Resounding ritual time and place: Psalm 126 in the German-Jewish tradition

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Abstract

Within the domestic practice of German Jews, festive (Psalm 126, The Song of Ascents) melodies-sung as a prelude to the Grace after Meals-were part of a complex system of signification in which each tune represented a specific time in the liturgical cycle. This semiotic system, which could occur only in homogeneous communities in which the cyclical repetition of rituals regulated Jewish life, took advantage of music's ability to sanctify and mark ritual time and to place the individual in a precise seasonal mindset. Since these domestic melodies echoed the seasonal leitmotifs present in German-Jewish liturgy, a mobility of performance spaces was closely linked to this rite, moving between synagogue and home, between public liturgy and the particularities of domestic para-liturgy. For this reason, the melodies of "The Song of Ascents" are not only signifiers of time, but-particularly after displacement-they can also be seen as signifiers of place, or more accurately as signifiers of a certain liturgical time in a specific location. After the Holocaust, with those who had the key to the "The Song of Ascents" code dispersed around the globe, only traces of what once was an intricate musical system was left. In Israel, singing the text of "The Song of Ascents" which recalled the wish for redemption, set to tunes which paradoxically resounded the memory of German Jews' particular exile, memorialized their lost family home, no less than invoking a specific ritual time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-254
Number of pages32
JournalHebrew Studies
Volume60
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Association of Professors of Hebrew. All rights reserved.

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