Page 159 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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idism and hasidic song. When Hasidim reached a peak of re­
ligious ecstasy, all linguistic boundaries collapsed. The fixed lit­
urgy could no longer express the intensity of their experience.
Thanks to the kabbalistic doctrine of
moreover, the
Hasidim had license not only to interpolate other languages into
their prayers but also to
other languages in the light
of Scripture. Thus “I went to the nut grove / To see the budding
of the vale” (Song of Songs 6:11) contained the mysterious word
which reminded the Hasidim of a Polish song about a
mother instructing her son to pick nuts off a tree. The Polish
lyrics were surely but a parable, an allegorical cloak for the hid­
den, mystical meaning — just as the Song of Songs was itself
an allegory about God and Israel! While the Polish lyrics spoke
“children” who were too short to reach the tree
and get at the nuts, the parallel Yiddish lyrics spoke of
“little Jews” whose spiritual merit fell short of the mark.
kenen nisht dergraykhn,
Zay kenen nisht dergraykhn
“they cannot
reach, they cannot reach” (No. 34).18 And so the layering of
languages was not a result of linguistic assimilation somewhere
in the Slavic outback but a product of a Jewish mystical cur­
riculum going back to the Zohar and reaching its fullest expres­
sion in the
of Reb Nahman. According to Prylucki, Polish
Hasidim reserved this song especially for Passover.
How the concept of the “folk” had been turned on its head
in the course of one decade’s worth of song collecting! The
academic debate over origin and function (Engel vs. Sholem
Aleichem) had given way to the more basic question of whether
“authentic” Yiddish folksongs were religious or secular; whether
Sitz im Leben
was the dance hall (Cahan) or the house of
prayer (Prylucki). When the full picture of the Jewish nine­
teenth century came into view it emerged that the great Jewish
movements, Hasidism and the Haskalah, had each generated
its own impressive repertoire of songs; that while anonymous
songs were indeed the norm in the workplace, at home, and
in school, the
functioned as folk bard at weddings and
as folk dramatist in the one-day-a-year theater
season sanctioned by tradition. Then, at the end of the century,
18. This song is beautifully recorded in
Songs of the Bobover Chassidim,
by Rabbi Laizer Halberstam, Collector’s Guild 627 (also distributed by House
o f Menorah on cassette), Side 1, Band 8.