A few simple questions then arise while considering ritual objects.

  1. What are the repertoires of materials and forms associated with each specific ritual functions?
  2. Who is allowed to use which ritual objects? (And who isn’t?)
  3. How is the material and form impacting the use of ritual objects? Does the way their users handle them in the course of ritual performance have an impact on the ritual itself?
  4. How is the relationship between form and use negotiated in the course of ritual performance? Is the form of a given object facilitating the performance, or not, or is it “neutral”?

These questions are quite similar to those that we explored in class in relation to the performative dynamics of music in the context of Jewish liturgy.

Sacred Subversion: What Do We Listen To When We Listen to Jewish Music

In the past weeks, we have approached the topic of “Jewish music” according to two parallel paths.

On one hand, we took the very expression, “Jewish music,” as a cultural construct. And we studied who, at different times in history (beginning in the early-modern period, in Europe), has expressed an interest in defining, and therefore “studying,” music in a Jewish context.

We have explored nine or ten competing notions of “Jewish music” that have emerged since the 16th century. These notions include antiquity (the idea that walking into a synagogue is similar to visiting a musical-liturgical “Jurassic Park” of sorts, in which all texts and melodies come by default from the ancient world), nationalism, hybridity, revival, and so on. A hopefully useful summary appeared on our whiteboard, so here it is:

Cultural Agendas and "Jewish Music"

These are notions that compete in defining “Jewish music” in our society. We “hear” them when we hear “Jewish music” and they define the music we listen to for us.

On the other hand, we also analyzed various modes of Jewish musical interaction, focusing on ritual performance in the synagogue. Several concepts have emerged. They are somewhat abstract, since we wanted to look at general forms of interaction, and not at the specificity of each musical “tradition” in the global Diaspora. But they also include some of the most basic form of vocal expression known to humankind:

  1. listen to a solo voice, or sing as a group;
  2. sing, then repeat (responsorial practice) or sing, then sing something different (antiphonal practice);
  3. apply strictly regulated formulas to voicing texts, or leave it up to modal improvisation to do the job, or divide your text sentences in 2-part (or 3-part) units, or associate a text with a “tune” of your choosing…

Here, too, the whiteboard kept a trace of our class conversations:

Music in the Synagogue

Finally, we established the top aspects we are looking for (or listening for) in our study.

Focus on Jewish Music

The last list establishes the “top three” aspects of musical interaction we are focusing on in our study of Jewish liturgy as performance.

  1. We are definitely interested in the materials of music, in what music is made of. We use terms like melody, rhythm, harmony, mode to do this. We also look at “native” (or “pertinent”) terms, used by Jewish musical practitioners, such as nusach (an Ashkenazi notion connected to modality and improvisational formulas, which has been extended beyond the strict realm of Ashkenazi music itself) and maqam (referring to the use of the Arabic and Turkish modal systems within many Jewish communities from the world of Islam).
  2. And we are equally interested in “performative dynamics.” By carefully watching “who” does “what” in the context of Jewish liturgy (who sings what prayers, and who doesn’t; who chooses the music materials; who participates and when, and to what extent, etc.), we connect our close analysis of musical interactions with the symbolic roles of synagogue life as we have examined in previous weeks. What real say does a hazzan (cantor) have over the choice of musical materials? Can a Rabbi stop the singing of a prayer to a popular tune he or she deems inappropriate? Can others also do that?
  3. Finally, we closely watch the multi-faceted relationship that music, as a predominantly oral tradition, entertains with the texts of the liturgy. Are texts and musical materials in perfect alignment with one another? (Some texts are typically associated with multiple melodies: do they all perfectly “fit” with them?). And when they are not, which aspects prevails? Are texts extended or shortened to preserve musical integrity, or, vice-versa, is music adapted to the meter and the length of a particular text? When the melody of a popular song is adapted to a Hebrew prayer text, which of the two will be the object of compromise? Will popular culture prevail over Hebrew liturgy, or not?

In considering these top three aspects of musical interaction within Jewish liturgy, we are thus interested in understanding up close how music acts as a vehicle to express ideas, interpretations, emotions, and more, outside the boundaries of verbal communication. Then, we want to connect music to body language (and ritual objects), and look for how they interact in expressing culture beyond its normative boundaries.

In essence, we are interested in liturgical performance as a platform for the expression of subversive behavior, right at the center of the “sacred.”

Field Trip No. 3: Simchat Torah in Berkeley, California

This coming Tuesday we will be meeting at Congregation Beth Israel, for the third (and last) field trip of the semester and attend part of the services for Simchat Torah (aka the “Rejoicing of the Torah”).

Congregation Beth Israel is located at 1630 Bancroft Way in Berkeley.

