Jewish languages, Jewish music, and the anthropology of Judaism
A title uniting topics and fields that are often dealt with separately may seem paradoxical. When associated, these topics are generally treated as legitimate but distinct chapters in a history of Judaism or a presentation of communities. The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of twenty years of research, which drawing on recognized scholarly traditions, has enhanced our knowledge of Judaism by bridging the gaps between fairly autonomous areas of research.
2These last twenty years have witnessed intense scientific collaboration between French and Israeli researchers1. They have been the stage for radical methodological changes as regards the various fields of Jewish music, a strengthening of a new perspective on Jewish languages, and reassessments, which as regards the ethnology of Judaism, have conferred upon this domain a long-deserved legitimacy.
3Framed in this way, can the years between 1980 to the start of the 21st century be viewed as merely another mix of disparate ingredients? It is true that the fields mentioned above all experienced their own renewals, which will be described in detail below. But there is more. First of all, research on Jewish languages and Jewish music has led to substantial advances, which are clearly anthropological in nature. As shown below, these developments are likely to interest fields other than those involved systematically during these twenty years. Beyond this, I will analyze and illustrate the ways in which renewed understandings gradually took shape as soon as a deliberately interdisciplinary approach was applied to the subject matter.
4Since the 19th century, generations of researchers have dealt with Jewish music, Jewish languages or Judaism from an ethnological standpoint. A retrospective overview reveals movements of major importance. These guided specialists above and beyond the specifics of the subject matter. Historical concerns and methods of a philological kind characterize the first scientific era in terms of music or Jewish languages up to the 1940s. Jewish communities and culture were also surveyed and collected according to the spirit of the Volkskunde, in the perspective of the ethnography of European peasant cultures.
5Nevertheless, the trends that characterized science in general in the nineteenth century and at the turn of the twentieth did not prevent models applied to the study of the Jewish world from diversifying. Indeed, the field of Jewish Studies emerged at this time. Known as the scientific study of Judaism, it was linked originally to the political status of Jews at the time in Europe. It clearly testifies to the way in which part of Jewish culture itself dealt with this issue as regards its varying geographical settings. The most fascinating point, as regards the subject of this article, is the impact of existing models of scientific thought, attitudes in the academic world towards Judaism as a subject of inquiry, models generated by the science of Judaism and finally by Jewish Studies, viewed as the intellectual and institutional distillation of issues in the socio-political sphere.
6These features can be found up to the present day, although the high proportion of philological and historical models declined after World War II. The scientific study of Judaism has continued to operate at the dual pace of the scientific models and events that shaped Jewish cultures after 1945. Clearly, modern trends in history and linguistics, sociology and anthropology have found their own directions in the vast field of Jewish studies. The development of the latter has also been marked for instance by the emergence – dated geographically and sociologically – of minority studies, ethnic studies or gender studies. The creation of Israeli academic institutions after 1948 constituted a major turning point, which thereafter had its own repercussions on research devoted to the Jewish world.
7Given this general picture, we can now examine the twenty years of musicological, linguistic and ethnological research which, carried out by French and Israeli associates, extended from 1980 to the year 2000 onwards. Three areas will be differentiated so as to better highlight their respective contributions. For each area, I will describe recent work as they integrate into the continuity of successive generations of researchers, before concentrating on the current day.