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The Badkhn in Contemporary Hasidic Society: Social, Historical, and Musical Observations

from AFTERLIFE

Yaakov Mazor
Affiliation:
born and brought up in the Batei Rand neighbourhood of Jerusalem, the centre of Tsanz hasidism.
Michael C. Steinlauf
Affiliation:
Gratz College Pennsylvania
Antony Polonsky
Affiliation:
Brandeis University, Massachusetts
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Summary

THREE individuals inspired the research for this chapter: Benjamin Kluger, former librarian at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem; the late Dr Bathja Bayer, chief librarian of the music department at the same library and lecturer in the musicology department of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who initially guided me in the fundamental aspects of Jewish music; and the late Professor Chone Shmeruk of the Yiddish department at the Hebrew University. Kluger was my intercessor in the court of the Kretshiner Rebbe in Rehovot, R. Menahem Eliezer Ze'ev (b. 1948), and with his assistance I received permission to record the wedding of the rebbe's brother Zayde Shmuel Smelke (now the Bitshkover Rebbe, in Jaffa), which was held in Rehovot in 1971. At this wedding the late badkhn Yosef Grinvald presided over the mitsve-tants ceremony, which concludes the public events of the wedding night. He invited important guests to dance with the bride by reciting written verses that he had composed. I was surprised to witness this, for it had commonly been assumed by contemporary scholars in Israel and abroad that the practice of badkhones was a relic of the past. Bayer and Shmeruk were no less surprised than I, and encouraged me to continue recording badkhonim at hasidic weddings because of their value for the study of Yiddish culture. Shmeruk even recommended that I devote most of my time to ‘this holy task’. At that time I was researching hasidic dance melodies for weddings and other celebrations, and the activity of the badkhn appeared to be of lesser importance. But, after speaking with Shmeruk, I made sure I recorded the badkhonim I came across and documented their activities. In the 1980s, with the linguist Moshe Taube, I conducted research on the ‘inviter’, who fulfils a comparable function to the badkhn at Hasidic weddings in Jerusalem. What follows are preliminary findings in my research on the badkhn in contemporary hasidic society.

THE BADKHN IN JEWISH HISTORY

According to the most commonly held view, a badkhn (Hebrew: badh.an) is someone who composes texts in rhyming verse (Yiddish: gramen) and sings them before an invited audience on special ritual occasions. In the past, according to Ashkenazi (Franco-German) sources, badkhonim were referred to by other names, such as narn (clowns, fools), or leytsonim or leytsim (jesters, jokers).

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Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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