“After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture” by Ammiel Alcalay

A landmark work on the vital importance of Levantine culture throughout the ages, not only on the development of Judaism but on all of Europe, Africa and Asia, and thus the entire course of modern history. -JB

From the U. of Minnesota Press website: By exposing the rich and diverse textual and cultural legacy of this time and space, Alcalay reassesses the exclusion of Semitic culture in Europe from the perspective of contemporary Arabic culture and opposing images of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This book will compel a revision of Jewish studies by placing contemporary Israeli culture within its Middle Eastern context and the terms of colonial, postcolonial, and multicultural discourse.

“In discussing Juan Goytisolo, Ammiel Alcalay writes of ‘the kind of internal and external attack on received ideas that can radically realign the past, snap it back into an entirely different focus.’ This is precisely his own accomplishment in After Jews and Arabs, a passionate and fervently erudite revision of Levantine culture. Alcalay’s Levant is a roomy mansion of letters, an exemplification of Adonis’s line ‘Only poetry knows how to marry this space.’ Armed with his faith in art, Alcalay ranges from the Inquisition to Franco, from Damascus to Andalusia to today’s Jerusalem, redefining the study of Mediterranean culture. Like a scholarly Edmond Jabes, he uses his imagination to leap borders. By the end of this book, his first, he succeeds in dismantling ‘those bloated signifiers “Arab” and “Jew”’ and returning to all of us what we can now in all frankness and without shame be called Levantine writing and Levantine art.” —Voice Literary Supplement

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The Jews of medieval Toledo

(Source: Toledo Travel Guide)

Some historians have said that the Hebrews came to Toledo when they were dispersed through the world after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem. They are said to have given the city the name THOLEDOTH, meaning «City of the Generations», since it was peopled by members of the twelve tribes of Israel. Similarly, a number of towns in the Toledo district took their names from places in Israel; for example, ACECA, which in Hebrew means «Strong house»; ESCALONA, from Askelon, of the tribe of Simeon; MAQUEDA, from Maceda, of the tribe of Judah; YEPES, from Joppa, of the tribe of Dan; LAYOS from Lachish, of Judah; and NOVÉS, from Nové, of Benjamin.

In later times, one tradition states that the Jews of Toledo were consulted as to whether the sentence of death pronounced against Jesus was right, and that they sent a firm reply in the negative.

What can be asserted on a strictly historical basis is that they were in Toledo during the first centuries of Christianity, for some minutes of the famous Councils of Toledo speak of them, and even assign them a special quarter to dwell in, which is still knows as the Judería… Continue reading

Ezekiel: Source of Jewish Mysticism?

(Book of Ezekiel)
Chapter 1
(from the JPS translation)

NOW IT came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of G-d.
In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity,
the word of HaShem came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of HaShem was there upon him.

And I looked, and, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire flashing up, so that a brightness was round about it; and out of the midst thereof as the colour of electrum, out of the midst of the fire.
And out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a man.
And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings.
And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and as for the faces and wings of them four,
their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. Continue reading

Al Andaluz Project: “Música i cants sefardis d’orient i occident”

(Review courtesy of Rootsworld)

Amán Amán (L’Ham de Foc) Música i cants sefardis d’orient i occident Galileo

Al Andaluz Project (L’Ham de Foc and Estampie)
Deus et diabolus
Galileo (www.galileo-mc.com)

From Valencia, L’Ham de Foc approaches the Sephardic repertoire by turning east, exploring how the traditional repertoire changed as it moved from the Iberian Peninsula in the post-1492 diaspora, taking on new life in the exile communities of Sofia, Thessalonica, Istanbul, and Izmir. There is no shortage of contemporary Sephardic recordings, but the present work turns away from a certain slavish celebration of an imagined medieval multicultural sound toward a living if lesser-known Levantine tradition, complemented by instrumentation of the region (ud, tanbur, cümbüs, kopuz, santur, kemençe, various flutes, and percussion). Hence, alongside “Sien drahmas al día,” the opening dance from Smyrna (a 9/8 karsilama rhythm divided in 2/2/2/3), or the hybrid “La galena y el mar” (one of many Sephardic wedding songs, a Salonika processional sung as the bride is led to her ritual bath, here with original lyrics over a Bulgarian melody), the early 20th-century Turkish curcuna (a 10/8 rhythm divided 3/2/2/3), or the Sofia lullaby “Durme,” come more familiar Sephardic songs such as “El Rey Nimrod” and “Los guisados de la berenjena” (seven ways to prepare eggplant), albeit with a decidedly eastern modal makam feel. This is the spirit ofAman, Aman, a phrase-common to many eastern Mediterranean languages-that expresses surprise, longing, or lovesickness. Notes are in Ladino, Spanish, German, and English, with lyrics in Ladino.

The Al Andaluz Project unites L’Ham de Foc with Estampie, the Munich group led by Michael Popp, better known for its dedication to medieval music. Beginning with informal collaboration based on mutual interest in older repertoires, the ensembles first shared the stage at the July 2006 Landshut Hofmusiktage festival, a performance recorded and broadcast live by Bavarian state radio. As heard on Deus et Diabolus, they followed with a November 2006 studio session at the Dominican monastery of La Cartuja de Cazalla, near Sevilla. In the spirit of Moorish Iberia, three superb female singers interpret medieval Sephardic, Arabic, and Christian traditions: Sigrid Hausen (who also plays flute), L’Ham de Foc’s Mara Aranda, and Iman al Kandoussi, singing variously in Ladino, Spanish, and Arabic. Estampie’s Popp (ud, saz, violin, production), Ernst Schwindl (hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa), and Sascha Gotowtshikow (percussion) join L’Ham’s Efrén López (ud, saz, rabab, hurdy gurdy, production), Aziz Samsaoui (quanun), and Diego López (percussion). Contrast the lively drone and glorious vocal harmonies of the Christian song “A virgen mui groriosa” (one of three songs dedicated to Santa María) with the driving call-and-response of Arabic-Andalusian songs like “Nassam alaina lhawa” for a sense of this recording’s enchanting range. Notes are in Spanish, German, and English. – Michael Stone