Skip to main content

The Cantor and The Muezzin’s Duet: Contested Soundscapes At Jerusalem’s Western Wall

Abstract

A Jewish visual and religious icon of Jerusalem, the Western Wall is also a profoundly sensory space. In this article, I interrogate the interface between sound and space at the Western Wall, exploring the soundscape of Wall as a forum within which the multiple meanings and resonances, both literal and figurative, of this space are imagined and contested on a daily basis. While the physical environment of the Western Wall—as a historical and archaeological site—and its role in hegemonic Israeli discourses have been discussed at length by scholars, there has to date been relatively little discussion of the everyday practices, verbal or non-verbal, narrative or noisy, through which the wall has been (re)appropriated into contemporary Jewish life during the past five decades. Here, by focusing on the Western Wall plaza as a sensory space, I unpick this complicated and changing human landscape, where the politics of presence, proximity, and voice—on an individual, communal, and national level—are not only built into the physical location of the space, but are also creatively enacted and contested by the individuals and groups who come there to pray.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    The lower stones of the Western Wall formed part of Herod’s renovation program of the Temple. See Frenkel 2009 for detailed discussion of the place of the Temple in Jewish thought from 70 CE until the present day.

  2. 2.

    See League of Nations report 1930, section 3. While the Mount of Olives was also an important location for the prayers of visiting Jews, multiple sources cite the church father Jerome (4th century CE) in establishing the antiquity of the Jewish practice of lamentation at the Western Wall.

  3. 3.

    See Monk 2005, for discussion of the symbolic nature of this photograph.

  4. 4.

    See Reiter and Seligman 2009, pp. 238-9 and Qleibo 2000, pp. 40-41. Among many histories of Jerusalem, Armstrong 1996, and Goldhill 2008, also survey this historical period and subsequent developments.

  5. 5.

    Palestine (Western or Wailing Wall) Order in Council, 1931, reproduced at http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/C2567D9C6F6CE5D8052565D9006EFC72, appendix 1.

  6. 6.

    See Monk 2005, pp. 170-1.

  7. 7.

    In the latter three cases, the sound of the shofar is mentioned in the Biblical narrative itself; later rabbinic literature additionally links the shofar with the ram Abraham sacrificed instead of his son Isaac (see Mishna Brura on Shulchan Aruch OH 596:1).

  8. 8.

    Naomi Shemer, 1967, “Yerushalayim shel Zahav,” my translation; see Monk 2005, p. 171 and Gavriely-Nuri 2007 for in depth discussion of this song and its symbolic role in these historic events.

  9. 9.

    See also Reiter and Seligman 2009, pp. 251-2.

  10. 10.

    Fieldnotes, February 5, 2014. Video footage of the ceremony discussed here is archived at http://www.thekotel.org/today/Event.asp?PageId=&CatId=4&d=5&m=2&y=2014 (last accessed February 16, 2014).

  11. 11.

    Interview with the author, November 28, 2009.

  12. 12.

    Fieldnotes, February 14, 2014.

  13. 13.

    The enforcement of Orthodox prayer norms at the Western Wall has been the matter of ongoing debate in Israeli society as well as various court cases, see discussion of Women of the Wall below.

  14. 14.

    A prayer area in a neighboring archaeological park, next to an adjacent stretch of the same wall, established by an Israeli government commission in 1998 to serve as a location for egalitarian Conservative and Reform prayer services at the Western Wall (Charmé 2005, p. 31). This site was expanded in 2013.

  15. 15.

    See http://womenofthewall.org.il/about/history/timeline/. The topic of kol b’isha ervah has been rehearsed in many recent halachic (both progressive and conservative) and sociological discussions.

  16. 16.

    Fieldnotes and recording of morning Women of the Wall service, August 11, 2010.

  17. 17.

    Another modern ritual drawing upon the same roots, which preceded the one discussed here, is the circling of the gates of the Old City on the eve of Tisha b’Av. This ritual and the Geniza sources are detailed here: http://www.thekotel.org/newsletter/article.asp?Id=55 (last accessed February 16, 2014).

  18. 18.

    Ofer Kapach, May 2008, on site http://binyamin.org.il/?CategoryID=553&ArticleID=1138 (last accessed February 16, 2014, translation mine).

  19. 19.

    In accordance with religious prohibitions, no recorded music is used on Rosh Hodesh Av.

  20. 20.

