5. Otherness and the Mediterranean: gendered narratives of Jewish history


There is also a masculine sacred in the Mediterranean, though its presence in this article has been more implicit than explicit. The ontology of the masculine sacred, or tiferet, is that of an uninterrupted presence, which insistently occupies the musical practices of the synagogue and the religious education of boys and men. Its historiographic tropes are those of continuity and unbroken tradition. It is the imagination of a cultural Self beyond the influences of others. The masculine sacred, as Elaine Marks might put it, is the Jewishness that is "seen" rather than the Jewishness that is heard, the Jewishness that is "just there," rather than the Jewishness that must be performed into existence (Marks 1996). Tiferet has multiple meanings, dependent on the perspectives in different Jewish communal and interpretive traditions, but not dependent on any kind of dialectical relation with the shechinah.

Although I have focused primarily on examples of women’s musical practice, it is not my intent to privilege the feminine over the masculine. Instead, I am most interested in drawing attention to the space in-between. The space in-between is a space of union and community and of performing the sacred in a complex, gendered narrative polyphony, in which Sabbath ritual creates a space for both the shechinah and tiferet. It is in this boundary region or space in-between that music instantiates the time and place of the Mediterranean (cf. Bhabha’s "third space" in Bhabha 1994). Most important, the space in-between possesses the qualities of transit: one gains entrance to it or crosses a threshold at its boundaries; exchange—of language, of song, of culture—defines those boundaries by transgressing them; it is at these boundaries that gender gives meaning to the histories and boundaries on both sides.

The complex gendering of Jewish music narrates an equally complex gendering of Jewish history. The teleology of a history motivated by return to the Eastern Mediterranean, to Jerusalem and to Zion, conflicts with one marked by exile and the timeless repetition of acts of return, such as those ritualized through the musical practices of the masculine sacred. One Jewish history derives from the confrontation with otherness, from the interaction with non-Jewish cultures and from the performance of everyday culture through hybridized musics. The other Jewish history spawns the imagination of selfness through music and ritual in the spaces of authenticity.

The shechinah, the feminine sacred, fails to represent the continuity suggested by a teleological history of return; indeed, she herself must return again and again, arriving each week as the Sabbath bride. Forgotten in the historiographical and theological tropes of tradition and authenticity is that the shechinah also exits, that her bridal entry is somehow interrupted, if not deliberately left unconsummated. At the end of the twentieth century, in fact in 1998 as the modern state of Israel celebrates its fiftieth year of existence, the question is no longer whether diaspora, as a condition of Jewish history will dissolve or exit as the Sabbath bride that symbolizes diaspora. Diaspora represents the hybridity that now occupies the spaces of modern and postmodern Jewish history.

The metonymic world of gendered Jewish historical narratives is fraught with disjuncture, which necessitates the constant attempt to integrate the feminine and masculine sacred in the spaces of union themselves, those spaces I have described as possessing a metaphysics of "in-betweenness." If indeed the discontinuity of encountering one’s own cultural otherness engenders the music of the Jewish Mediterranean, it also drives its history, with each departure of the shechinah creating the space for and return of the next Sabbath bride.

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