Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mishenichnas Adar = Pick A Bale Of Cotton

Chaptzem has an excellent post, in which he posts a fake call for banning the song Mishenichnas Adar, because the tune is a note-for-note copy of "Pick a Bale of Cotton." Many people who speak of avoiding non-Jewish sources of music simply do not realize the extent of such influence (or outright copying) in even standard niggunim. And that this is not a bad thing. This is a great case in point.


Yehuda said...

I know Satmar Chassidim from Hungaria who listen to Gypsy music because that's what they listened to when they were young, it is very similar to klezmer and I believe Gypsies would even play at Jewish weddings.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that amongst all the hoopla about the “Big Event”, very little of the underlying Halachos of adapting non-Jewish music were actually discussed. I’d like to point out that the Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 560:6 specifically addresses this phenomenon. He quotes the Sefer Maasei Rokeach who deduces from the Maharam Di Lunzano in Sefer Shtay Yodos (Pg. 100) that it is PROHIBITED to adapt non-Jewish tunes to Jewish songs, because “although the song is Holy, the non-Jewish tune is harmful”. The Birkei Yosef however points out that the Maharam Di Lunzano seems to contradict himself later on in Sefer Shtay Yodos (Pg. 142) where he writes that he himself used Arab tunes for most of his songs since they tended to “raise their voices” in song, more that others. And he goes on to explain that those that disallow such a practice are not justified. (The Sefer is available at

Many Hungarian Jews are familiar with the Nigunim of the Kaliver Rebbe Zatza”l. Perhaps the most famous of his songs is “Zshol Akakash Mar” (spelling?), which according to common knowledgs, was adapted from a Hungarian shepard’s song. It is fair to say that much of the reason behind the Rabonim’s ban had more to do with the beat, tempo, etc. of the tunes that were adapted, than the fact that they were actually adapted or not. The purpose of song, as mentioned in the Sefer Charedim (Mitzvos Esay Min Hatorah Perek 7) is to awaken in our hearts the love to Hashem. When sung with this purpose, the Charedim considers the act of singing to be a fulfillment of the Mitzvas Esay of V’Uhavtu Es Hashem. Certain kinds of music are not conducive of this goal, to put it mildly. This may also be a possible explanation for the seeming contradiction in the words of the Maharam Di Lunzano; the type of tune being adapted is most pertinant.

Music that is sung purely as a form of entertainment is also Halachically suspect because of another reason. According to many Poskim this would be prohibited as a sign of mourning for Churban Beis Hamikdosh, as mentioned in Shulchan Orach Siman 560. Exceptions are made for songs of Dveikus (Aishel Avrohom Butshats, Rav Vozner Volume 6 Siman 69), and songs that help workers concentrate on their work. The common habit of many to listen to CD’s and cassettes, etc. seems to be based on a leniency mentioned in Achronim, that we need soothing music to avoid getting depressed, etc.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Zatzal (Orach Chaim vol. 1 Siman 166) is of the opinion that: 1) Singing with musical accompaniment is prohibited under regular circumstances, but is allowable for the purpose of fulfilling a Mitzvah. He mentions a “safak” if music at a Banquet where the proceeds go to charity is considered a D’var Mitzvoh or not, since the meal itself is not a Mitzvah, and neither is the joy attained from the music. His Psak: Better to be stringent, but not to be “Moche” those that are more lenient. It would seem, that the Rabonim banning the concert understood that this TYPE of gathering could not be condoned in any case. In my opinion, it ends up being a judgment call-and that’s the kind of thing we need Gedolim for.

I am not addressing the Halachic ramifications of causing financial loss, or naming names. That would seem to be a separate issue deserving clarification.

joshwaxman said...

in terms of the Birkei Yosef, note you can also see this here, on this post on parshablog.

I am not so convinced that all the gedolim who signed on to the ban really knew the specifics of this event. Or that those really behind it really would sit by for *any* concert, in contrast to establish halachic practice here in America. (And not just for concerts, but more broadly in many areas of halacha.) But I do agree that it is of course a good thing to go through the various sources.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

2 yrs ago. :)


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