IMG_4368

Website: http://www.cbiberkeley.org/

Directions are available here: http://cbiberkeley.org/directions/

As it is the case for the two other congregations we visited previously, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life holds a collection of Congregation Beth Israel records (description available here).

Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel is a Modern-Orthodox congregation. Its original membership was drawn from the First Hebrew Congregation of Berkeley, a congregation that had been meeting at various locations since 1909. In 1924, under the name of the Berkeley Hebrew Center, the congregation erected a building to house “all the Jewish activities.” These activities included the California Alliance of Jewish Women and several Jewish student groups, such as the Menorah Society of the University of California. By the late 1950s, the synagogue served largely social functions. In 1959-1960, young observant Jews re-established Sabbath services and a Hebrew school. In 1961, the congregation selected its first full-time rabbi and changed the name of the synagogue to Beth Israel.

The collection contains correspondence; minutes (1909-1930); bulletins; membership lists; financial records; programs; photographs; newspaper clippings, a handwritten minute book (1940-1943); and a history of the early years of the First Hebrew Congregation and the Berkeley Hebrew Center, which was excerpted from San Francisco’s Emanu-El newspaper.

I plan to be on site at 9:15 (which is when services start), and expect all students to be no late than 9:45. Action will start just then. As we discussed in regards to our previous field trips, you are free to leave according to your class schedule.

The schedule of services is available here: http://cbiberkeley.org/community/dafhashavuah/

At this point, I believe that you should know how to collect information about the Simchat Torah festival (we also encountered this festival, as well as Sukkot, early in the semester, via prints by B. Picart)… right?

Be ready to see a lot of action. The liturgy for this Festival includes the “hakafot” –  dance processionals with the Torah scrolls…

Field Trip No. 2: Sukkot in Berkeley, California

This coming Tuesday we will be meeting at Congregation Netivot Shalom for the second field trip of the semester and attend part of the services for the 2nd Day of Sukkot (aka the Festival of Tabernacles).

P1010231 2012-05-06 LX5 - 0043

Congregation Netivot Shalom is located at 1316 University Avenue in Berkeley.

Website: http://www.netivotshalom.org/

Directions are available here: http://netivottest.org/directions_map

If you are interested in the history of this congregation, do keep in mind that The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life holds a collection of Congregation Netivot Shalom records (description available here).

Congregation Netivot Shalom was founded in 1989 in Berkeley, California as an egalitarian Conservative congregation. Its founding Rabbi was Stuart Kelman.

The collection consists of Congregation Netivot Shalom’s archive from 1989 to 2007. Included are files on congregational buildings, education programs, events, membership, and committees, as well as a full run of the Congregation’s newsletter.

I plan to be on site at 9:30 (which is when services start), and expect all students to arrive no late than 9:45.

At this point, I believe that you should know how to collect information about the Festival of Sukkot (look it up on either Idelsohn’s Jewish Liturgy p. 188ff. and especially p. 201; or on the Encyclopaedia Judaica, to which you have online access).

Earlier in the Semester, we have examined 18th-century depictions of the Festival by B. Picart.

Be ready for some action. The liturgy for this Festival includes the singing of the Hallel and the waving of the “four species” (aka, the “lulav”). More on the etrog (a citrus fruit counted as one of the “four species”) later on…

Finding the Core: Class Project Deadline Coming Up

Dear Class,

As you all know, the deadline for presenting a proposal for your project for Performing Texts is coming up very soon.

Now

Here’s what the Class Syllabus states:

2. Projects will take the form of a combined research paper and class presentation based on the multi-disciplinary approach that characterizes the seminar. Projects will be created in consultation with the instructor (office hours: Thursday 11-Noon or byappointment) during the first part of the semester, and must be selected by Week 6. Presentations can take place any day of class throughout the Semester, after Week 8. Papers are due on November 20.

As we discussed in class, the idea is that you will need to produce a paper (format and length are entirely up to you) and present it to the class. These projects require a core topic, which can be in any of the areas we are discussing during the first half of the seminar (text, music, ritual objects, architecture, body language), and its inter-relations with the other areas of investigation.

I have encouraged you many times to establish your core interest in an area that reflects your “comfort zone,” (if you wish to work on texts, on a particular language of the liturgy, or on music, on on objects, etc., go there first), and than to branch out seeking multi-disciplinary connections.

Example: if my focus is on a given liturgical text, I will not only analyze the text itself for its many inter-textual dimensions, but I will also relate it to the specificity of the liturgy in which the text appears, to select music used in the synagogue by a variety of Jewish community to sound it, to the use of ritual objects that may be connected with it (the prayer book, biblical scrolls, Torah pointers, wine cups, etc.), and of the architectural spaces in which the text is performed…

In order to do so, you need to decide on the general topic of your project. And you need to do that by next Thursday (it’s already week 6 in the Semester!).

