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Indescribable Female Beauty: Sephardic Wasfs, the Song of Songs, and Baffled Readers / יופי נשי בל יתואר: שירי וצף יהודיים-ספרדיים, שיר השירים וקוראים נבוכים

אדוין סרוסי and Edwin Seroussi
Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore / מחקרי ירושלים בפולקלור יהודי
כרך כח‎, TEXTURES: Culture, Literature, Folklore, for Galit Hasan-Rokem, Volume 1 / מרקמים: תרבות, ספרות, פולקלור, לגלית חזן-רוקם, כרך ראשון‎ (תשע"ג / 2013), pp. 267-295
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23791955
Page Count: 29
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Indescribable Female Beauty: Sephardic Wasfs, the Song of Songs, and Baffled Readers / יופי נשי בל יתואר: שירי וצף יהודיים-ספרדיים, שיר השירים וקוראים נבוכים
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Abstract

Known among researchers as Las prendas de la novia ('The Gifts of the Bride'), the Judeo-Spanish wedding song whose opening line is 'Dize la nuestra novia', 'Anzi/Anzina dice la nuestra novia', or, in one particular path of transmission, 'El novio le dice a la novia', consists of a dialogue between the bride and a second voice (an individual or a community choir) whose identity remains open. The bride inquires how to 'say' each part of her body and the second voice answers with a metaphor for each part, starting from the head and down to the feet in a cumulative progression. This Sephardic song has been extensively documented in the twentieth century throughout the Ottoman Sephardic diaspora as well as in the Spanish-speaking enclaves of North Morocco. It has also been the subject of studies by authors from different disciplines. This article aims to destabilize previous readings of it, most especially its undisputed status as a 'women' or 'wedding' song. Moreover, the identity of the speaking subjects in this song and their relationship are open to alternative interpretations. The metaphors for each part of the body are addressed in light of the widespread genre of folksongs describing feminine (and rarely masculine) beauty (and rarely ugliness) in a serial sequence. Songs in this genre are found throughout the Middle East as well as in the Western Latin Christendom. An imposing precedent to these songs, found in cultures spreading throughout the Mediterranean basin, is the metaphorical body descriptions in the Song of Songs. The Biblical 'clout' of these verses positions them as a latent background for any later manifestation of this poetic topic including the present Sephardic song.

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