Program Particulars: Legends to Live By

Program Particulars

(02:25) Boston Early Music Festival

The Boston Early Music Festival was founded in 1980 and promotes newly revived baroque operatic masterpieces, concerts by the world's leading soloists and ensembles, scholarly symposia, performance masterclasses, and concerts by emerging artists.

Woodcut from the Minhogimbukh, Amsterdam, 1721.

The candlelighting ritual was a traditional obligation of women. It was taught that if a woman missed the time of candlelighting, she would have to light an extra candle for the rest of her life. Woodcut from the Minhogimbukh, Amsterdam, 1721.

(03:47) Reference to Woodcuts in Jewish Encyclopedia

Kosofsky discovered a woodcut of a woman lighting a Sabbath candelabrum while paging through the Jewish Encyclopedia first published in 1901. The source provided for the woodcut was Sefer Minhagim, which translates as "Book of Customs." Between 1590 and 1890 dozens of editions of these books had been published, including one published in Amsterdam in 1645 that contained the woodcut and another edition published in Venice in 1593. The book was used as "a pocket guide to all the Jewish customs of the year" and featured forty images: twelve of the months and their zodiac signs and twenty-eight of the major customs.

(04:55) Yiddish

Along with Hebrew and Aramaic, the Yiddish language is one of three major languages of Jewish history. Primarily a tongue of the Ashkenazim of Germany and Eastern Europe (the vernacular of Sephardic Jews is Ladino), the language uses the Hebrew alphabet, and is written from right to left. One of the earliest examples of Yiddish can be found in a hand-written prayer book from the Rhineland of Germany in 1272.

(07:22) Citation from Kosofsky's Book

Krista cites a section from the introduction to The Book of Customs. In the following excerpt, Kosofsky describes the history of the Minhogimbukh, a Yiddish customs book written for lay Jews:

Its roots were in the Hebrew Sefer minhagim written in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century by the Hungarian rabbi Eyzik (Isaac) Tyrnau, one of a number of such works from the late Middle Ages. The Tyrnau text circulated in manuscript for about one hundred fifty years before it first printed edition, still in Hebrew, was published in 1566 in Venice. Eyzik Tyrnau's time was one of tragedy and loss. His book was written in the aftermath of the Black Death (1348-1350) in the belief that there was a kind of symbolic equivalence between a people and its customs. By preserving its customs, even if only in writing, the community would survive the pestilence, expulsions, harsh laws, and persecution that characterized Jewish life of the period. Tyrnau's work was thorough and well organized, setting the pattern for the later books of customs. The simplicity of his language suggests that he wrote for laypeople rather than for other rabbis. His book's basic outline was this: the Jewish week from the end of Sabbath through evening prayers on Thursday; preparations for Sabbath and Sabbath day itself; the twelve months including all the holidays; and last, the life cycle events of marriage, birth, and death.

Title page of the first illustrated Yiddish edition of the Book of Customs.

Title page of the first illustrated Yiddish edition of the Book of Customs.

(08:16) Cover of Venetian Edition of Customs Book

The document discussed is a translation of the title page of the first illustrated edition of the 1593 Venetian edition of the Book of Customs. It's a textbook example of the power of marketing, using such phrases as "new and improved," "live like a good person," and "printed in the Big City."

(08:53) Credo of Judaism

"Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One," which Kosofsky cites, begins the foundational Jewish prayer known as the Shema Yisrael. It is often recited several times a day by Orthodox Jews and is the last prayer to be said on one's deathbed. The first portion comes from the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, in which Moses continues instructing the Israelites after proclaiming God's commandments:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The full Shema comprises two other sections: Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41.

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(9:03) Music Element

"Shir hamma'alot, B'shuv Adonai" from The Songs of Solomon, Vol. 2: Holiday & Festival Music, composed by Salamone Rossi


Moses receiving the Law on Shavuot. Woodcut from the Minhogimbukh, Amsterdam, 1722. Note the fence around Mount Sinai, through which no man or beast was to pass through and live.

