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Newsletter 23: Music and Nationalism


On Wednesday morning I had a call, as I expected, from someone who wanted to join my twice weekly walk in the Old City.

I happily took my sign and caught the bus down town.

As I made my way through Ben Yehudah meet my clients, two young ladies who have family in Jerusalem and come here about twice a year, I was held up by a young girl and a bearded man playing Irish and Scottish melodies, she on a violin and he accompanying her on a guitar.

I was so moved by their music that I had the feeling I must have some Irish blood in me. I wanted to feel like that again so I made a note to find a CD of that kind of music.

The national feeling their music gave me helped me to imagine what Jews must have felt when David played his harp or when the Levites played in the great orchestra of the temple.

On our tour I showed the ladies the beautifully decorated Yohanan ben Zakkai Synagogue with its magnificent painting of the Temple rising to heaven.

I explained that Jews prayed in synagogues after the Temple was destroyed but that many beautiful customs of the temple were prohibited in the synagogue, such as the playing of instrumental music.

Now it struck me that one of the effects of the music played in the temple by hundreds of Levites, on musical instruments was to stimulate national pride.

National pride must also have been kindled with the lighting of the 7 branched candelabra, offering the sacrifices, the priests in their regalia, the blowing of the ram's horn from the temple towers and walls and other temple customs.

There's no doubt that the strong national sentiment of the people was an important factor in the great rebellion against Rome of 66.

This rebellion resulted in the destruction of the temple, the loss of Jewish independence, many thousands of Jews being killed and others sent into slavery, all in all a terrible catastrophe for the Jewish People.

Now I understood that the reason why the rabbis prohibited the playing of musical instruments and the other temple customs in the synagogue was to prevent national spirit from surging up again and causing another rebellion with similar disastrous consequences.

The customs prohibited are exactly those which, in my opinion, would rouse the people to nationalism; i.e. the prohibitions against rebuilding the temple, blowing the rams horn, excepting on Rosh Hashana, kindling the 7 branched candelabra, sacrifices and burning incense.

Wishing you a great no news day. Leon.

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