- This article is about a type of Jewish religious music,
Baqashot. For the main article on religious Jewish music,
see 'Religious Jewish
", שירת הבקשות)
are a collection of supplications, songs, and prayers that have
been sung by the Sephardic
community and other congregations for
centuries each week on Shabbat
morning from midnight until dawn. Usually they are recited during
the weeks of winter, when the nights are much longer. The duration
of the services is usually about four hours. The Ades Synagogue, Jerusalem, is the center of this practice
of singing Baqashot originated in Spain towards the time of the
expulsion, but took on increased momentum in the Kabbalistic circle in Safed in the 16th
century. Baqashot probably evolved out of the
tradition of saying petitionary prayers before dawn and was spread
from Safed by the
followers of Isaac Luria (16th
With the spread of Safed Kabbalistic doctrine, the
singing of Baqashot reached countries all round the Mediterranean
and became customary in the communities of Morocco, Tunisia,
Algeria, Rhodes, Greece, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. It
also influenced the Kabbalistically oriented confraternities in
18th-century Italy, and even became customary for a time in
Sephardic communities in western Europe, such as Amsterdam and
London. (In Amsterdam the Shabbat service still begins with a small
number of baqashot. In London the tunes for one or two of them have
been preserved in the literature but the practice no longer
exists.) By the turn of the 20th century Baqashot had become a
widespread religious practice in several communities in Jerusalem
as a communal form of prayer.
communities such as those of Aleppo, Turkey and
Morocco, the singing of Baqashot expanded to vast
In those countries special books were compiled
naming the tunes and maqamat
together with the
text of the hymns, in order to facilitate the singing of Baqashot
by the congregation. In these communities it was customary to rise
from bed in the night on Shabbat in the winter months, when the
nights are longer, and assemble in synagogue to sing Baqashot for
four hours until the time for the morning service.
Each country had its own collection of baqashot, and there is often
little or no overlap between the collections of different
countries. The Moroccan collection is known as "Shir Yedidot"
(Marrakesh 1921), while the Amsterdam collection is set out in the
first part of Joseph Gallego's Imre No'am
: the contents of this were
probably derived from the Salonica tradition. The Aleppo collection
is described in the remainder of this article.
The Syrian tradition
In Aleppo, Syria this custom seems to go back about 500 years. Most
of the community would arise at 3:00AM to sing Baqashot and to
listen to the voices of the Hazanim, Paytanim, and Meshorerim. When
they arrived at Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbat they would break to
listen to a sermon by one of the Rabbis who discussed the Parashah
of the week. When he concluded they would begin Mizmor Shir LeYom
HaShabbat and sing all the rest of the Baqashot.
The Syrian tradition was introduced to Jerusalem by Raphael
Altaras, who came to that city from Aleppo in 1845 and founded a
Baqashot circle at the Kehal Tsiyon
synagogue. In this way
the custom of Baqashot became part of the mainstream Jerusalem
Sephardic tradition. Another important influence was Jacob Ades
(1857-1925), who immigrated to Jerusalem in 1895 and introduced the
tradition to the Persian and Bukharan communities. The main centre of the
tradition today is the Ades Synagogue in Nachlaot, where the
leading spirit was Shaul Aboud, a pupil of Moshe
The Aleppian Baqashot did not only reach Jerusalem. The Jews of
Aleppo took this custom with them wherever they went: to Turkey,
Cairo, Mexico, Argentina and Brooklyn, New York.Each of these
communities preserved this custom in the original Halabi style
without all the changes and embellishments that have been added to
the Baqashot by Jerusalem cantors over the years. Though these
communities do not perform the Baqashot on a weekly basis,
nevertheless, they use the melodies of the Baqashot throughout
Saturday morning prayers.
There is a total of 66 songs in the Syrian Baqashot book, and the
collection is now regarded as closed, unlike the general body of
, where new pizmonim are still
composed for special occasions. Each song is shown with its maqam,
but they follow a fixed order of recitation which does not depend
on the maqamat of the different songs. There are many sections
within the Baqashot. The sections are separated by different
Biblical verses to be chanted in a different maqam.
The songs principally consist of the praise of God, songs for
Shabbat, songs of longing for the Holy Land and so on, and include
taken from the main body of the
prayer book. These songs are considered more ancient and sacred
than other pizmonim
(Hebrew songs). Many of
the songs contain acrostics identifying the author of that specific
Baqashot are full of mystical allusions and traditions. Some of the
songs contain references to some of the most sacred Jewish
traditions. The following are examples of thematic songs:
- Song 1 and 34: listing of the 10 "Sefirot" (attributes) in the Kabbalah.
- Song 2: refers to the return to Zion in the time of
- Song 6 and 7: a song with each stanza ending with "boqer"
- Song 9: a song with each stanza ending with "yom" (day).
- Song 14: "Yasad besodo", discusses many different Kabbalistic
concepts and how God created the world with his divine
- Song 15: "Eress Varom", discusses the seven days of creation,
using one stanza for each day.
- Song 23: "Ki Eshmerah Shabbat", a well known song among all
Jewish communities that was written by Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra.
- Song 28: "Yom Zeh le-Yisrael", a famous song written by
- Song 33: contains allusions to each of the four "Amidah"
services recited on the Sabbath.
The baqashot are interrupted after Song 34 to sing Psalm 92
, the Psalm of the Sabbath, one verse at a
time, using a different maqam
for each verse.