Moses receiving the Law on Shavuot. Woodcut from the Minhogimbukh, Amsterdam, 1722. Note the fence around Mount Sinai, through which no man or beast was to pass through and live.

(11:49) Reference to Torah

The Torah is considered to be God's revealed teachings for its people and mankind. The first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), compose the written Torah and are revelations traditionally considered to be received by Moses from God on Mount Sinai. In Jewish synagogues, handwritten parchment scrolls containing the text of the Torah are housed in the ark of the Law. Readings from the Torah form an important part of Jewish liturgical services.

(12:13) Reference to Cafeteria Religion

The traditional "baseline" Kosofsky used for his customs book is Ashkenazic Orthodox Judaism. He included side notes from popular Orthodox prayer books as liturgical references and provided sidenotes (often taken from the 1593 Venetian edition) and various alternate practices. Because the early editions of these customs books were published before the advent of established denominations, geographical location and migratory patterns played a significant role in determining Jewish customs.

Since many of the earliest editions of these customs books were published in Venice, Kosofsky says, they have "an international spirit" that embraces "all the community of Jews" (klal yisrael). In these 16th and 17th century editions, Kosofsky notes in his foreword to The Book of Customs, commentary is provided about what Jews were practicing and reciting in places like Poland and Bohemia, and even some of the Sephardic practices at that time:

I offer this revival of Jewish custom without denominational particularity, though with a consciousness of the many varieties of Jewish religious experience of both the past and the present. If it is "cafeteria religion," then it's one that serves the traditional main courses. Some might find my approach singularly unorthodox and wonder why I, as a liberal, didn't opt instead for a more modernized basis, such as Conservative or Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism. In fact, there are parts of the book in which the views of those groups have been quite influential. Nowhere is that more evident than in matters of gender. Inspired by the congregations of every stripe in which women and men play equal roles in the liturgy, I have purged most gender differences with regard to commandments and customs, though the old way is mentioned, too. I was amazed at how easily this could be accomplished, without compromise to language or sense. I should say, though, that I have kept the masculine pronouns for God; to do otherwise is to jettison nearly three thousand years of mental images, continuity of sound, and literary sensibility.

Ashkenazim and Sephardim are the two main branches of Jewish ancestry. The Ashkenazim (from the Hebrew Ashkenaz, "Germany") compose the largest percentage of Jews worldwide — numbering over 11 million people, or about 80 percent — and are the majority in the United States. The Sephardim (from the Hebrew Sefarad, "Spain") total about 700,000. The Ashkenazi Jews differ from the Sephardim in their preservation of Palestinian Jewish ritual traditions rather than Babylonian, in their pronunciation of Hebrew, in their cultural traditions, in their synagogue chanting, in their widespread use of Yiddish, and most significantly in their synagogue liturgy.

Tishah b'Av, Venice, 1593. A mental image of the Temple burns in the background as members of the congregation sit on the floor reading the book of Lamentations.

Tishah b'Av, Venice, 1593. A mental image of the Temple burns in the background as members of the congregation sit on the floor reading the book of Lamentations.

(13:46) Reading from Lamentations

The Jewish holiday of Tishah b'Av (meaning the 9th of Av) is a traditional day of mourning in which Jews fast and commemorate the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. The following passage from the book of Lamentations 1:1-3 was excerpted from the Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures:

Alas! Lonely sits the city Once great with people! She that was great among nations Is become like a widow; The princess among states Is become a thrall. Bitterly she weeps in the night, Her cheek wet with tears. There is none to comfort her Of all her friends. All her allies have betrayed her; They have become her foes. Judah has gone into exile Because of misery and harsh oppression; When she settled among the nations, She found no rest; All her pursuers overtook her In the narrow places.

