Sephardic Jewish history is shaped by cases of population transfer across and around the Mediterranean. When Jewish populations migrated, they carried with them traditions and customs, and objects that embodied those traditions, like the Torah scroll. Venerated and anthropomorphized, the Torah scroll commemorates the past as a remnant of communal life in one place and points to a future in which it transforms a new space into a synagogue. The scroll is referred to as the “tree of life,” a life-giving force that affirms a future for Jewish communities even as its text is rooted in the past. The text that is embodied and vocalized gives life to the community, just as voicing the text brings the scroll to life. This presentation considers the different ways that a Torah scroll gives voice to the experience of exile for communities on the move, considering the ways that Jewish communities use the scroll as a life-giving force in their chanting and veneration practices.
In this lecture, Ilana Webster-Kogen will consider ethnographic material from across North African ritual, particularly the ways that congregations in France adjust the customs of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as they navigate their communal voice. Considering Jewish migration from the perspective of the Torah scrolls that move with populations, Webster-Kogen proposes a reading of exile that centers mystical and postcolonial thought, Jewish-Muslim intimacies, and the power of giving voice to text.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.