I have been disseminating a few hints to some students. Here are some examples:

  • comparing different versions of the same melody (or of the melodic renditions of the same text) among various Jewish communities.
  • researching the role of Judeo-Spanish texts in the liturgy of Western-Sephardic communities
  • a Graduate Student who is taking Performing Texts is working on the symbolic roles of individual synagogue-goers in the context of a congregation he is working at in San Francisco (and contextually examining his own role as an involved participant/observer in carrying out his fieldwork)
  • some students could research “sound objects” that are currently being selected for an upcoming exhibition at The Magnes (Spring 2013)

You can either find the time to come and talk with me (office hours are in the syllabus, but I am of course happy to meet you at other times), or if you are feeling quite secure on what your project should be about, just shoot me an email.

The best would be for all of you to write up a proposal. This does not have to be long (a paragraph? two?), but it should state what you’d like to work on, and what sources you’d like to use (the Syllabus provides you with a wealth of options). Please have it ready by next Thursday, October 4th.

A High Holy Days Time Turner: Harry Potter and Jewish Liturgical Competence

An image showed up in my Facebook feed this past week, and caught my attention. High Holy Days Time Turner

It was posted by my friend and colleague, Aviad Stollman, Judaica Collection Curator at the National Library of Israel, via a Facebook page, Jewish Harry Potter.

As it is often the case in sub-culturally-specific domains, the image interlaces two very distinct areas of knowledge: the Harry Potter saga by J. K. Rawlings, and  the Hebrew liturgy for the Jewish High Holy Days.

In the image, Hermione Granger shares with Harry Potter a “time turner,” a magical objects that allows to travel back in time, as featured in the third volume of the saga, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

But in this context, Hermione says to Harry: “I will bring you back in time by 3 minutes, and this time do not forget [to say] ‘ha-melekh ha-qadosh [the holy King].’” Jewish Hermione’s recommendation requires a more in-depth explanation.

The words, ha-melekh ha-qadosh replace the standard text (ha-el ha-qadosh) of the third benediction of the ‘amidah prayer (the central daily prayer in Jewish liturgy, centered around 18—well, really 19—benedictions, which are reduced to 7 on the Sabbath and on certain holidays) only on the High Holy Days. It is such a slight (yet fundamental) textual variation—the standard text says ha-el ha-qadosh—that is easy to forget it. Hence, the magical “time turner” that allows one to go back in time and fix a liturgical “mistake.”

The change of wording in the High Holy Days ‘amidah prayer is a rather complex feature, which our outdated, yet extremely useful, textbook (Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development, 1932), explains while examining the Services for the High Holy Days (chapter XVI):

The services for the High Holydays [sic] may well be considered the climax of Jewish worship. In them the most important Jewish ideals are expressed: The sovereignty of God over all creatures, the brotherhood of the human family, the revelation of the divine spirit to man, the providence of God, the concept of reward and punishment, the restoration of the Jewish people and the sanctuary in Zion where a center for enlightenment for mankind shall be created. In addition to these ideas, the idea of renouncing one’s own sins, seeking forgiveness, and vowing to lead a clean life is emphasized on the Day of Atonement. […] For these reason, these days are dedicated entirely to worship and meditation. For this purpose, the service was elaborately built up of laudations and prayers, hymns and poems, meditations and petitions. The Talmud already calls attention to the length of the prayers on these days. […]
In accordance with this outline, several prayers are common for both holidays: New Year and the Day of Atonement; while several others are especially for the one or the other day. […] (p. 205)

Idelsohn then describes the “standard prayers” for the High Holy Days:

The standard prayers are elaborated with special insertions in the Amida and with the blowing of the Shofar [ram's horn]. […]
In its structure, the Amida is similar to that of Sabbath and the Festivals; that is, it has seven beneditions of which the three introductory and the three concluding are the same. It has the following insertions: […]
In the third benediction: The following short paragraphs are inserted:
[…]
Qadosh atah — There is only One God and none other.
The passages are important enough to have their translation reproduced:
[…]
“Holy art thou, and dreaded is thy name, and there is no God beside thee, as it is written, And the Lord of hosts is exalted in judgment, and the holy God is sanctified in righteousness. Blessed are thou, O Lord, the holy King.”
The last paragraph used to be recited daily in the old Palestinian ritual, at least the first sentence; while the Babylonian ritual adopted it for the High Holydays [sic] only.
This benediction concludes with hamelekh haqadosh—“The holy King”—instead of with “The holy God” as in the daily prayers. […]
In the Italian and Yemenite rituals, the first sentence of qadosh atah is missing. This version follows that of Maimonides.