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(14:00) Music Element

"Bloch: Meditation Hebraique" from From Jewish Life, performed by Paul Marleyn and John Lenehan


(18:14) Reading from Book of Numbers

After the Jews escaped from the land of Egypt while being lead by Moses, they found themselves in the wilderness. It is at this point that the tribes of Israel are established and declare their formation of a faith. The following extended passage was excerpted from the book of Numbers 31: 1-12 in the Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin." Moses spoke to the people, saying, "Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord's vengeance on Midian. You shall dispatch on the campaign a thousand from every one of the tribes of Israel." So a thousand from each tribe were furnished from the divisions of Israel, twelve thousand picked for the campaign. Moses dispatched them on the campaign, a thousand from each tribe, with Phinehas son of Eleazar serving as a priest on the campaign, equipped with the sacred utensils and the trumpets for sounding the blasts. They took the field against Midian, as the Lord has commanded Moses, and slew every male. Along with their other victims, they slew the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. They also put Balaam son of Beor to the sword. The Israelites took the women and children of the Midianites captive, and seized as booty all their beasts, all their herds, and all their wealth. And they destroyed by fire all the towns in which they were settled, and their encampments. They gathered all the spoil and all the booty, man and beast, and they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the whole Israelite community, at the camp in the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho.

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(18:39) Music Element

"Why" from Klezmer Soul, performed by Kol Simcha


Hanukkah woodcut from the Minhogimbukh, Amsterdam, 1727. The first depiction of the hanukiyah in 1593 showed a candelabrum with a deficient six branches.

Hanukkah woodcut from the Minhogimbukh, Amsterdam, 1727. The first depiction of the hanukiyah in 1593 showed a candelabrum with a deficient six branches.

(20:25) Festival of Hanukkah

In Hebrew, Hanukkah means "dedication," which refers to the purifying and rededication of the Temple after its desecration by the Assyrians. Led by Judah (Maccabee), the Hasmoneans vanquished Antiochus and the Seleucid dynasty. The celebration also reaffirms the continuing struggle of the Jewish people to live by God's commandments and to lead observant lives. Some of the distinguishing traditions of the Hanukkah celebration include the menorah lighting, the dreidel, latkes, sufganiyot, and special blessings and songs.

How do you spell it: Hanukkah, Chanukkah, Hannukah?

Listen to a conversation addressing the different spellings of the "Festival of Lights" from NPR's All Things Considered.

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(24:03) Music Element

"Maoz Tsur" from Jewish Favorites, performed by Rachel Van Voorhees


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(25:58) Music Element

"Trad: Chanukah Oy Chanukah" from From Jewish Life, performed by Paul Marleyn and John Lenehan


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(27:36) Music Element

"Trad: Dona Dona" from From Jewish Life, performed by Paul Marleyn and John Lenehan


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(27:44) Music Element

"Trad: Chanukah Oy Chanukah" from From Jewish Life, performed by Paul Marleyn and John Lenehan


1879 newpaper advertisement for a Hanukkah event in New York.

1879 newpaper advertisement for a Hanukkah event in New York.

(28:57) Reference to Christmas Card and Louis Prang

Although Christmas cards in the United States date back to the 1850's, they weren't widely distributed until the Polish-born lithographer Louis Prang popularized them in the 1870's. By 1881, Prang's company was printing five million cards per year.

With this commercial popularity, the season of Hanukkah soon became part of this market. The advertisement to the right produced by the Young Men's Hebrew Association (mentioned by Kosofsky during the program) illustrates the marketing efforts of this Jewish holiday.

Kaufmann Kohler

Kaufmann Kohler

(29:57) Citation of Kaufmann Kohler

Kaufmann Kohler is noted as being one of the main people responsible for the Reform Judaism movement in America, and for convening the Pittsburgh Platform in 1885.

(31:36) Other Jewish Holidays

Simchat Torah, Hebrew for "Rejoicing in the Torah," is regarded as an important holiday on which Jews celebrate the completion of the year's reading of the Torah. It's considered a joyous festival, in which the Torah scrolls are taken from the ark and carried or danced around the synagogue seven times. During the service, the final section of Deuteronomy is read and the opening section of Genesis is immediately read.

