Bereishit: Yuval

And the name of his brother was Yuval [Jubal]; he was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. (Bereishit 4:21).

Did you idly blow through hollow canes
and hear the soft sweet sounds?

Did you reconstruct the bubbling
of crystal springs from underground;
the dulcet calls of courting birds
that warbled back and forth?

Did you wander past primeval trees
your fingers flying, eyes aglow,
footsteps drumming steady beats
upon the forest floor?

Did the notes bespeak a passion
that stirred your listeners’ souls;
a wordless ode to beauty
that ferried them to hallowed heights,

and were they haunted by the silence
when the music died away?


Oliver Sacks (1933 – 2015) the neurologist and author was widely known for writing best-selling case histories about his patients’ disorders. In 2007, he published a book entitled Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain in which he expounded the view that responsiveness to music is intrinsic to the human makeup. He said “Music is part of being human.”
And indeed we read early on in Parashat Bereishit that by the eighth generation after Adam and Eve, music-making enters the lives of these people who are beginning to populate the world, and are tent-dwellers, herders and metal-workers. Among them is Yuval, the father of music.
Knowledge of music-making in the biblical period is mostly from literary references in the Bible and post-biblical sources. Religion and music historian Herbert Lockyer, Jr. writes that “music, both vocal and instrumental, was well cultivated among the Hebrews, the New Testament Christians, and the Christian church through the centuries.” He adds that “a look at the Old Testament reveals how God’s ancient people were devoted to the study and practice of music, which holds a unique place in the historical and prophetic books, as well as the Psalter.”
The music of religious ritual was first used by King David, and, according to the Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, he is credited with confirming the men of the Tribe of Levi as the “custodians of the music of the divine service.” Historian Irene Hesk notes that of the twenty-four books of the Old Testament, the 150 Psalms in the Book of Psalms ascribed to King David, have served as “the bedrock of Judeo-Christian hymnology,” concluding that “no other poetry has been set to music more often in Western civilization.”
The study of ancient musical instruments has been based on archaeological findings (including figurines and iconographic depictions found in the area dating back to the biblical era) and early writings, which have demonstrated clearly that music was an integral part of daily life then. It appears that both wind and string instruments, as well as drums were in use. The human voice also played a part as evidenced by love songs and laments for the deceased.
Theodore Burgh, historian of ancient music surmises that the biblical period encompassed a culture in which music permeated daily life. He says “Such music was capable of expressing a great variety of moods and feelings or the broadly marked antitheses of joy and sorrow, hope and fear, faith and doubt. In fact, every shade and quality of sentiment are found in the wealth of songs and psalms and in the diverse melodies of the people.”
(From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_music_in_the_biblical_period)

The history of religious Jewish music spans the evolution of cantorial, synagogal, and Temple melodies since Biblical times.
The earliest synagogal music of which we have any account was based on the system used in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Mishnah gives several accounts of Temple music. According to the Mishnah, the regular Temple orchestra consisted of twelve instruments, and a choir of twelve male singers. The instruments included the lyre (kinnor),  harp (nevel),  ram’s horn (shofar),  trumpet (chatsotsrah) and three varieties of pipe, (chalil, alamoth and the ugav). (Kinnor and ugav were the instruments attributed to the biblical Yuval.) The Temple orchestra also included a cymbal (tziltzal) made of copper. The Talmud also mentions use in the Temple of a pipe organ (magrepha), and states that the water organ was not used in the Temple as its sounds were too distracting. No provable examples of the music played at the Temple have survived.
(From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_music)

In more recent times, a different form of Jewish music emerged from the Chassidic movement that swept Eastern Europe in the 18th century, in addition to the distinctive chazzanuth (cantorial music) and folk songs already existing there. The Jews in Poland and Ukraine produced an original type of song which seems to have no parallel. It is described as Chassidic song, because it was created out of the spirit of Chassidism in which piety supercedes learning and the expression of joy is deemed a religious duty. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught, “The most direct route from our material world to devotion to God, is through playing music and singing.” (Rabbi Nachman’s Teachings 273). He advised “Accustom yourself to sing a melody. It will give you new life and fill you with joy.” (Rabbi Nachman’s Collection of Counsel: Patience).

Another form of Jewish music is Klezmer music (Klezmer means “vessels of song”) which is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, the genre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations. Klezmer is easily identifiable by its characteristic expressive melodies, reminiscent of the human voice, complete with laughing and weeping. This is not a coincidence; the style is meant to imitate cantorial and paraliturgical singing. The Romanian influence is, perhaps, the strongest and most enduring of the musical styles that influenced traditional klezmer musicians. Klezmer musicians heard and adapted traditional Romanian music, which is reflected in the dance forms found throughout surviving klezmer music repertoire. Although as mentioned above, music was an integral part of the Temple service, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, many Rabbis discouraged musical instruments. However, the importance of merrymaking at weddings was not diminished, and the musicians who emerged to fill that niche were the klezmorim. The earliest written record of the klezmorim is in the 15th century.
(From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klezmer).

Here is a recording of a klezmer melody played by Giora Feidman, an Israeli klezmer clarinetist, who was born in 1936 in Argentina, where his Bessarabian Jewish parents immigrated to escape persecution. Feidman comes from a family of klezmer musicians. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather made music for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and holiday celebrations in the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

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