Bakashot Makes Unlikely Comeback as Sephardic Jews Explore Traditions

Chanting Liturgical Poems — Washed Down With Arak

By Talia Bloch

Published May 06, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“It basically comes from the Lurianic kabbalist tradition that looks to inspire a mystical brotherhood and tries to force the hand of God through mystical practice,” said Thomas, a scholar of Sephardic musical traditions who composes new settings for piyutim for his musical ensemble Asefa. “A major theme of the bakashot is asking for redemption. They are indelibly marked by the tragedy of the Spanish expulsion – and by the urgency that ‘this has got to be the time’ of redemption.”

The tradition spread throughout the Sephardic world with each community developing its own repertoire over the ensuing centuries. Among Syrian Jews, for example, there is a set group of 66 bakashot that are recited completely or in part each week. In the Moroccan tradition, by contrast, the bakashot change from Sabbath to Sabbath based on the weekly Torah portion. The communities with the most codified traditions, said Thomas, were in Morocco, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Jerusalem.

On this Saturday evening, the performers sang the bakashot that in the Moroccan tradition would normally be sung on the Sabbath preceding Purim, although that Sabbath had been several weeks prior. The melodic mode used for this particular group, said Abergel, was one heavily influenced by classical Andalusian tunes.

Both Ouazana and Abergel emphasized the difficulty of learning bakashot.

“Bakashot are very complex, and if you don’t have someone to teach you, they are very difficult to transmit,” Abergel said.

The difficulty of the music is one reason, experts said, the bakashot practice waned.

“It’s a tradition that really requires devoted and dedicated people,” said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center in Los Angeles. “Like many other aspects of Sephardic life in the U.S., a lot was lost. For a long time the narrative was that we were ‘the other.’ So we assimilated into Ashkenazi Jewry or assimilated out of Judaism altogether.”

The general decline in religious observance during the 20th century and the great disruption to Sephardic communities that was brought about when they left homelands in which they had been rooted for centuries were also contributing factors to the decline in the practice.

Today, in the United States, “it’s a matter of small pockets here and there that are bringing it back,” Bouskila said. “It’s a slow surge rather than a major revolution.”

Bouskila points to several Sephardic synagogues in Los Angeles that have occasional performances and one that goes through the entire traditional Moroccan cycle of bakashot, but on Monday evenings.

Thomas, who for two years has helped organize bakashot classes among Brooklyn’s Moroccan Jews, says that bakashot have also experienced a resurgence in the local Syrian community.

The renewed interest in bakashot can in part be attributed to increased religious observance, experts said, but it also takes its impetus from two phenomena spilling over from Israel. The first, said Thomas, is a surge in interest in piyutim across both secular and religious Israeli society. The second is the tremendous reawakening of Sephardic pride and culture in Israel that began in the 1970s and which recent immigrants to the U.S. have brought with them.

In Israel, the bakashot tradition has experienced a much more vigorous revival, even reaching into popular music.

“We are recapturing our identity,” Bouskila said. “Bakashot is part of the package.”

Brigitte Dayan, who hosted the gathering with her husband in their apartment, called the evening “incredibly moving.”

“What I was seeing in front of my eyes in the modern day and in a modern way was the perpetuation of our tradition,” she said. “It is what my husband and I want to transmit to our children.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.