Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jane C. Sugarman

Committee Members

Jonathan H. Shannon

Edwin Seroussi

Eliot Bates

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Ethnomusicology | Jewish Studies | Liturgy and Worship | Music | Religion


Ethnomusicology, Turkey, Makam, Sephardic Judaism, Minorities, Secular, Heritage


This dissertation is a study of ongoing transformations in the sacred musical repertoires practiced by ḥazzanim (synagogue cantors) and their synagogue congregations in Istanbul’s contemporary Jewish community. I argue that clergy and laypeople alike negotiate their religious identities as Turkish Jews in the musical choices they make. While many try to maintain the community’s local music tradition, rooted in makam—the Ottoman Turkish melodic system—others attempt to broaden their repertoire with musics from Israel, the United States, and Ḥabad Hasidic Judaism. I examine adjustments made to the musical components of ritual as responses to decades of Jewish religious life as experienced under the authority of the secular Turkish state and to the resurgence of religious observance within certain segments of the Jewish community. Newly religious and spiritually searching Jews now have a conflicted relationship with their community’s historic, sacred musical practices, appreciating their cultural significance but questioning their relevance and efficacy. I assert that ḥazzanim and community members articulate ambivalent and changing attitudes about their Jewish identities, memory, and the value of local tradition in their diverse approaches to making sacred music. Based on more than two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Istanbul’s Jewish community, my study investigates these contemporary musical practices and debates over four chapters. Chapter One provides a historical overview of the community and introduces the central theoretical arguments of the dissertation relating to secularism, memory, and ambivalence. The study moves on to an ethnography of music and ritual at the Bet İsrael synagogue in Istanbul’s Şişli neighborhood, focusing on the tenuous position of makam in synagogue life today. I describe the makam tradition as it is practiced in Şişli, the ways in which ḥazzanim and congregants talk about makam, and the struggle to make it relevant to younger Turkish Jews. I also introduce Rabbi David Sevi, who as the community’s Chief Ḥazzan and Bet İsrael’s head rabbi, is a key figure in the preservation and performance of Ottoman Jewish liturgical and paraliturgical music. Chapter Three builds on the topics of the previous chapter by considering ways that a few contemporary ḥazzanim are attempting to modify some of the archaic qualities of the makam-based liturgy to make prayer more palatable and participatory for congregants. I focus in particular on Ḥazzan İzzet Barokas and the congregation of the Etz Ahayim Synagogue in Ortaköy. Chapter Four tackles the topic of Ḥabad Hasidic Judaism in Istanbul’s predominantly Sephardic religious community, discussing the active presence of Ḥabad emissary, Rabbi Mendy Chitrik. It explores how music and spiritual aesthetics of Ḥabad’s weekly Shabbat lunches have become an important means of Jewish expression for a number of the community’s newly religious Jews. By examining these different spheres of musical and spiritual life, I demonstrate how my interlocutors try to understand their place as Jews in Turkey and as Jews in the world through the songs they sing. My study investigates the tension between their loyalty to tradition and the freedom and fear of being liberated from it.

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