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The Music Of Caucasus Jews Essay

1973 words - 8 pages

The Jewish religion and its people are among are among the most ancient in the

world, dating as far back as 5.000 years The Jewish total world's population is

considerably small comparing to the whole world's population. Jews never had a place or

a country where they could live as a nation; they have been scattered all over the world

and have been influenced by almost every culture and nation. Yet the following questions

arise: how has this nation survived and why didn't it disappear or get assimilated. The

ability to remain loyal to their faith, spiritual culture and thought is what made them resist

over the centuries. They created communities, built schools, synagogues and centers to

practice religion, study the language and celebrate holidays. Music being used in prayers,

songs for holidays and on occasions of mass gathering and religious celebrations such as

Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and weddings, unifies Jews and plays a significant role in their life.

But what is Jewish music and how can we approach the study of it? According to

Amnon Shiloah, Jewish musical tradition is "musical tower of Babel." Anyone can

experience "a simultaneous panorama of sound" when passing the Western Wall, a

remnant of Jerusalem's Temple. On Friday evenings groups of worshippers gather before

the Wall, "all singing the same Shabbat prayer texts, but using many different melodies.

All are simultaneously performing the same fundamental ritual: welcoming the Shabbat

at exactly the same hour, expressing the same feelings, experiencing the same emotions.

Only melodies differ, expressing a whole spectrum of musical styles."

Abraham Z. Idelsohn, the pioneer of Jewish ethnomusicalogical research, defines Jewish

music as "the song of Judaism through the lips of the Jew" and as "tonal expression of

Jewish life and development over two thousand years." So we see that Jewish

-1-
music differs from community to community and should be studied separately within

each community rather than as a single conception.

According to the geographical distribution of the Jewish communities from the 16th

century until WWI, Jews were divided into different ethnic groups. The main division is

between Ashkenazi(originally from Germany and France, and who spread to eastern

Europe after the 15th century) and Sephardic(who settled in the Ottoman Empire or who

remained in the Middle East or spread to the Arabian Peninsula, the Caucasus, Central

Asia and India).

My study concerns the Jews who belong to Sephardic ethnic group and also known as

Caucasus or "Mountain" Jews. They lived in Iran for a long time and then, trying to

escape persecution, moved to Caucasus and settled in the small villages of the Atlas

Mountains (that's why they are called "the Mountain Jews"). Despite the conditions they

have been living in, the Caucasus Jews have remained loyal to their religion and culture,

have observed traditions and customs and kept their language, Farsi (the influence of
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