Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


BAKKASHAH (pl. bakkashot; Heb בַּקָּשָׁה, בַּקָּשׁוֹת, "Supplication(s)"), liturgical compositions of the same type as *seliḥot . The word denotes a wide range of prayers in prose or verse, petitionary and abstract in content, mainly for recitation throughout the year. A number of bakkashot found at the beginning of the Sephardi prayer books from the 17th century onward are meant to be recited by congregants before dawn while waiting for the regular service to begin. Groups of Sephardim in Jerusalem called Omerei Bakkashot ("Sayers of Supplications") continue this practice every Sabbath from midnight until sunrise. At first these bakkashot had been said daily, but later, as a result of reduced attendance, they were confined to the Sabbath except during the month of Elul. The custom apparently originated in Safed among the followers of Isaac *Luria , and from there spread to other communities. It is first mentioned in a letter of Solomon Shlumal dated 1603 (S. Assaf, in: Kobez al Jad, 3 (1939), 123). This practice is not to be confused with Ashkenazi societies of Shomerim la-Boker ("Morning Watchers"), which recite hymns on Monday and Thursday mornings before dawn. The term was, however, often applied arbitrarily to certain hymns included in the service. Saadiah *Gaon 's two bakkashot, that of *Baḥya ibn Paquda , and Solomon ibn *Gabirol 's Keter ha-Malkhut (Venice, 1572) are examples. The term also refers to some of the short hymns by such poets as Abraham and Moses *Ibn Ezra and *Judah Halevi . Different collections of bakkashot exist, and all of them include the poem Yedid Nefesh by Eleazar *Azikri . Each composition concludes with a collection of scriptural verses beginning with "And Hannah prayed…" (I Sam. 2:1). Different collections have appeared, such as the volume of hymns published by Mordecai Ḥayyim Elijah Levi (1929) and the Tehillat Yesharim ha-Shalem (ed. by Z.J. Manẓur, 1954).

[Ernst Daniel Goldschmidt]

Musical Tradition

Under the influence of the *Zohar and 16th-century kabbalists of Safed, the custom developed of rising at midnight to chant hymns from the Psalms, refrains, and bakkashot until dawn. The concomitant for piyyutim stimulated the creativity of talented poets steeped in mystical doctrine. Although the singing of bakkashot is traditional in many communities, it evolved into an organized form of semi-religious activity particularly in Syria (Aleppo and Damascus) and Morocco. The first of the great poets whose hymns were introduced in the Syrian and Moroccan bakkashot was Rabbi Israel *Najara . The melodies set to the appropriate hymns are extremely varied and include sophisticated and popular idioms, the latest innovations, and traditional tunes, which have disappeared from contemporary cultures. The musical factor is prominent and often tends to overshadow the basically religious purpose of the meeting. The singing of bakkashot may thus be considered as half religious concert and half prayer meeting, attended equally for religious, aesthetic, and social reasons.

The Aleppo bakkashot consist of certain fixed piyyuṭim and optional ones, which are selected for the occasion according to circumstances and the character of the audience. Each bakkashah is performed antiphonally by two groups. Between one bakkashah and the next, a soloist or smaller group takes turns in singing the socalled petiḥah (opening), which may be a psalm or a verse which derives from the preceding piyyut or from the classical Hebrew poetry. Their melodies are improvised, highly melismatic, and constructed so as to establish a modulation from the *maqām (melodic pattern) of the preceding to that of the following song. The concluding bakkashah, Yedid Nefesh, is sung in the maqām of the current Sabbath. In the Moroccan bakkashot, the repertoire is standardized, it is grouped into several series of different piyyutim – except for three or four recurring ones – for each series, which also has its own dominant musical mode (nūbā'). The general structure of each set is conceived in relation to the form of the "Andalusian" nūba of Moroccan art music, which is a kind of vocal and instrumental suite. Since instruments are not permitted, the singers add their own vocal imitations of instrumental passages. The Moroccan bakkashot, however, are also sung at celebrations outside the synagogue, and then the appropriate instruments are used. The piyyutim in the Moroccan bakkashot were collected into anthologies. One, entitled shir yedidot, which contains 550 piyyutim and was published in Marrakesh in 1921, is still used today.

After the establishment of an important community of Aleppo Jews in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century, Aleppo bakkashot became a model for other Middle Eastern communities, but were themselves much modified by the participation of non-Aleppo singers. The result was the generalized bakkashot style now common to several ethnic groups. The Syrian community in Brooklyn, New York, also perpetuates the Syrian tradition.

See also *Aleppo , Musical Tradition and *Africa , North: Musical Traditions

[Amnon Shiloah]


Oẓar ha-Tefillot (Ashkenazi rite, 1923), 56–63; Idelsohn, Liturgy, 157; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 74, 229, 324; I. Davidson et al. (eds.), Siddur Sa'adiah Ga'on (1941), 47–81; R. Katz, in: Acta Musicologica, 40 (1968), 65–85 (Eng.). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Fenton, in: REJ, 134 (1975), 101–21; A. Shiloah, in: M. Abitbol (ed.), Judaïsme d'Afrique du Nord (1980), 108–13; E. Seroussi, in: Peʿamim 19 (1984), 120–29; K. Kaufman-Shelemay, Let Jasmin Rain DownSong and Remembrance among Syrian Jews (1998).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.