Page 157 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

Basic HTML Version

Jews don’t sing anything but polkas, mazurkas, quadrilles” or
that there was anything unique about their music at all.12
Rushing to the defense of his protege, Sholem Aleichem ar­
gued the opposite point of view. “Folksongs,” he countered,
were “all songs written in the simple Jewish folk language .. .
that are put out for the sake of the folk. ”13 As proof that the
function of a text was more important than its origins, Sholem
Aleichem pointed to his own song on the mass immigration
to America,
Shlof mayn kind
(“Sleep, My Child”). Published in
1892, it already circulated among the folk and appeared as a
traditional lullaby in the Ginzburg-Marek anthology. Not alto­
gether happy with what the simple Jewish folk had done to
his song, however, Sholem Aleichem “corrected” the Ginzburg-
Marek version in his copy of the book.14
Sholem Aleichem was clearly advancing his own view that
popular culture was religious ritual, legend, and myth adapted
to the earthly needs of the here-and-now, just as Engel’s ori­
entalism was of a piece with that of Martin Buber and the
Bezalel School of Art in Jerusalem .15 For Sholem Aleichem,
the upbeat tempos of the polkas, mazurkas, and quadrilles were
precisely the point. Whosoever warmed to the sound of hasidic
soul music in a minor key had no business studying the dynamic
— and essentially secular — life of the folk. Like the editor
Der yid
who thought that Yiddish “folktales” were those told
against the backdrop of shtetl poverty, Sholem Aleichem fash-
12. This, as well as the other relevant documents in the debate, have been
collected and translated by Menashe Ravina in
Mikhtavim ‘al ha-musika ha-yehudit
[Letters on Jewish Music] (Tel Aviv: Davar, 1941). For the text o f Engel’s feuil-
leton from
no. 18, see, pp. 16-21.
13. Sholem Aleichem, “A briv tsum h’Engel fun’m ‘Voskhod,’”
Der yid,
no. 24
(June 13, 1901), 14-16, or Ravina, pp. 31-38.
14. Ginzburg-Marek, no. 82. The photo-offset edition o f 1991 was made from
the marked-up copy once owned by Sholem Aleichem. See pp. 113*-114*. The
most telling change occurs in the fourth stanza which originally read: “Dos
Amerike iz far yedn,/zogt men, gor a glik,/un far yidn a ganeydn,/ epes an
antik” (“America is for everyone,/ They say, the greatest piece o f luck,/ for
the Jews, it’s Paradise,/ A rare and precious place.”). “Far yidn” (“for the Jews”)
was folklorized into “far yedn” (“for everyone”).
15. Paul Mendes-Flohr, “Fin-de-Siecle Orientalism, the Ostjuden and the Aes­
thetics o f Jewish Self-Affirmation,”
Divided Passions: Jewish Intellectuals and the
Experience o f Modernity
(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), pp. 77-132;
Bezalel” shel Schatz 1906 -1929 ,
catalogue o f an exhibit (Jerusalem: Israel Mu­
seum, 1983).