The 17th-Century Italian Composer Who Wanted Jews to Reclaim Their “Ancient” Musical Tradition

In 1622, the Italian Jewish violinist Salamone Rossi, who worked as a concertmaster in the court of the duke of Mantua, published the first-ever collection of polyphonic Jewish musical compositions. Titled Ha-Shirim asher li-Shlomo (“The Songs That Are of Solomon”), the book contained scores of original choral arrangements for traditional lyrics, written with European musical notation. It also contained a preface by Rabbi Leon Modena, arguing that such singing was appropriate to the synagogue. As Rebecca Cypess explains, not all of Modena’s rabbinic colleagues agreed:

Jews in early modern Italy found professional opportunities and success in the field of music. They performed as instrumentalists and singers; they taught these subjects to both Jews and Christians; they performed in private homes of adherents to both religions; they participated in the busy field of instrument design and creation, also serving as instrument dealers and traders.

Within their own communities, too, Jews cultivated music actively. These “insider” musical activities included the authorship of Hebrew-language treatises on music and the development of traditions of sung poetry and musical theater intended for insider audiences. Nevertheless, in the city of Mantua, Jewish musical theater was so highly prized that the [ruling Gonzaga dynasty] required the Jews to perform musical theater for them annually, and non-Jews sometimes entered the ghetto to experience the art form for themselves. While Rossi’s Shirim clearly display his full integration into the stylistic world of the broader society in which he lived, their Hebrew texts—many of them liturgical, meant to be performed as part of synagogue worship—suggest that they should be understood as an example of such insider-oriented musical innovations.

[However], Rossi’s compositions would seem deeply problematic from a halakhic standpoint. After all, these works adopt not just the musical style of non-Jews, but a whole system of notation and composition that originated in church worship. Yet Modena did not see them in this light. Instead, he went out of his way to frame the entire field of music as a Jewish one. In his understanding, the development of Christian music was a historical anomaly that required correction: music was an ancient Jewish art, one that had been “stolen from the land of the Hebrews.” [Thus] it was time for Jews to reclaim their lost tradition and reassert their primacy in the practice of music.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Italian Jewry, Jewish music, Renaissance

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus