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 performative nexus between text and music that emerges in the context of synagogue life opens the investigation to a variety of social and anthropological aspects of Jewish liturgy. Synagogue rituals are both structured communal performances dictated by religious authority, and arenas for the public display of variegated social issues, such as power relations, aesthetic sensibilities, and attitudes towards the “other,” often well outside the synagogue and the Jewish communal sphere.

In this seminar we will work hands-on with written texts, orally transmitted music, printed and manuscript music scores, ritual objects, visual sources, synagogue architectural plans, and observe the choreography of the ritual, examining primary and secondary sources and conducting field trips to complement our research on the performance/enactment of these dimensions within the dynamic context of synagogue life.

The seminar is intended for students with particular interests in music, Jewish studies, literature, ethnography and anthropology, and leverages the resources brought to UC Berkeley with the establishment of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

(PDF of Syllabus)


1. Required Book

Idelsohn, Abraham Zvi, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development (1932), New York, Dover 1995 (BM 660 .I14
2. Encyclopedias

3. Reading Assignments (PDFs on bSpace; ebooks on ebrary, etc.)

Alvarez-Pereyre, Frank. “Towards an Interdisciplinary Study of Jewish Oral Traditions,” in Jewish Oral Traditions – An Interdisciplinary. Approach, ed. by I. Adler, F. Alvarez-Pereyre, E. Seroussi and L. Shalem Yuval VI/1994: 11-33 (bSpace)

Avenary, Hanoch. “The Aspects of Time and Environment in Jewish Traditional Music,” Israel Studies in Musicology 4 (1987): 93–123 (bSpace)

Biale, David ed. Cultures of the Jews: A New History,New York, Schocken Books 2002 (ebrary)

Feldman, Walter Zev. “The Transformation of Klezmer Dance Genre: Bulgareasca, Bulgarish, Bulgar.” Ethnomusicology 38/I (Winter 1994): 1-36 (JSTOR)

Feuchtwanger-Sarig, Naomi. ‘May He Grow to the Torah…’: The Iconography of Torah  Reading and Bar Mitzvah on Ashkenazi Torah Binders, in Ruth Langer and Steven Fine eds. Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue: Studies in the History of Jewish Prayer, Winona Lake, Ind., Eisenbrauns 2005: 161-176 (bSpace)

Frigyesi, Judit. “Preliminary Thoughts toward the Study of Music without Clear Beat: The Example of ‘Flowing Rhythm’ in Jewish ‘Nusah,’” Asian Music 24.2 (Spring–Summer 1993): 59–88 (JSTOR)

Heilman, Samuel C. Synagogue Life. A Study in Symbolic Interaction, The University of Chicago Press 1976 (repr. 1998) (bSpace)

Hesser, Garry and Andrew J. Weigert. “Comparative Dimensions of Liturgy: A Conceptual Framework and Feasibility Application,” Sociological Analysis 41/3 (Autumn, 1980): 215-229 (JSTOR)

Hoffman, Jeffrey, “Akdamut: History, Folklore, and Meaning,” Jewish Quarterly Review 99/2 (Spring 2009): 161-183 (MUSE)

Horowitz, Elliott. “The Eve of the Circumcision. A Chapter in the History of Jewish Nightlife,” Journal of Social History, XXIII/1989: 45-70 (JSTOR)

Katsman, Roman. “Gestures Accompanying Torah Learning/Recital Among Yemenite Jews” Gesture 7/1 (2007): 1-19 (bSpace)

Levine, Lee I. The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years, Yale University Press, New Haven 2000 (ebrary)

Lieber, Laura S. “The Rhetoric of Participation: Experiential Elements of Early Hebrew Liturgical Poetry,” The Journal of Religion 90/2 (April 2010): 119-147 (JSTOR)

Mann, Vivian B. “Art and Material Culture of Judaism—Medieval through Modern Times,” Encyclopaedia of Judaism, General Editors Jacob Neusner , Alan J. Avery-Peck and William Scott Green, Brill, 2006