An in-depth analysis of the structure of the prayers that compose the Jewish Prayer Book is by default complex, since the structure itself is extremely complex, containing a number of variants which, as we have just read, depend on specific liturgical occasions as well as on the variety of customs across the Jewish Diaspora. At times, it may feel that liturgy is almost too complex

Had Monty Python devoted some of their talents to Jewish liturgy, I am sure we would have some additional fine examples of comedy. Along the following lines.

What fascinates me about the exchange between the Jewish Hermione Granger and the Jewish Harry Potter above is that it takes the quasi-absurd complexity of Jewish liturgy into account. It states how the inner workings of liturgy are not only difficult to analyze, but also extremely difficult to perform, and to commit to memory, by their practitioners. Forgetting what texts to use at a given liturgical time, and trying to remember how to correctly perform them, is part of the liturgical experience itself. By using a time turner, the two characters grant themselves the ability to travel back in time and correct their inevitable mistakes.

Jewish Music: Ten 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 is in the articles by Philip Bohlman and Edwin Seroussi listed here, and in the Syllabus (they were last week’s assignments, so I’m absolutely positive that everyone has already read them carefully). These studies are also reflected in this week’s reading, and 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. This approach was perpetuated in later attempts to write a comprehensive overview of Jewish music from a historical perspective (e.g. Avenary, 1971–2). 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’m scanning through 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. Jewish music as “Musica Haebreorum”: the notion of a “music of the Hebrews (the Jews)” really begins with Christian Humanists and their heirs.

An example I particularly like (also because it has been eminently understudied, so far), and that one can read online, is from Ercole Bottrigari, Il trimerone de’ fondamenti armonici, ouero lo essercitio musicale, giornata terza, 1599 (Source: Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, MS B44, 1-23): Bottrigari specifically addresses “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. (Image source).

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

2. Jewish (musical) antiquity. But whose antiquity really is it?
Venetian composer Benedetto Marcello, and many many more after him, searched for “Jewish musical antiquity.” (You can read more about this topic here).
See a contemporary incarnation of the belief in Jewish musical antiquity by Jordi Savall-Hespèrion XXI, Lavava y suspirava (romance) (Anónimo Sefardí):

3. The Wissenschaft des Judentums (19th cent.) and the invention of “Jewish Music” as a Jewish notion

An interesting byproduct of 19th-century Jewish scholarship was been 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, ‘al naharot bavel (Psalm 137), by The Prophets of the Perfect Fifth (I profeti della quinta)

4. Jewish music as “Music of the Jewish People” (with the related notions of Nationalism & Identity), as found in 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).

5. Jewish music as “Judaism in Music” (an expression made quite popular by Richard Wagner) 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 contribution to the field.
An excellent 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) (note when Larry David whistles “Springtime from Hitler” from the Producers). Link courtesy of my friend Kathleen Wiens (UCLA).

6. Jewish music as “Degenerated Music” and the passion of making lists of “Jewish” composers, compositions, etc., so that music can be purified from their influence.
Well, these 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 will be accessible to interested students as soon as these holdings are transferred to our new facility.

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. In 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”).
An example by Argentinian-Israeli musician, Giora Feidman:

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:

Disclaimer: This entry is cross-posted here.

Synagogue Field Trip #1: The High Holy Days and Popular Culture

This week, we conducted our first field trip of the Semester. The falling of the second day of Rosh Hashanah at the time of class granted us the opportunity of being the participant observers of synagogue life.

Some students travelled home for the Jewish High Holy Days. Others went on a class-organized field trip to Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, we’re services were led by rabbis Yoel Kahn and Ruben Zellman. (Future class field trips will allow us to explore local Conservative and Modern-Orthodox synagogues as well, and there is absolutely no hierarchy in how the field trips were scheduled for the Semester, of course).

As your instructor, I particularly enjoyed “bein”g in the synagogue setting with some of the students in Performing Texts and trying to “take everything in” through students’ eyes and ears.

We will compare notes, and experiences, in class.

While we will focus on the theological aspects of the High Holy Days, as specific occasions of ritual performance, only in the coming weeks, it is probably quite appropriate to introduce them at this time. There is no better way to do it than through the words and music of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet, singer and songwriter. His famous song, Who By Fire (released in 1974, in the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony, is directly based upon the High Holy Days liturgy (we heard the piyyut, Unetaneh toqef, sung during services yesterday morning). So, here you have it:

(One can easily find Cohen’s lyrics online, so no links are provided here. Unetaneh tokef is described in your textbook, and in the Encyclopaedia Judaica: links provided in the class Syllabus).