Monday, February 20, 2017

Ancient Synagogues of Israel: Bar’am

 UnEarthing History

Kfar Bar’am (כְּפַר בַּרְעָם‎; village of Bar’am): The synagogue, in the eastern upper Galilee (between kibbutz Sasa and moshav Dovev), is located on rolling hills only three kilometers from the border with Lebanon. Dating to the second century CE, it is situated within the ancient site of Kfar Bar’am. The entrance is directed southward toward Jerusalem, common to the many synagogues in the area. One Jewish site describes this place as “the most beautiful old synagogue in Israel.” Geography and age both play a part, no doubt, as does its history, the same site notes: “Bar’am was a Jewish village in Mishnaic and Talmudic times. Perhaps building a village at this deserted location was maybe inspired by a legend that Queen Esther was buried in Bar'am. On Purim, the Scroll of Esther (Megillah) was read at her grave. […] The large synagogue also has an inscription, which can be found under the right window on the facade: ‘Banahu Elazar bar Yodan’. This is Aramaic for the name of the builder. The synagogue is made of basalt stone. The main feature is a hall with rows of six columns. They supported a roof, of which parts lie scattered in the park. The front courtyard also used to be covered and enhanced by a triangular pediment.” Bar’am is now situated in a national park.
Photo Credit: MASQUERAID; 2009
Source: Wikipedia

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: An Introduction

“Happy is the man…”

Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

I have been called a curmudgeon more than a few times in my life, including by my family. I take no offense and am happy to wear this label of judgment. It is no small matter to be a man of contrary views and tastes, especially at a time when people both offer opinions freely and disdain those that they find disagreeable and offensive. It does not take much to be offended today, which is not especially perplexing when one considers that “tolerance” is taught in schools at the same time that it is not.

Judgments are allowed as long as they are the correct judgments enforced by the Identitarians, the officers and gatekeepers of the New Philistines, who alone decide what ideas need be disseminated in the world of Art & Culture. In identity politics, there are no individuals, no musings on the merits of the human spirit, but only groups, especially and perhaps most essential to its growth, aggrieved unhappy groups.

Yes, there is a moral sense to it, but without thousands of years of religious and ethical thought and experience to support its edicts and moral pronouncements of right and wrong. More like a few decades, starting in the 1960s. It is as if we have glibly and eagerly thrown the essentials of western civilization into the “trash bin of history”: Beauty, Truth, Religion, The Arts, Literature.

Such briefly describes the strange and confusing world in which millennials have inherited and now take part in with a measure of both faith and fear—confronting a western culture now progressing in large part by organized “moral outrage”—which is what occurs when you let go of the past too quickly without planning well for its future. One could call it a hyper-Evolution, but I wouldn’t. Neither would I call this progress.

It seems, however, that a good number of millennials are not happy with the direction taken by western civilization. There is worry and anxiety and gnashing of teeth. This is bound to happen; it always does when things go too far. The centre cannot hold. [Hint: read Yeats; “The Second Coming,“ 1919.]

I am more than happy as a Baby Boomer born in the late 1950s to offer a few judgments on the state of Western Civilization: on its inadequacies, on its limitations and on its absurdities. That’s what we curmudgeons do: see what is missing and point this out to others. I will post such thoughts, such opinions, such views from time to time, only as I see fit and only as I am so inclined. Usually on Fridays. It will be under the banner of “The Happy Curmudgeon.”

Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ancient Synagogues of Israel: Capernaum

UnEarthing History

Capernaum Synagogue (כְּפַר נַחוּם): Capernaum translates in Hebrew to Nahum’s village (Kfar Nahum), but without apparent reference to the biblical prophet of this name. This synagogue dates to as early as the fourth century C.E., and it is likely built atop an older structure that dates to the Second Temple period, to around the first century C.E.  A fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum is mentioned in the New Testament. As for this particular synagogue, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs writes the following “The synagogue of Capernaum was an impressive structure. Built of large, white limestone blocks from the hills of Galilee west of the town, it stood out among the buildings of grey basalt surrounding it. The synagogue was built on a platform, two meters above the houses of the town, and separated from it by streets on all four sides. Oriented north-south, it had a decorated, southern façade towards Jerusalem. The synagogue consisted of a prayer hall (20.5 x 18.5 m.), a courtyard to the east (20.5 x 11 m.) and an entrance porch (4 m. wide), running along the façade of the entire building. Staircases, on both sides of the entrance porch, led to the synagogue. The prayer hall was reached from the courtyard by a single entrance. All parts of the synagogue were paved with large, thick slabs of smoothed limestone.”
Photo Credit: David Shankbone; December 2007
Source: Wikipedia

Sea of Galilee (or Yam Kinneret; יָם כִּנֶּרֶת‎) is a large freshwater lake in northern Israel with a circumference of 53 km (33 mi) and an area of 166.7 km² (64.4 square miles). In this photo are wooden longboats near the city of Tiberias (or Tveria; טְבֶרְיָה‎), which is about 20 km (12 mi) south of Capernaum.
Photo Credit: Staselnik, 2013
Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A February Day in Toronto (2017)