Shavuot, also called Pentecost or the "Festival of the Weeks," occurs on the 50th day after harvest offering during Passover. It commemorates the seven-week journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Mount Sinai where the Torah was given to Moses by God. Traditional customs include reading from the book of Ruth and serving dairy dishes symbolizing the sweetness of the "land of milk and honey."

(32:57) Reference to Avodah

The Avodah is the seventeenth benediction of the Amidah—a series of petitions to God that invoke future hope—in which observant Jews implore God to accept their prayers in lieu of sacrifices and express hope that true services of the Temple sacrifices will be restored.

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(32:55) Music Element

"Trad: Chanukah Oy Chanukah" from From Jewish Life, performed by Paul Marleyn and John Lenehan


(38:42) Model Year of Jewish Calendar

The Jewish year is based on a lunisolar calendar, regulated by the positions of the moon and the sun. The calendar typically consists of 12 alternating lunar months of 29 and 30 days each and totals 353-355 days per year. The average lunar year of 354 days is adjusted to the solar year by the periodic introduction of leap years so that major festivals are assured to occur during their proper seasons. This leap year occurs seven times during every 19-year cycle. Because the number of days in a year may vary by more than 30, an annual Jewish holiday may fall on any day of the week even though it is fixed to a particular Jewish month.

(39:53) Isaac Stories

The following passage from the book of Genesis 25:21-34 was excerpted from the Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures:

Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, "If so, why do I exist?" She went to inquire of the Lord, and the Lord answered her,

"Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger."

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. And Esau said to Jacob, "Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished"—which is why he was named Edom. Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." And Esau said, "I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?" But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.

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(42:24) Music Element

"Shabbes" from Klezmer Soul, performed by Kol Simcha


(42:24) Citation from Kosofsky's Book

In the chapter on the month of Kislev, Kosofsky comments on the lineage of the Edomites and God's instruction in Deuteronomy for others not to hate them, but he writes, things are not as simple as that when reading scripture:

The Bible's prototypical evildoer, Amalek, is the grandson of Esau, thus creating a bloodline connection from Esau to the later bad guys Agag and Haman. Unlike the caricature of Haman in the story of Esther, Esau is an ambiguous character, as is Jacob. The Torah and the so-called former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) show far more complexity of human characterization than do the later books in the biblical canon. In the old books, the bloodlines of good and evil are the same-as they are always.

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(42:29) Music Element

"Shir Hamaalet" from Klezmer Soul, performed by Kol Simcha


(44:15) Passage from Kosofsky's Book

Krista cites a passage from Kosofsky's introduction to The Book of Customs, in which he writes about his approach to these traditional texts as a modern person:

I did not go back to the traditional customs and liturgies expecting to find lost meaning, but there it was. Even more surprisingly, I found deep meaning in texts that had been dropped or modified by the liberal denominations: the prayers of supplication and confession, the tragic liturgies of Tishah b'Av, and even the Avodah, the daily call for the restoration of the Temple and a return to the sacrifices of old. What can a post-Freudian person like me find in such things? I found these: a broad and intimate confrontation with myself and with God, a sense of community for better or for worse, an appreciation of God's greatness, miracles, and ambiguities—all together, a clearer view of the moral and the immoral. We do not have to agree or find goodness in all of these liturgies, but if we choose to revile some of them, we must do so consciously, and, as in psychotherapy, which for many has taken the place of such confrontations, the regularity of the sessions is part of the treatment.

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(48:48) Music Element

"Shir Hamaalet" from Klezmer Soul, performed by Kol Simcha


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(49:24) Music Element

"Trad: Chanukah Oy Chanukah" from From Jewish Life, performed by Paul Marleyn and John Lenehan


Voices on the Radio

Kosofsky is a book composer, typographer, and author of The Book of Customs: A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year.

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