“There on the Poplars [Arabs] We Hung Up [Rely On] Our Lyres [Jewish Music]”: Rabbi ʿOvadyah Yosef’s Halakhic Rulings on Arabic Music

in Jewish-Muslim Relations in Past and Present
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Rabbi ʿOvadyah Yosef (Baghdad, 1920–Jerusalem 2013) who immigrated to Israel at the age of four, grew up to be one of the most influential rabbinic figures in the political, religious and cultural life in Israel. From 1984 and until his last days, Rabbi Yosef was the spiritual leader of the ultra-orthodox party Shas which aspired to restore the shattered identity of Israeli Arab-Jews.

This article explores Rabbi Yosef’s view on Arabic music in particular, as he ruled in his halakhic writing and as he experienced in his life. It shows the importance Rabbi Yosef attributes to music in Jewish life and worship, and reveals the extent to which Arabic music is embedded in Middle Eastern Judaism and in Rabbi Yosef’s life. This article is not a halakhic study, but rather an attempt to understand Rabbi Yosef’s outlook on music while giving a central weight to his origin as an Arab-Jew.

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