Sounds surround us. There are sounds we seek out, by attending a symphony or placing a phone call. There are ambient sounds, sometimes only noticed in their absence (when a motor clicks off and sudden silence reigns) or their unwelcome presence (is it supposed to sound like that?). There are irritating sounds (the snapping of gum, a squeaking wheel), background sounds (the hum of the refrigerator, the click of the keyboard), and treasured sounds (a baby's rough breathing, a yearned-for voice). Sounds can be musical and sounds can grate. Sounds mark off daily routines (alarm clocks, kitchen timers, car door chimes, and the dog demanding a walk), inform identity (the sounds of home and of not-home), and alert us to extraordinary events (sirens!). Sounds naturally punctuate our days, but they can also be unnatural. For all of sound's ubiquity, however, the visual—the textual—customarily holds pride of place in Jewish Studies. The acoustic, though always present, constitutes a largely unacknowledged background noise.
With this issue of AJS Perspectives, we seek to highlight a few of the myriad roles that sound, and the study of sound, can play within the world of Jewish Studies. Some authors approach sound through a textual lens: the sound of poetry. Others attend to "intentional" sounds, notably music: its composition, performance, and implicit (and explicit) complexities. Other authors, however, draw our attention to ambient sounds: the sounds of Jewish life and religious practice, domestic and communal. In these essays, through the authors' written words, we "hear" sounds lofty and lowly, banal and exotic, remote and immediate. It is our hope that as our readers engage with these pieces, they will become newly aware of the presence and power of the acoustic as an avenue for intellectual inquiry and a mode of pedagogy.
As editors, we also hope to use this issue to highlight the online presence of AJS Perspectives. Where possible, we have included links to sound files in the web-based version of this magazine, available at http://perspectives.ajsnet.org. To be sure, the printed edition is still a terrific stand-alone, but our intention is that the multimedia elements of the online articles will be enriching for all our readers.
The topic of sound led us to consider the role of media more broadly in the classroom, and thus our questionnaire for this issue asks, What are ways that you find most useful to incorporate sound, images, or other nontextual media into your Jewish Studies classrooms? We are particularly gratified by the popularity of using essays from AJS Perspectives in classrooms; this issue, with its embedded sound files alongside accessible, inviting writing and engaging visuals, may prove particularly useful in such contexts.
Once we begin to listen for it, sound is everywhere in the Jewish tradition, textual and beyond: in Sarah's laughter and Leah's weeping; in the cries of the oppressed and the shouts of war; in the rustling of lulav and etrog and the smashing of the wedding glass; in lofty melodies and wordless niggunim. In assembling this issue, we found ourselves ever more attuned to the auditory richness of our surroundings. Simply put, sounds are—and always have been—everywhere. With this issue, we hope to reinterpret the traditional imperative, "Hear, O Israel!" as an injunction to attend to the world of Jewish sounds. We invite you to listen with us.
Jonathan M. Hess
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill