Introduction to Sephardi Culture

Syllabus for an undergraduate course at UCLA, 1998/9   by Prof. Edwin Seroussi

Content and format of the course

This course explores different aspects of expressive culture in the Sephardi Jewish communities since their establishment in the aftermath of the expulsion from Spain and Portugal in the late fifteenth century until the present. Expressive culture refers to the reflections of Sephardi mentality in aesthetic media such as literature and music.

The program of the course includes a general survey of the history of the Sephardi Jews and of Judeo-Spanish, the language of the Sephardi Jews. The main focus of the lectures is on the study of folk and learned literature and music. The conceptual differences between oral and written traditions, the definitions of literary and musical genres and the tension between religious and non-religious forms of expression will be particularly emphasized. Another important issue in this course is the impact of processes of modernization in the nineteenth century on twentieth-century Sephardi culture.

The course is intended for majors in Jewish and Near Eastern studies, folklore, Jewish literature and languages, Hispanic studies and ethnomusicology.

Required text book

Díaz-Mas, Paloma. 1992. Sephardim: The Jews from Spain, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Selected topics to be treated during the course

The Sephardi Jewish Diaspora: Historical overview
Judeo-Spanish language, its development and main characteristics
Judeo-Spanish literature: oral genres (folk tales, proverbs, romance and canción)
The Sephardi coplas: between written and oral literature
Sephardi modern literature: journalism, fiction and theater
Sephardi music: religious and non-religious genres
The impact of modernization on Sephardi culture: Francophilia and Hispanophilia
The Sephardi experience in America
Modern research on Sephardi culture and its impact on the imagination of the past

 Selected readings

Alexander, Tamar, Frank Alvarez-Pereyre, Isaac Benabú, Iacob Ghelman, Ora Schwarzbald and Susana Weich-Shahak. 1994.  Towards a Typology of the Judeo-Spanish Folksong, Gerineldo and the Romance Model, Yuval 6.

Angel, Marc D. 1991. Voices of Exile: A Study in Sephardic Intellectual History. New York.

Angel, Marc D. 1987. The American Experience of a Sephardi Synagogue, The American Synagogue, ed. Jack Wertheimer. N.Y., pp. 153-169.

Beinart, Haim (ed.). 1992. The Sephardi Heritage. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. 2 vols.

Bunis, David. M. 1980. Sephardic Studies, A Research Bibliography. New York, London: Garland.

Cohen, Judith. 1995. Romancing the Romance: Perceptions (and Boundaries) of the Judeo-Spanish Ballad, in: Ballads and Boundaries: Narrative Singing in an Intercultural Context, ed. James Porter, Los Angeles, UCLA, pp. 209-217.
-----. 1995a. Women’s Roles in Judeo-Spanish Song Traditions, Women in Jewish Culture, ed. Maurie Sacks. University of Illinois Press.

Corré, Alan D. 1989. The Sephardim of the United States of America, The Sephardi Heritage, vol. II, ed. R. D. Barnett and W. M. Schwab. Grendon, pp. 389-430.

Katz, Israel J. 1982. The ‘Myth’ of the Sephardic Musical Legacy from Spain, Proceedings of the Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies, IV. Jerusalem, pp. 237-243.

Papo, Joseph. 1987. Sephardim in Twentieth Century America. Berkeley.

Romero, Elena. 1992. La creación literaria en lengua sefardí. Madrid.

Seroussi, Edwin. 1991. Between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean: Sephardic Music after the Expulsion from Spain and Portugal, Mediterranean Historical Review, 6/2 (1991), pp. 98-206.
-----. 1993. New Directions in the Music of the Sephardic Jews, Modern Jews and their Musical Agendas (Studies in Contemporary Jewry 9) ed. Ezra Mendelsohn. New York, Oxford, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, pp. 61-77.
-----. 1995. Reconstructing Sephardi Music in the 20th Century: Isaac Levy and his Chants judeo-espagnols, The World of Music (Jewish Musical Culture - Past and Present) 37, no. 1, pp. 39-58.

Solá-Sole, J., Armistead, S. G. and J. H. Silverman (eds.) 1982. Hispania Judaica, Studies in the History, Language and Literature of the Jews in the Hispanic World. Barcelona, Puvill.

Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi. 1977. Joseph Caro. Philadelphia.

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. 1971. From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto. New York.