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An introduction and archive for Piyutim (sacred Jewish musical poetry and song)

An introduction to Piyutim (piyut.org.il)

A piyut (piyutim, pl. hebrew) is a sacred musical poem, sung as part of a communal prayer service but just as often after a good meal with friends and family. I was raised with these songs and tunes, learning a new one occasionally while eating as a guest at someone’s house, or at a weekend gathering, or in Israel at Yeshiva. I always hoped there was some archive because I was hearing quite a few of the common melodies and worried that there were likely thousands more that were fading into obscurity or limited by geography. (Ever wonder what shabbat tunes are kept in the piyutim of Kurdish Jews?) Then I stumbled on this site, piyut.org, which is just such an archive. I am so thankful. They even have something like a comprehensive collection of musical scales… I’m not certain what is meant by “musical scales” on this page, but I chose one at random and I found some musical expression that was completely new to me. I suspect that the music found on this site would also be appreciated by audionauts of sufi sacred music such as the Qawallis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But this archive is so diverse, I am still plumbing its depths of ancient sounds and their contemporary echoes.

I don’t know when this website was founded but from their about page it seems quite active with a passionate group of musicians, academics, and other scholars working on something they know is unique and essential to preserve and promote. This statement on that page summed it up nicely:

The vast majority of the poetic and musical creativity of the Jews emerged in various Diaspora communities during the past two millennia. Since the founding of the State of Israel and the immigration of the majority of these ancient Diaspora communities to Israel, large sections of the great tradition of piyut have been lost or forgotten. Finding access to the remnants that remain is not easy. The brief history of the modern period created, in many cases, a gap between the tradition of the past and the modern society and culture that developed in Israel. Tradition generally, and the legacy of piyut in particular, has stayed alive and meaningful only among a small portion of the Israeli population.
As time has passed, the need for people to connect with these roots has grown greatly. It is a need to access the voices calling from the depths of time, absorbed in emotion and wisdom of the many generations that sang these piyutim. We will widen and deepen our language and understand ourselves and our nation better as part of understanding our ancestors and their traditions better.

About Aharon N. Varady


Aharon's Omphalos is the hobbit hole of Aharon Varady, founding director of the Open Siddur Project. He is a community planner and environmental educator working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of libraries and museums. His advocacy for open-source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. He is particularly interested in pedagogies for advancing ecological wisdom, developing creative and emotional intelligence, and realizing effective theurgical praxes . He welcomes your comments, personal messages, and kind words. If you find my work helpful to your own or you'd simply like to support me, please consider donating via my Patreon account.

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