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U.Va. Jewish Studies' 10th Anniversary Conference to Premiere New Abrahamic Music

Listen to an excerpt from new music composition:

November 10, 2010 — The University of Virginia's Jewish Studies Program will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a public conference, "Jewish Renaissance and Renaissances: New Perspectives on a Cultural Theme," to be held Nov. 13 through 15.

The conference will explore the various ways in which Judaism today is undergoing a renaissance, as well as how "renaissance" has served as a theme in modern Jewish thought, literature and art.  

On Nov. 15 at 3 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Art Gallery, the conference will conclude with the world premiere of a music composition by Israel's Oded Zehavi that combines musical threads from all three Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – incorporating melodies employed in traditional recitations of the Quran and Hebrew scriptures and Roman Catholic (Gregorian) chanting.

The Jewish Studies Program commissioned the piece in recognition of the program's research, teaching and work on relations among the Abrahamic peoples. Its most prominent work has been the pioneering of scriptural reasoning, an interfaith practice co-created by U.Va. Jewish Studies professor Peter Ochs that brings together Muslims, Jews and Christians to jointly read and discuss related scriptures from all three Abrahamic traditions.

After more than a decade of steady growth, scriptural reasoning is now practiced by approximately 20 groups in North America and the United Kingdom.

U.Va. remains the world center for scriptural reasoning, offering the world's only graduate program in scriptural reasoning through the Scripture, Interpretation and Practice program, and publishing multiple scholarly journals dedicated to scriptural reasoning.

The idea for an Abrahamic composition was born in scriptural reasoning sessions at U.Va. that Zehavi joined during his 2009 visit to the U.S. to study the "shofar," a horn – traditionally that of a ram – used in Jewish music and worship. The sessions examined scriptural texts from all three traditions that dealt with a horn or trumpet.

"In this piece," Zehavi said, "I sought to reproduce a dialogue among my modern style of composition and the three, distinct Abrahamic traditions for chanting prayer and scripture. I was surprised and moved to hear deep resonances among these three different traditions of cantillation. The result was a contemporary Abrahamic composition in five movements. Hallelujah!"

The 23-minute classical composition, "They Shall Break Their Swords," features oboe, percussion, piano, cello and soprano. Zehavi and six musicians from the Israel Philharmonic recorded the piece in Jerusalem on Oct. 29.

After the premiere, the recording will be available for purchase online or by contacting (To hear an excerpt, click on the player above.)

The Jewish Studies program, Ochs said, "plans to present this recording at other venues, in celebration of dialogue and, we hope, peace and love among the Abrahamic peoples and traditions."

Co-sponsors of the composition and recording are U.Va.'s Office of International Programs, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Department of Religious Studies and its graduate program in Scripture, Interpretation and Practice.

The anniversary weekend will also feature a concert by the Klezmer-rock band Yiddish Princess at The Haven in Downtown Charlottesville on Nov. 14 at 9 p.m.; a film screening of "Undzere Kinder (Our Children)" on Nov. 15 at 5 p.m in the Newcomb Hall Kaleidoscope Room; and discussion panels and lectures throughout the day on both Nov. 14 and 15.

For a full schedule and more details, download the conference poster and brochure at right, call 434-924-3643, or contact Deborah Galaski at or Asher Biemann at

— By Brevy Cannon

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