Thursday, October 16, 2008

I don't know why synagogues don't have bells.

A random point of ignorance this morning, but church bells are a regular feature of life in my picturesque Maine town (and it is picturesque, especially at this time of year; it's raining today, but I'll take some leaf pictures tomorrow).

This was a question that occurred to me when I lived in Los Angeles, in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. We had all kinds of temples, from storefronts to elaborate Byzantine strucures -- but none of them had bells. (And no, Gardiner doesn't have any synagogues. Augusta has one. It doesn't have bells.)

Temples have shofars, ritual horns blown on high holy days, but no bells. For that matter, Islamic temples don't have bells, either. Why and how did Christians get the bells?

Bells as we think of them seem to have originated in China, so maybe Marco Polo introduced them to Europe -- but the middle East traded with China, too, so why weren't they interested? If anyone knows of a good history of bells, leave a recommendation below. I'd like to read it.


Peter Rozovsky said...

For an Answer Girl, you ask some pretty good questions. I'd never throught about why synagogues lack bells (and, for that matter, muezzins, who arguably perform a comparable function for mosques). Perhaps it's because for a good portion of their history and in too many places, Jews have had reason not to advertise their presence.

A fellow Bouchercon attendee,

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

AnswerGirl said...

I thought of that too, Peter, and maybe that's as good an answer as any.

I don't think we met in person at Bouchercon, but I did see you across the room in at least one panel!

Kevin Wignall said...

I think the real answer to this is why churches do rather than why synagogues don't.

You can thank Constantine, the Roman Emperor who adopted Christianity. The Romans had used bells to summon servants, and it was around that time that priests started attaching bells to the exteriors of their churches, presumably to summon the "servants" of Christ. Of course, the bells got bigger over time. It's no surprise that some of these early developments took place in Campania, which is why we have the words Campanile and Campanology. The ringing of the bells also became an important part of time-keeping, which is why we have words like "clock" which derive from Latin and old European words for "bell".

Okay, I have to go and lie down now.

AnswerGirl said...

See, I figured it was a case of Christian exceptionalism rather than other religions not joining the party. Thanks, Kevin -- I'm very impressed!