Sarna, Jonathan D. “Jewish Prayers for the United States Government: A Study  in the Liturgy of Politics and the Politics of Liturgy”  in Ruth Langer and Steven Fine eds. Liturgy in the Life of the Synagogue: Studies in the History of Jewish Prayer, Winona Lake, Ind., Eisenbrauns 2005: 205-224 (bSpace)

Seroussi, Edwin. “Music: The ‘Jew’ of Jewish Studies” Jewish Studies 46/2009: 3-84

Vitz, Evelyn Birge. “Liturgy as Education in the Middle Ages” in Medieval education, edited by Ronald B. Begley and Joseph W. Koterski, New York, Fordham University Press 2005: 20-34 (ebrary)

4.  Musical Sources (mp3 files on bSpace)

An invitation to Piyut

Hazanout, Inédit – Maison des Cultures du Monde, Paris 1989 W260005

Musical Traditions in Israel: Treasures of the National Sound Archives, Jerusalem 1999

Jerusalem in Hebrew Prayer and Song, GEMA CD 66.21201

5. Additional resources used in class

Make sure you use the UC Berkeley Library help pages (including the guidelines for accessing electronic resources from Off Campus) and that you have full access to the following resources:

A Song of Dawn: The Jerusalem Sephardi Baqqashot at the Har Tzyion Synagogue, Essica Marks ed.  Jerusalem 2007 AMTI CD 0701

An Early 20th-Century Sephardi Troubadour. The Historical Recordings of Haim Effendi of Turkey, Edwin Seroussi and Rivka Havassi eds., Jerusalem 2008 AMTI CD 0801

Italian Jewish Musical Traditions: The Recordings of Leo Levi (1954-1961), Francesco Spagnolo ed., Rome-Jerusalem 2001, AMTI CD 0102

Jewish Music Between East and West, program notes by Jan Radzynski and Edwin Seroussi, Melton Center for Jewish Studies at the Ohio State University, 2003

Jüdische Lebenswelten – Patterns of Jewish Life, Schott Wergo 1993, SM  1602-2

Mysteries of the Sabbath – Classic Cantorial Recordings: 1907-1947, Henry Sapoznik ed., Shanachie 1994, Yazoo 7002

Oh, Lovely Parrot! – Jewish Women’s Songs from Kerala, Barbara C. Johnson ed., Jerusalem 2004, AMTI CD 0403

Sacred Music of the Moroccan Jews, collected by Paul Bowles, Edwin Seroussi ed., Rounder Records 2000, 82161-5087-2

Synagogal Music in the Baroque, Vol. 1, Jerusalem 1991, AMTI CD 9101, and Vol. 3, Israel Adler ed., Jerusalem 1996, AMTI CD 9601

The Hasidic Nigun as Sung by the Hasidim, Yaakov Mazor ed., Jerusalem 2004, AMTI CD 0402

The Western Sephardi Liturgical Tradition, Edwin Seroussi ed., Jerusalem 2004, AMTI CD 0401

With Songs they Respond: The Diwan of the Jews from Central Yemen, Avner and Naomi Bahat eds., Jerusalem 2007, AMTI CD 0601

Discussion and Reading Schedule

Refer to the Course Requirements (nos. 1-4) to prepare for class according to the following schedule. Listening assignments will be provided in class each week (for the following week), indicating the individual tracks required. While listening to music files from CDs, it is important to read the accompanying liner notes (available on bSpace).