    This comment originally appeared in an article entitled “Hamishtara bitlah sivuv she’arim echad” [“The police cancelled one Sivuv Shearim”] on the website www.hakolhayehudi.co.il (last accessed February 16, 2014). This article has since disappeared, but the comment translated here, now attributed to a “participant” in the sivuv is reproduced on this forum: http://www.hydepark.co.il/topic.asp?whichpage=14&topic_id=2791798&forum_id=21099 (accessed February 23, 2015).

  21. 21.

    Shurin’s recording is available online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbZbygwuqfI. (Last accessed February 16, 2014). Many recordings of the song are available on Youtube; a number of them return to the original Biblical text.

  22. 22.

    For the latter, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrWFg6S-Xas (Last accessed February 16, 2014). See Sermer 2014 and Wood 2013 for further discussion of singing as nationalist activity during Yom Yerushalayim in the Old City.

  23. 23.

    A similar ceremony is discussed in detail by Don Handelman 1998, ch. 9.

  24. 24.

    Video footage of the full ceremony is archived online at http://www.thekotel.org/today/gallery6.asp?CatId=4&d=18&m=4&y=2010, last accessed February 9, 2014.

  25. 25.

    http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3877808,00.html, last accessed February 9, 2014.

References

  1. Armstrong, Karen. 1996. A history of Jerusalem: One city, three faiths. London: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Atkinson, Rowland. 2007. Ecology of sound: The sonic order of urban space. Urban Studies 44(10): 1905–1917.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Charmé, Stuart. 2005. The political transformation of gender traditions at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 21(1): 5–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chesler, Phyllis, and Rivka Haut (eds.). 2002. Women of the wall: Claiming sacred ground at Judaism’s holiest site. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Gavriely-Nuri, Dalia. 2007. The social construction of ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ as Israel’s unofficial national anthem. Israel Studies 12(2): 104–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Goldhill, Simon. 2008. Jerusalem: City of longing. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Frenkel, Miriam. 2009. The Temple Mount in Jewish thought (70 CE to the present). In Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar, eds. Where heaven and earth meet: Jerusalem’s sacred esplanade. Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi Press and Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

  8. Friedland, Roger, and Richard Hecht. 2000. To rule Jerusalem. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Gorenberg, Gershom. 2006. The accidental empire: Israel and the birth of the settlements, 1967-1977. New York, NY: Times Books.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Haberman, Bonna Devora. 1997. Women of the Wall: From Text to Praxis. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 13(1): 5–34.

  11. Handelman, Don. 1998. Models and mirrors: An anthropology of public events, 2nd ed. New York and Oxford: Berghahn books.

    Google Scholar 

  12. League of Nations. 1930. Report of the Commission appointed by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the approval of the Council of the League of Nations, to determine the rights and claims of Moslems and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall at Jerusalem. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office.

  13. Liebman, Charles S. and Eliezer Don-Yehiya. 1983. Civil religion in Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  14. Monk, Daniel. 2005. Diskotel 1967: Israel and the Western Wall in the aftermath of the Six Day War. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 48: 166–178.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Nusseibeh, Sari, with Anthony David. 2007. Once upon a country: A Palestinian life. New York: Picador.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Panagia, Davide. 2009. The political life of sensation. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Porcello, Thomas, Louise Meintjes, Ana Maria Ochoa, and David Samuels. 2010. The reorganization of the sensory world. Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 51–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Qleibo, Ali. 2000. Jerusalem in the heart. Jerusalem: Kloreus.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Reiter, Yitzhak and Jon Seligman. 2009. 1917 to the present: Al-Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount (Har Ha-Bayit) and the Western Wall. In Oleg Grabar and Benjamin Z. Kedar, eds. Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem’s Sacred Esplanade. Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi Press and Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

  20. Sarton, George. 1954. The Jerusalem congress. Isis 45(1): 63–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Sermer, Tanya. 2014. The politicization of neo-hasidic popular music: The musical discourse of religious Zionism and its role in the struggle to claim the public sphere of Jerusalem. In Moods and modes of Jewish music, ed. Yuval Shaked. Haifa: Department of Music, University of Haifa.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Shurin, Dov. 2002. Biblical revenge: The Nekama album. Self-produced CD recording.

  23. The Jews’ wailing place. 1888. Waikato Times XXXI(2543): 2.

  24. Wood, Abigail. 2013. Disruptive listening: Geographies of sensation in Jerusalem’s Old City. Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 6(3): 286–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Zerubavel, Yael. 1995. Recovered roots: Collective memory and the making of Israeli national tradition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Abigail Wood.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wood, A. The Cantor and The Muezzin’s Duet: Contested Soundscapes At Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Cont Jewry 35, 55–72 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-015-9136-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Western Wall
  • Jerusalem
  • Soundscape
  • Jewish music
  • Heterotopia