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

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security