The Origins of Cantorial Music

After the completion of the Babylonian Talmud in the 6th century CE, the heads of the major rabbinic academies of Mesopotamia—scholars known as g’onim—became widely acknowledged as the religious leaders of world Jewry. It was during this period that the term hazan ceased to refer to a synagogue functionary and came to refer to a new kind of prayer leader, who distinguished himself by singing hymns. Tamar Marvin explains this transition:

A central factor was the continued decline of Hebrew knowledge among laypeople. . . . Earlier, the Shabbat experience at synagogues was defined by the delivery of formal sermons, some of which are preserved, many in altered form, in the classical homiletical Midrash collections. Now, congregants evidently began to prefer piyyut (liturgical poetry) in place of the sermon—not because it was more understandable but because it was pleasantly sung.

In concert with these developments, there was the push of late Roman policy, which under the Christian emperors Theodosius and Justinian limited or outright persecuted pagans, Jews, and other religious minorities. In particular, Justinian’s Novella 146, issued in 553, dictated that Jews were to use Greek as the language of [sermons], an attempt to undercut the interpretive translation of Hebrew, which congregations could largely no longer understand, as well as the Oral Tradition upon which the interpretations relied. The limitations put in place by Novella 146 may have spurred the development of piyyut with its unique ability to convey midrashic interpretations in sung form that [would not] contravene Justinian’s legislation.

Read more at Beyond the Music

More about: Jewish history, Jewish music, Piyyut, Synagogues

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy