How the Printing Press Changed the Role of the Cantor

Before Johannes Gutenberg’s famous invention, books were rare and precious items. Thus any given synagogue would have no more than a few holiday prayerbooks. Most literate Jews might know the daily liturgy more or less by heart, but the recital of special holiday prayers was solely the province of the cantor. Matt Austerklein, drawing on a 17th-century Yiddish text, explains how this changed:

Whereas only the cantor had access to handwritten prayerbooks in the medieval period, the age of printing now turned everyone into a cantor. Common people could finally read the words (which they could pronounce, but perhaps not understand), and this created a cacophony above which the cantor simply cannot be heard.

This change ultimately subverted the entire purpose of the cantor’s specialization, which is to express the prayers with understanding and devotion, and to relieve others of their obligation to do so. This vocal empowering of the congregation also potentially drove other musical innovations, including an observable increase in volume (particularly in Eastern Europe) and specialized musical forms which could be heard above the din of siddur-carrying Semites.

Read more at Beyond the Music

More about: Cantors, 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