Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Stephen Blum


Jane Sugarman

Subject Categories

Ethnic Studies | Jewish Studies | Music


arab music, diaspora, jewish music, Moroccan Jewish music, music and identity, sephardic music


This dissertation examines the role of musical practices in the synagogue life of Maroka'im (Moroccan Jews) in Brooklyn, New York. Living in an urban setting known for its diverse and robust Jewish life, community members utilize several different types of musical expression to emblematize three distinct diasporic ethnic identities: Jewish (of ancient Israel), Sephardi (Spanish), and Maroka'i (Moroccan). Based upon ethnographic fieldwork carried out between 2008 and 2013, this study demonstrates how Maroka'im in Brooklyn use musical expressions to evoke more than one sense of diaspora consciousness--Jewish, Sephardi, and Maroka'i--to foster what I term a layered diaspora consciousness.

To illustrate this layered diaspora consciousness, three domains of communal synagogue practice are analyzed. In the first domain, the ritual of sacred text cantillation called Kriat ha-Torah, community members rely upon a select repertoire of melodic motifs for chanting the Torah. These melodic motifs are instrumental in fostering a sense of pan-Maroka'i identity and for establishing co-ethnic recognition in communities throughout the Maroka'i diaspora. Choices about text, melody, and performance opportunities for processional liturgy and honorific songs determine the nature of associations with the Jewish and Sephardi diasporas. In the second domain, of hazzanut or the art of cantorial performance, close analysis reveals ways in which Maroka'im compile liturgical text repertoires, employ certain melodic tropes and contrafacta as vehicles for conjuring associations with several different Moroccan musical traditions, and emphasize rhythmic, melodic, and vocal performance aesthetics to stylize liturgical chant. Liturgical texts include idiosyncrasies related to each layer of diasporic identity; performance aesthetics emphasize stylistic idiosyncrasies that evoke associations with specifically Mediterranean and Maghrebian patrimonies. In the third domain, a ritual celebration for venerating tsaddiqim (Jewish saints) called a hillula, local practices emphasize a standardized song repertoire which is recognized throughout the Maroka'i diaspora. This repertoire includes pieces from several different musical and poetic genres valued by community members for their historical associations with Maroka'i identity and modern associations with a new iteration of a Sephardi-Mizrahi identity. Foregrounded in the synagogue life of Maroka'im in Brooklyn, musical expression is employed by community members to consistently reinforce and reiterate a sense of belonging to multiple Jewish diasporic ethnic communities.