A Walk in the Snow: Sarah and I took a walk earlier today, around noon, passing by the park near where we reside. It might not have been a good day to drive, with total snow accumulation of 15 cm (or 6 in.) in the forecast for today, but it was a lovely day for a walk. The temperature was rather mild, at –3°C (or 27°F), which is slightly below the average of –1.6°C (29.1°F) for Toronto at this time of the year.
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Trees of Winter: On Friday February 10, after sundown, began the one-day Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat—a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees. I like trees and what they represent to humanity, including the ability to withstand the harshest of climates while staying erect, as these evergreens at the park near us do. While all trees do their part, there are a number of famous trees named in Judaism; the most famous and greatest one is The Tree of Life (Etz Chayim; עץ חיים), mentioned in the biblical Book of Genesis (2:9), standing in the centre of the Garden of Eden.
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Modern Ketubah

Marriage Contract

Cosmic Ketubah: When Jews get married in a Jewish ceremony, a ketubah (כְּתוּבָּה; “written thing”), a document under Jewish civil law that spells out the obligations of the husband to the wife, is read out under the chuppah (חוּפָּה‎‎; bridal canopy) as part of the marriage ceremony. It is a document that is signed by two witnesses. Such explains an ancient biblical tradition that has long been a part of Judaism. The traditional ketubah is written not in Hebrew but in Aramaic, “the technical legal language of Talmudic law” one prominent Jewish site says. Modern ketubahs or ketubot, (the plural form in Hebrew) reflect modern sensibilities, incorporating not only modern language but also modern images, as this planetary-looking ketubah shows. Jacob Kamaras writes (“Elaborate ketubah designs mean Jewish marriage contract not merely transactional;” February 9, 2017) for “Yet increasingly, today’s ketubah designs are anything but dry and transactional. Going beyond placing a plain document in a basic picture frame, or using common designs such as a view of Jerusalem or the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, ketubah artists and consumers alike are developing more elaborate and personalized tastes.” Yet, as much as this is so, the essential meaning remains the same.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ancient Synagogues of Israel: Migdal

Unearthing History

Migdal Synagogue: The Israel Antiquities Authority writes in September 2013 about the discovery of one of the oldest known synagogues in Israel, which was unearthed in Migdal (מִגְדָּל‎; also called Magdala), located on the western shore of Lake Kinneret (יָם כִּנֶּרֶת‎; also called the Sea of Galilee), the lowest freshwater lake in the world; the site is about 7 km north of Tiberias: “A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE–100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.” Among other important findings are a mikveh (מִקְוֶה; ritual immersion bath) and walls decorated with brightly colored frescoes.
Photo Credit: Avram Graicer, 2013
Source: Wikipedia

Friday, February 3, 2017

Salamone Rossi’s ‘Songs of Solomon’

Sacred Hebrew Music

Source: Youtube

The Kuhn Chamber Soloists and Symposium Musicum, under the direction of Pavel Kühn [1938–2003], perform songs from Salamone Rossi’s Songs of Solomon. This is part of a two-CD set, which was released by Panton of the Czech Republic in 1995. It was recorded at Martinek-Studio in Prague, March 24–26 (nos. 1-19), and May 3 and 5, 1994 (nos. 20-33).

Salomone Rossi [1570–1630] was a Jewish violinist and composer employed as concertmaster in the Italian court of Mantua from 1587 to 1628. This collection of Jewish liturgical music—(השירים אשר לשלמה) Ha-shirim asher li-Shlomo, The Songs of Solomon—was published later in life, in 1623. What is unique about this sacred music is that it is performed entirely in the Baroque tradition with no known connection to cantorial tradition and that the biblical “Song of Solomon” does not appear at all in the musical lyrics.

Even so, Marsha B. Edelman, Professor of Music and Education at Gratz College (Melrose Park, Pennsylvania), writes that Rossi did so with the approval of Rabbi Leon (Judah Aryeh) Modena:
Rossi’s great claim to Jewish musical fame came with his publication in 1623 of Ha-Shirim Asher li-Shelomo, a collection of 33 Psalms, hymns, and other liturgical poems set for combinations of from three to eight voices and intended for use on festive synagogue occasions. In publishing these works, Rossi relied heavily on the endorsement of his friend Rabbi Leon (Judah Aryeh) Modena. Modena (1571-1648) had issued a responsum [a rabbinic ruling] in 1605 that, after years of prohibition, provided halakhically [legally] derived approval for the performance of choral works in the synagogue. Modena’s own choir at his synagogue in Ferrara seems to have established a precedent. But how did the music sound?
Beautiful and uplifting, elevating you to a place of numinousness and transcendence, which should not surprise you given that Rossi has been called the spiritual descendant of King David; and yet his contribution to Jewish music was not acknowledged or imitated after his death. Perhaps, it was too much against established and accepted conventions; perhaps Rossi was a man ahead of his time. Were it not for the fortunate discovery of his partbooks in the 19th century, we might not be enjoying Rossi’s  interpretation of sacred Jewish music today. It would take until the second half of the 20th century before his music would be performed in Reform synagogues.

Some Excerpts:
1-1: Qadish
1-3: Bar’ku
1-7: Q’dusha (Keter)
1-8: Elohim Hashivenu
1-12 Shir hamma’alot, ashrei kol y’re adonai
1-16: Qadish: version 2