Course Topics




A multidisciplinary approach to Jewish liturgy: Texts, music, objects, architecture & body language

Visit Magnes exhibitions; become familiar with syllabus, bSpace & course resources

Part I: From Written Text to Synagogue Life. Sources & Methodologies

Week 18/28-30 

The Setting

Synagogues & what happens in them

  • Levine, Ch. 1: “Introduction” p. 1-17
  • Heilman, Ch. 6-7: “The Cast of Characters” p. 63-127; and “Singing, Swaying, Appeals, and Arguments” p. 211-220
Week 29/4-6 

The Background

The study of Jewish liturgy. Historical sources, varying approaches

  • Idelsohn: “Introductory Notes” p. xi-xix; and Part I, p. 3-70
  • EJ: Liturgy(Vol 13: 131-139)
    • Hesser and Weigert (p. 215-218)
Week 39/11-13

Languages & Texts

  • Jewish Languages Research Website (focus on Hebrew, Jewish Aramaic, Judeo-Spanish, and Yiddish)
  • EJ: Bible (overview of article, and sections on “Canon” and “Text” Vol. 3: 572-589); Talmud (Vol. 19: 469, and links to: Mishnah Vol 14: 319-323; Gemara Vol. 7: 423; Babylonian Talmud Vol. 19: 470)
Week 49/18

The Forms of Liturgy

Class Field Trip: Meet at Congregation Beth El (Berkeley) to attend services for the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah (New Year)

  • Idelsohn Ch. 8: “Daily Public Prayers” (p. 73-121)
  • EJ: Kaddish (Vol.  11: 695-698) & Piyyut (Vol. 16: 192-209)
Week 49/20

The Forms of Liturgy

  • Vitz
Week 59/25-27 

Sounds & Music in the Synagogue

Ideas and Methods in the study of “Jewish music”

  • Grove: Jewish Music(sections I: Introduction, and III: Liturgical and Paraliturgical)
  • Alvarez-Pereyre
Week 610/2

Sounds & Music in the Synagogue

Class Field Trip: Meet at Congregation Netivot Shalom (Berkeley) to attend services for the Second Day of Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles)

  • Grove: Jewish Music (sections I: Introduction, and III: Liturgical and Paraliturgical)
Week 610/4

Sounds & Music in the Synagogue

Ideas and Methods in the study of “Jewish music”Reminder: finalize project topic!

  • Lieber
Week 710/9

Space & Architecture

Class Field Trip: Meet at Congregation Beth Israel (Berkeley) to attend services for Simchat Torah

  • EJ: Synagogue (section on Architecture Vol. 19: 364-383)
Week 710/11 

Space & Architecture

Week 810/16-18

Objects, Gestures (& Body Language)

  • Mann
  • Katsman

Part II: Performance Contexts & Research Perspectives  

Week 910/23-25

The Normative: Shabbat & the Jewish Week

Note:Class presentations begin

  • Idelsohn, Ch. 10-11 (p. 128-157)
  • Frigyesi

Week 10


The Innovative: FestivalsPassover, Shavu’ot, Sukkot, Purim, Hanukkah
  • Idelsohn Ch. 12 (p. 158-165) and 15 (p. 188-204)
  • Hoffman

Week 11


Staging Jewish Identity: The High Holy Days
  • Idelsohn Ch. 16 (p. 205-249)
  • Avenary

Week 12


Co-territoriality: The Jewish Life CycleBrit Milah | Bar Mitzvah | Wedding
  • Idelsohn Ch. 13 (p. 166-172)
  • One of the following: Feldman, Horowitz, or Feuchwanger-Sarid

Week 13


Liturgy of the PoliticalNote: Submit papers by November 20— Happy Thanksgiving! (no class on 11/22)
  • EJ: French Revolution (Vol. 7: 252-257) and/or Emancipation (Vol. 6: 374-386)
  • Sarna

Week 14


“Jewish music,” revisited
  • Seroussi
  • Biale, Preface: xvii-xxxiii

Week 15

Reading & Recitation Week No new assignments

TUESDAY, December 11
Final Exam: The Magnes (3-6pm)  

One response to “Syllabus

  1. Pingback: The Unfinal | Performing Texts: Music, Liturgy & Jewish Life

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