Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

A beautiful manuscript I acquired recently with rather unusual content gives us insight into the rich tradition of Syrian Jews’ Baqashot, a collection of supplications, songs and prayers sung by members of the Jewish community on Shabbat mornings from the early hours of the morning until dawn. The manuscript, written in the late 19th century, contains a varied collection of songs in Arabic but written in the Hebrew alphabet, using the cursive Solitreo script. In the Middle East, there were Jews who, while fluent in Arabic, did not have the ability to read or write the Arabic script and so used the scripts they used for Hebrew, known as Solitreo.

The Baqashot in Syria were customarily said from 3:00 am, interspersed with divrei Torah from the rabbis of the community, with most of the community members in attendance. While the Hebrew words were generally written by the rabbis and chazanim of the community, the melodies were mostly borrowed from popular Arabic or Turkish songs of the day. Presumably, the author of this manuscript collected such songs and organized them by musical scale to be able to borrow the melodies for composing the Jewish versions of these melodies.


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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at