Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dancing on Yom Kippur

Gershom Gorenberg has a wonderful article at South Jerusalem on Yom Kippur: Hiya Judge: On Dancing Yom Kippur. He writes about the difference in the melancholy melodies sung at an Ashkenazi Yom Kippur service versus the joyous melodies at a Sephardi service that he experienced in Bangkok years ago. He hazards a guess as to why this ethnic difference exists:
Anyway, I mentioned this story a week or so ago to a friend learned in Jewish history. “That’s the difference between people whose neighbors opposed their existence and people who were accepted as – even if second class – members of society.”

I wouldn’t want to attribute all the differences in Ashkenazi and Sephardi culture to the gap between how Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East related to Jews. But I’d guess that it is one key reason. As I noted last year in an article on anti-gentile prayers that worked their way into Jewish liturgy and that should be removed:

Hebrew University historian Israel Yuval says that traditional liturgical attacks “are always against Christianity,” and are found in Ashkenazi prayers, not Sephardi ones. The rage reflects theological battles with Christianity, which claimed the Bible as its own and argued that Jews suffered in exile because God had ended the covenant with them. The Jewish response was a stress on “vengeful redemption”—looking forward to a conclusion of history in which the power relations were reversed, the Christians destroyed.

While there were ups and downs in Jewish-gentile relations in both the Christian and the Islamic worlds, Jewish liturgy itself bears testimony that Jews felt that their lives were far more precarious among the Christians. Recently, in the midst of contemporary nonsense about the “Clash of Civilizations,” some rightwing Jews have made a habit of arguing that things were as bad or worse for Jews among the Muslims. The psychological record of the prayerbook says otherwise.

May you have a joyous Yom Kippur.

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