Three Early Modern Hebrew Scholars on the Mysteries of Song


In discoursing on music, three early modern Jewish scholars stand out for their originality. The first is Judah Moscato, who, as chief rabbi in Mantua, preached sermons, one of them on music: there Moscato presents music as a cosmic and spiritual phenomenon. The second scholar is Leon Modena, the foremost Jewish intellectual in early seventeenth-century Venice. Modena deals with music in two responsa to questions put to him for rabbinical adjudication, one of them an examination of biblical and rabbinical sources on the legitimacy of performing art music in the synagogue. Abraham Portaleone, the third scholar, treated music in a massive disquisition on the Ancient Temple and its ritual, describing it as an art correlating with contemporary Italian music. The introduction surveys the development of Hebrew art music from the Bible through the Talmud and rabbinical writings until the early modern era. The epilogue defines the special contribution of Hebrew scholars to early modern theory.
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Biographical Note

Don Harrán is Artur Rubinstein Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written extensively on Italian and Jewish art music (its composers, singers and instrumentalists—male and female, and theorists) in the early modern era.

Review Quotes

Harrán’s approach is thorough, meticulous, and very readable. His knowledge of this subject is impressive. In addition to a lengthy bibliography and an index, he provides a lexicon of the Hebrew musical terms that he noted in his translations (again, transliterated), and an index of the biblical, rabbinic, and classical sources that the three writers used. Books on Jewish musical theory are rare, and this is an excellent addition to the corpus. Recommended for academic libraries with comprehensive collections focused on Jewish music -- Beth Dwoskin (Beth Israel Congregation, Ann Arbor, MI), AJL Reviews Vol V, No.4

The volume on the whole is extremely accurate, the English translation is generally very faithful to the Hebrew text, and there is a rich set of footnotes, mostly of a philologicallinguistic nature and concerning the sources used by the authors. The book is an essential tool for all those who want to study in detail one of the crucial chapters in the history of Jewish music. Don Harrán passed away on 15 June 2015. May his soul be bound in the bond of life. -- Gabriele Mancuso, Medici Archive Project, Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. LXX, No. 2

Table of contents

Introduction: Music in Hebrew Writings from the Bible to the Early Seventeenth Century
1. Judah Moscato on the Spirituality of Music
2. Sounds for Contemplation on a Lyre
3 Leon Modena on the Legality of Art Music in the Synagogue
4 Is Art Music Permissible in the Synagogue?
5 Abraham Portaleone on the Practice of Music in the Ancient Temple
6 Music as Practiced in the Temple and the Modern Era
The Jewish Contribution to Music Theory in the Early Modern Era
Appendix The Texts in Hebrew
1. Moscato: Sermon
2. Modena: Response
3. Portaleone: Selected Chapters
Abbreviations and Acronyms in Hebrew
Lexicon of Hebrew Musical Terms
Index of Sources
General Index


Jewish music historians; music in early modern Jewish culture; music in the Bible, the Mishnah, and the Talmud; early modern Hebrew music theory; Jewish music in the history of ideas

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