Jablonski, Marek (Michael)



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8. Central and East Asia.


(i) Caucasus (Mountain Jews and Georgia).

(ii) Iran.

(iii) Afghanistan.

(iv) Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Bukhara).

(v) India (Bene Israel, Cochini and Iraqi).

(vi) China.

Jewish music, §III, 8: Liturgical and paraliturgical: Central and East Asia

(i) Caucasus (Mountain Jews and Georgia).


The distinction between the Jews of the western Caucasus (Georgia) and the Eastern (Azerbaijan, Daghestan, and Chechen Republic) – the latter known as Mountain Jews – is fundamental, for they are both ethnically and linguistically distinct.

The liturgical music of the Georgian Jews has hardly been studied. It is thought to be a particularly ancient and unique tradition, although it has been substantially transformed during the last hundred years as a result of emigration. Most Georgian Jews who settled in Israel/Palestine from the early 20th century onwards adopted in their synagogues features of the Jerusalem-Sephardi style. In Georgia itself an Ashkenazi influence is now noticeable, resulting from the influx of Russian Jews to the area from the early 19th century and the training of Georgian rabbis in the academies of Lithuania. A survey of the musical repertory of the Georgian Jewish wedding as celebrated in modern Israel (Mazor, 1986) shows that the repertory includes traditional cantillation of biblical texts, psalmody in flexible and measured rhythm and piyyutim (in both psalmodic style in flexible rhythm and with measured melodies) as well as melodies from non-Jewish Georgian folksongs and dance tunes, hasidic and neo-hasidic tunes, ‘Oriental’ Israeli songs and tunes, and Israeli folksongs. Finally, not all Georgian Jews share the same musical traditions: research has uncovered differences between the practices of eastern and western Georgia.

The liturgical music of the Mountain Jews in the eastern Caucasus is extremely austere. It consists of simple recitation formulae in flowing rhythm by the cantor or in a responsorial manner between cantor and congregation. The range is narrow (up to a 5th) and most formulae are based on descending melodic figures. The simplicity of the liturgical music of the Mountain Jews strikingly contrasts with their rich musical traditions performed outside the synagogue. Remarkably, no musical element from the surrounding culture, such as the Azeri mugham, has permeated the synagogue repertory, as has happened in most Jewish communities throughout the Islamic world. This phenomenon suggests that the Caucasian synagogue may represent an ancient approach to the performance of the liturgy in which the role of music was less prominent.

Jewish music, §III, 8: Liturgical and paraliturgical: Central and East Asia



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