Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ashkenazi vs Sefaradi follow up

In concluding response to Shoshana from Maine's comment on my "I prayed on Shabbat!" post:

First I want to say though, that I harbor no strife towards any Jew; all our ideals (though they be many) are legitimate. I just state my opinions.

And about what I said before about Ashkenazi prayer, I think I left a few things out; you see; Brooklyn has a very large Syrian Jewish community that rivals the Ashkenazi ones. Generally the Ashkenazim around here are from eastern Europe and are VERY traditional (there is a small minority Ashkenazi non-ultra orthodox), whereas the Syrians are generally sort of what can be considered 'modern orthodox' (most don't wear 'kipot' or the like outdoors, and are very involved in secular matters), but ALL have a deep connection to religion and pray and go to religious classes daily.

So when the average Sefaradi thinks of an Ashkenazi shul, he thinks of this room packed with sweaty people dressed in black mumbling these inaudible words. Even for someone well trained in even their form of Jewish prayer it is impossible to know what part of the prayer they're up to (because they, again, don't know what it means, don't say it in a way that sounds like any language, and say it at a speed which would make it very difficult to understand if it were a language). They shake while praying. They scream. They sleep in their sanctuaries. There are millions of people going around asking for 'tzedaka' at one time. ...you get the picture

Yet isn't this a pitiful form of prayer, especially when we are constantly being showcased to outsiders? We, Jews who come from Muslim countries, either personally or ancestrally, by and large didn't live as segregated from the non-Jews as they did in the 'shtetl'. We saw with what respect the Muslim approached his prayer. All the more so us, from whom those prayers somewhat originate, how much more so should our sanctuaries be ‘sanctvm’?

Sefaradi Jews (especially those from Muslim Spain) always prided themselves on prayers that sounded beautiful (the richer sefaradi congregations here in Brooklyn for example pay absolutely TONS of money to get 'hazzanim' who are experts in the makamat; the Arab 'modes' or 'tunes' from singing and holy liturgy...which differs greatly between north Africa and the middle east by the way). On beautiful architecture, clean, open spaces for praying (which is what Ashkenazim also had before the Hasidim, and after, by non-Hasidim. The thing is by them (Ashkenazim) it seems like the more liberal they are, the more respectful their prayers and the places where they are done are). A Sefaradi is proud to be able to say the holy words of our beautiful and ever-meaningful prayers. Not to have them on himself, as the Ashkenazi, as a constant burden..

Anyway; the argument can always be made- we are in essence a Semitic people without a clearly defined culture, so if anything, our culture is steeped deep in the ground of the Middle East. Syrian culture, Lebanese culture, Palestinian culture, is ‘Jewish culture’ to some extent (though there is no such thing, just as there is no Jewish ‘race’). And that, by the way, is again, part of the complaint of the Palestinians; the Western domination. We only seem so Western because the first Ashkenazim who came insisted on a strictly Western or ‘European’ culture dominating the country. Which is all fine and dandy, but it does to a large extent not only minimize, but negate the fact that the collective culture of the Jew is Semitic at heart. Not only by the Sefaradim who were culturally Arab for all intents and purposes, but the Ashkenazi himself was always ridiculed at in Europe for being Semitic (which, even after so many years in Europe is evidenced by the fact that so many of them have Semitic type noses, and other characteristics). Which also minimizes therefore the ‘cultural similarity’ between Jews and Muslims, which was responsible in part for the fact that after all is said and done, we (the Sefaradim) lived with the Arabs in relative peace and harmony for Millennia, before the Ashkenazim came.

[Bonus: Listen to actual Moroccan Jewish payer, recorded in a synagogue in Morocco in the 50's].



Shoshana said...

I enjoyed the CD sampler. Thanks for enlightening me; now I need to find some Sefardim in Maine...

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...