Shabbat on Wednesday

In a ground-breaking series, a rare style of synagogue music somes to stage.

shabbat candles 88 (photo credit: )
shabbat candles 88
(photo credit: )
Jerusalem's own Confederation House is one of the premier venues for ethnic music in Israel, providing a crucial stage for traditional, acoustic artists to perform before an enthusiastic audience. Although known for presenting international guests and genre-bending world musicians, many of the performances highlight little-known or endangered Diaspora traditions. In a series of three concerts starting this Wednesday, the Confederation House presents a sequence of performances based on bakashot (requests), songs of supplication traditionally sung during the early hours of Shabbat morning in Middle Eastern Jewish communities. Unlike many popular styles of piyutim (religious songs), this is a genre that has appeared only rarely outside of its traditional home in the synagogue. bat eve). Unlike Kabbalat Shabbat, the singing of bakashot became popular only in the Mediterranean communities, notably Turkey, Greece, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Morocco and as far as Iraq. In these countries the practice became part of the normal Shabbat ritual, especially during the winter months when the nights are longer. Each community further developed the bakashot over time, giving rise to regional styles and melodies. The advent of modernity, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, various wars and the calamitous events leading up to the creation of the State of Israel all conspired to uproot myriad Jewish communities, and the widespread practice of bakashot became one of the casualties. Although the songs and melodies still survive, the practice of meeting in the wee hours on Shabbat has all but disappeared. According to Ishran there are only two synagogues in Jerusalem that regularly have bakashot: The Ades Synagogue in Nahlaot and Musayef, in the Bukharan section of Mea Shearim. "The Jerusalem and Moroccan traditions are still strong," he says. "But the Iraqi and Turkish styles have nearly died out." The Iraqi bakashot are featured in the first concert of the series, which takes place on Wednesday July 12 at 8:30 p.m. The featured cantors will be Rabbi Yehezkiel Yair, Rabbi Yehuda Ovadia Patiah, David Menahem and Yishai Menahem. The Menahem family is notable because this extended, Jerusalemite clan is a dynasty of singers and musicians and is one of the few families to retain the authentic Iraqi tradition of bakashot. The second concert takes place exactly a week later, on July 19 at 8:30 p.m., and focuses on the bakashot of Morocco. Morocco was the only Arab country not conquered by the Ottomans and Jewish Moroccan music, having avoided centuries of Turkish influence, retains an older style harking back to the Golden Age of Spain before the expulsion. The cantors for this concert are Rabbi Meir Eliezer Attia, Maimon Cohen, David Attia, Haim Elon and Moshe Louk. The last concert in the series highlights the Jerusalem tradition, which is closely linked to the tradition of Aleppo, Syria. Taking place on July 25 at 8:30 p.m., the evening features cantors Moshe Habusha, Nissim Simhoni, Rafael Ishran, Ram Mizrahi and others. All these singers are regulars at the Ades Synagogue, which is famous nationwide for preserving liturgical traditions. "[These concerts] will be special...the best cantors will be there," says Roni Ishran. "We want to bring music of this quality to people who are interested...If you can't wake up at three in the morning and go to Ades, you can't hear this stuff." The bakashot concerts take place at the Confederation House, 12 Emil Botta in Yemin Moshe. To order tickets or for more information call 624-5206 or see All concerts are NIS 65.