There are many other verses of the Psalms scattered throughout the
different songs, called "petihot", to serve as markers. Unlike the
baqashot themselves, these are rendered by the hazzan
or by the elder people as a mawwal
(non-rhythmical solo cadenza
- Song 35: "Shalom Vassedek" is a song written by Rabbi Shlomo Laniado. Each stanza ends with
- Song 38: "Esah Libi" contains allusions to each of the nineteen
blessings in the daily "Amidah" prayer.
- Song 39 and 40: two songs in Aramaic by Israel
- Song 41: "Ani Asaper" discusses the laws of Sabbath (the 39
categories of "work").
- Song 43: "Mahalalah" alludes to the seven heavens mentioned in the Kabbalah.
- Song 46: contains references to all the composers of the
- Song 51: Halakhot of Shabbat.
- Song 53: a song dedicated to R. Shim'on bar Yohai, reputed author of the
- Song 61 and 62: "Yedid Nefesh"
(written by Eleazar Azikri, and also used by Ashkenazim) and
"Agadelcha" (written by Abraham ibn
The Baqashot service concludes with Adon
(Song 66) followed by the ancient Kaddish
prayer sung in the melody of the maqam for
that specific Sabbath.
Included in most baqashot collections is a poem by Elazar Azikri
who lived in Safed. The poem
“Yedid Nefesh”, or "faithful friend", was one of several which were
published in 1601 in Venice in his “Sefer Haredim”. The collection
also includes other famous poems of similar date, such as "Yom Zeh
Leyisrael" by Isaac Luria
Ribbon Alam" by Israel
. Other composers, from the twelfth to the nineteenth
century, include Hakhamim: Abraham Maimon (student of the kabbalist Moses
), Yosef Sutton, Solomon Ibn Gabirol
, Yaacob Abadi,
Mordechai Labaton, Eliyahu Hamaoui, Ezra Attiah (head of Porat Yosef Yeshiva
for 45 years),
Abraham Ibn Ezra
"Agadelcha"), David Pardo, David Dayan, Shelomo Laniado (who wrote
"Shalom vatzedek"), Yitzhak Benatar, Eliyahu Sasson, David Kassin,
Shimeon Labi, Mordekhai Abadi and Shelomo Menaged.
More recent composers of baqashot
from the Aleppo
community are Refael Antebi Tabbush (1830-1919), the leading
composer, his pupil and foster son Moshe Ashear
(Ashqar) and Ashear's pupil Haim Shaul Aboud.
Song 46, "Yah Melech Ram", alludes to the names of the Baqashot
Living classical composer Yitzhak
is known for his combining of baqashot with contemporary
According to Sephardic tradition, the Baqashot are unique in that
the melodies were composed for pre-existing texts, unlike many more
recent pizmonim where the words were composed to fit an existing,
often non-Jewish, melody. It is also believed that the melodies of
the Baqashot, unlike those of many pizmonim, are not borrowed from
tradition of waking up before dawn and singing the Baqashot still
survives today in Jerusalem, in the Ades Synagogue in Nachlaot and the
Moussaiof synagogue in the Bukharan quarter.
The service is
held only in the winter months, starting with the night of Shabbat
(the second Sabbath after
In communities throughout the world not so committed to the idea of
waking up before dawn, the Baqashot melodies, or sometimes the
actual songs, are still sung either in the course of the prayers or
casually on certain occasions.
In some settings, the honor of singing the Kaddish goes to the
In Turkey the equivalent tradition is known as "Shirat Hamaftirim",
and the songs are performed by choirs of "maftirim". The music and
style of singing are based on Sufi
Ottoman classical music
tradition originated in Adrianople (present-day Edirne) in European
The tradition persists and is practised to this day
Sephardic Pizmonim Project.
Tape recordings of the Baqashot were made in the 1980s in order to
facilitate preservation. The recordings were made vocally; that is,
without music instrumentation. They were recorded by three
prominent community cantors: Isaac Cabasso, Mickey Kairey and Hyman
Kairey. The project was organized by the Sephardic Archives, in
association with the Sephardic Community Center
in Brooklyn, New
David Betesh, coordinator of the Sephardic Pizmonim
, more recently released the Baqashot from these
recordings onto the project's website (link below) for the general
Internet public. Dr. Morris Shamah, Joseph Mosseri, and Morris
Arking are responsible for putting the recordings together.
also DVD and CD recordings, with instrumental accompaniment,
produced by the Ades
- Altaras, Raphael Isaac, Yitzḥaq Yerannen: Jerusalem
- Abadi, Mordechai, Miqra'e Qodesh: Aleppo 1873
- Burla, Jacob Ḥai, Yismaḥ Yisrael: Jerusalem 1874
- Burla, Jacob Ḥai, Yagel Ya'aqob, Jerusalem 1885
- Shrem, Gabriel, Shir Ushbaḥah Hallel Vezimrah,
Sephardic Heritage Foundation, New York: 1983.
- Aboud, Ḥayim Shaul, Sefer Shire Zimrah Hashalem im Sefer
le-Baqashot le-Shabbat: Jerusalem 1953, repr. 1988
- Idelsohn, A.Z.,
Hebräisch-orientalischer Melodienschatz, vol. IV:
Gesänge der orientalischer Sefardim: Jerusalem, Berlin and
- Seroussi, Edwin, "On the
Beginnings of the Singing of Bakkashot in 19th Century
Jerusalem". Pe'amim 56 (1993), 106-124. [H]
- Kligman, Mark, Maqam and Liturgy: Ritual, Music and
Aesthetics of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn, Detroit 2009