Friday, September 07, 2007

So You Think "Yiddin" Is Something New??

The Yiddin song coming from Ghengis Khan is funny, but it is not something to get upset about. And indeed, many modern Jewish songs borrow melodies from non-Jewish sources.

The phenomenon of borrowing melodies from the gentiles in order to put Jewish songs to it is nothing new. Indeed, many niggunim come from Russian marching songs and the like.

Ah, but that is the Rebbe, who can elevate the impure and make it kadosh. But in general, oy-va-voy! All the old niggunim, no one objected to, for they had some spiritual core, and so it was all appropriate. But today, it is different, and everyone doing this is an oysvorf.

Not so. Some rabbonim were yelling about it even way back when, but others argued that it was permissible.

Here is an appropriate Chida (Rav Chaim Joseph David ben Isaac Zerachia Azulai (1724 – 21 March 1807)):
ברכי יוסף אורח חיים סימן תקס ס"ק ה ו. דין ג.
דברי דברי תשבחות או שיר של הודאות וכו'. בספר מעשה רוקח פ"ח מהלכות תפלה נשאל על המשוררים קדיש וקדושה לחן שירי נכרים, והאריך לאסור, ובכלל {דבריו} הביא דברי מהר"ם די לונזאנו בספר שתי ידות דף ק' שכתב בשם ספר חסידים (סי' תשסח) ויזהר מי שקולו נעים שלא יזמר ניגונים נכרים, ודקדק שלא כתב שירים נכרים, דזה פשיטא דאסור, אלא נגונים נכרים, כלומר אף דהשיר הוא קדוש, הניגון נכרי יפסידהו, וכו' ע"ש. ונעלם ממנו דברי מהר"ם די לונזאנו עצמו שם בספר שתי ידות דף קמ"ב שכתב וז"ל, וזאת היתה לי סיבה גורמת לחבר רוב שירי על ניגוני הישמעאלים, וכו' וראיתי קצת חכמים כמתאוננים רע על המחברים שירות ותשבחות לשי"ת על ניגונים אשר לא מבני ישראל המה, ואין הדין עמם, כי אין בכך כלום, עכ"ל. וע"ש מ"ש הרב מהר"ם די לונזאנו בענין זה, ומה שהשיג על מהר"י נאגר"ה בשירותיא.
He notes that is the Sefer Maaseh Rokeach in Hilchot Tefillah, he was asked about those who sand kaddish and kedusha to melodies of gentiles, and he forbids. And along the way he brings the words of the Maharam di Lonzano who cited the Sefer Chassidim that one whose voice is sweet should take heed not to sing gentile niggunim, and makes a diyuk from the fact that he did not say shirim (songs) but rather niggunim (melodies). Yet, points out the Chida, the Maharam di Lonzano writes elsewhere that he himself composed Hebrew lyrics to Arabic melodies.

Furthermore, he writes, a few Chachamim complain about those who compose Hebrew lyrics and praises to Hashem based on non-Jewish melodies, but the law is not like them.

So it is nothing new to compose Hebrew words to non-Jewish melodies. And it is nothing new for people to complain about it -- but ignore 'em.

Another important thing to note is that we see all these piyyitum, and zemirot. People nowadays put them to tunes, or try to adapt them to tunes. (Deror Yikra goes to almost anything, including "Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street?") But in fact, in many cases, they were initially composed to match the meter, beat, etc., of existing tunes. I wonder for how many of these we know the initial melody.

Note: and now I see this post from BlogInDm, who noted this Chida first, three weeks ago, though to a different purpose.

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