Leon Weinberger draws on a wealth of material, much of it previously available only in Hebrew, to trace the history of Jewish hymnography from its origins in the eastern Mediterranean to its subsequent development in western Europe (Spain, Italy, Franco-Germany, and England) and Balkan Byzantium, on the Grecian periphery, under the Ottomans, and among the Karaites. Focusing on each region in turn, he provides a general background to the role of the synagogue poets in the society of the time; characterizes the principal poets and describes their contribution; examines the principal genres and forms; and considers their distinctive language, style, and themes. The copious excerpts from the liturgy are presented in transliterated Hebrew and in English translation, and their salient characteristics are fully discussed to bring out the historical development of ideas and regional themes as well as literary forms.
Professor Weinberger's study is a particularly valuable source-book for students of synagogue liturgy, Jewish worship, and medieval Hebrew poetry. It provides new perspectives for students of religious poetry and forms of worship more generally, while enabling the general reader to acquire a much-enriched appreciation of the synagogue services.