oud

There’s a small neighborhood deli in the Bronx, near where I work, owned by an Arabic-speaking man (I’ve never asked which country he’s from). He often has Arabic or Middle-Eastern music playing. I especially love the sound of the Oud, and prefer the more “classical” sounding pieces to the more “popular” sounding ones.lute

The Oud is related in some way to the Lute. Linguistically, “Oud” would be called in Arabic “Al-Oud” (i.e. The Oud). If the “L” is joined to the name, it easily becomes “L’oud,” or “Lute.” They’re similarly shaped, with a pear-shaped body, a short neck, and tuning pegs mounted at a sharp angle to the neck. The Lute has frets (dividers) on the fingerboard, while the Oud does not. There are also other, related instruments that vary this classic design.

Muslim tradition (via Al-Farabi [1]) teaches: “…the Oud was invented by Lamech, the sixth grandson of Adam. The legend tells that the grieving Lamech hung the body of his dead son [which one?] from a tree. The first Oud was inspired by the shape of his son’s bleached skeleton.” [2]

In Torah, Lamech was the 5th grandson of Adam in Cain’s lineage (after Enoch, Irad, Mehuyael and Methushael).  Cain, of course, was a son, not a grandson.
Lamech was the father of Jubal (i.e. the 6th grandson in that lineage; more properly, a grandson in the 6th generation of that lineage).
While Lamech composed and sang the first song, [3] his son Jubal is the “inventor” of string instruments:

“19. Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.
20. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.
21. His brother’s name was Jubal [Yuval]; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments [kinnor] and pipes [‘ugah].
22. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” [4]

Thus, Al-Farabi’s tradition concurs with Torah in the numeration of the grandson’s being of the 6th generation after Cain, but substitutes the father’s name for the son’s (in Muslim belief, Torah is mistaken).

There’s little about Jubal in the midrash. Rashi says, more or less in passing, that Jubal was creating music for use in idol-worship, as was his father. The plain text of Torah doesn’t say that or imply it. Although some Western scholars say that in the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula, music was used mainly for sexually provocative entertainment, Lamech’s “song” [3] recounted an event in his life that had left a particularly deep impression on him.

To me, Torah is saying that the production and use of musical instruments was a notable part of the development of human society. Torah doesn’t suggest in any way that this was an undesirable development, either.

It might also imply, or be inferred, that the inspiration to create these had a Divine origin, as do all creative impulses. One could build a very effective homily or drash on the fact that from Adam (whose error created the expulsion from Eden and a natural sense of G-d’s Presence) and Cain (who, in anger, killed his own brother), ultimately came music — which enriches life and, under the right circumstances, can return to us a sense of G-d’s Presence.  It’s also interesting that both Jewish and Muslim tradition remark at the soothing quality of the sound of a string instrument (e.g. David’s “harp”).

“Whenever the [evil spirit; i.e. migraines, rage, irrational behavior, etc.] came upon Sha’ul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Sha’ul; he’d feel better and the evil spirit would leave him. [5]

“A ninth-century jurist in Baghdad extolled the oud’s healing powers, as did Muhammad Shihab al-Din, a 19th-century writer. ‘It places the temperament in equilibrium,’ he wrote. ‘It calms and revives hearts.'” [6]

“A further proof of the importance of music in the life of the Jewish people [of ancient Israel] is a legend related almost at the beginning of the Old Testament [i.e. Gen. 4:19-22]. There, music is mentioned as being one of the three fundamental professions: that of the herdsman [Jabal], of the metal forger [Tubal-cain] and of the musician [Jubal]. Even in those archaic times, music was looked upon as a necessity in [everyday] life, enjoying equal rights with the other two primitive professions, as a beautifying and enriching complement of human existence.” [7]

Is there any connection between the “Kinnor” and the “Oud?”

“The names of the ‘first’ instruments should not be understood literally. Jubal’s two instruments, Kinnor and ‘Ugah, do not represent single species of instruments, but are general terms for stringed and wind instruments.” [8]

“The Kinnor…was ‘David’s harp,’ the preferred instrument in Israel’s musical practice.” [9]

The “harp” was more like a “lyre” (a u-shaped instrument played with a plectrum or “pick”), thus bearing some familial relationship to the Oud.

So, in Torah, “Kinnor” might mean a family of stringed instruments, one later development of which was the Oud.

In fact, the “Oud” might just as easily be distantly related to the Sitar or Sarod, but I’m only making a conjecture.

In any case, let us not let politics [*] interfere with our enjoyment of the beautiful sound of Oud-music.

To see and hear the oud being played, use this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJYe4g_kUj4
or google “oud youtube.”
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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farabi
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oud
[3] Ber./Gen. 4:23-4
[4] Ber./Gen. 4:19-22
[5] I Samuel 16:23
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/01/world/middleeast/01oud.html?_r=2&hp=&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all&
[7] Sendrey, Alfred; Music in Ancient Israel; Philosophical Library, c. 1969; p. 60
[8] ibid, p. 263-4
[9] ibid, p. 266
[*]  7-17-14 This was written in a comparatively less hostile time than the present. I don’t in any way mean to minimize the current conflict, which is heartbreaking.