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

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy