Commentary by Itzik Gottesman
This week’s Yiddish Song of the Week features a performance of Der heyliker moshiakh (The Holy Messiah) by New York-based Yiddish singer Josh Waletzky, recorded at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance on January 28, 2011. The song is from Waletzky’s family repertoire (his family referred to it as “The Name Song”); Ruth Rubin collected the song from Waletzky during her fieldwork at Camp Boiberik.
I have attached a variant of this song as found in Noyekh Prilutski‘s collection Yidishe folkslider volume one, Warsaw, 1914. Number 61 (pages 90 – 91). There is no melody given in Prilutski‘s volume, so thanks to Waltezky we have one now!
Der heyliker moshiakh is a great example of a maskilic Yiddish song (composed by Jews who were adherents of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, the Haskalah) in which the irony of the song was confusing or lost to the ‟folk‟, and in this case, to the Maskil as well, Noyekh Prilutski. See his comment on the bottom of the attached Yiddish page 91, footnote number 2, where he writes:
‟Typical: as often happens that in the most Hasidic songs, secular [‟fraye”] lines are sung at the end. Perhaps because the song was sung at Simkhes-toyre, when everyone was a little drunk?‟
So Prilutski believed that the song was Hasidic, not Maskilic (anti-Hasidic), and perhaps he had even seen it performed by Hasidim? That would not be shocking, since it was common for similar parodic anti-Hasidic songs such as this, written from the point of view of Hasidim, to be ‟misinterpreted‟ as pro-Hasidic, pro-rebbe. The classic example is Velvl Zbarzher‘s Kum aher du filosof which was recorded in a typically lyrical fashion by Theodore Bikel.
Is it mis-interpretation? ‟Reinterpretation‟ or just plain ‟interpretation‟ would be preferable. The singer, whose context and audience varies from that of the composer, gives the song a different meaning through his performance.
Waletzky clearly sings it as a parody in the way the Maskilic composer wrote it, and the song has several of the subjects of satire that the maskilim often mocked about the traditional shtetl life: the blind devotion of the hasidim to their rebbe, the fanatic anti-modern/progress attitude (e.g., mocking the popular secular dance kadril ‘quadrille’ as shmadril, which also alludes to the word for converting, shmadn), and the highlight of the song, the satirizing of Yiddish names that comprises the refrain.
Notice that in Prilutski‘s version there is no reference to shmadril but non-traditional dance is mentioned (Zey veln tantsn mit fremde yunge-layt / They will dance with young strangers).
“The Holy Messiah”
un az der heyliker moshiekh vet kumen
vel ikh zayn der ershter af der shlakht.
af di daytshn vet men zikh nemen
un zey shlogn tog vi nakht.
gor on pulver un on blay,
koyln veln flien iber aln.
un az der rebe vet nokh tsugebn a posek derbay,
vi shtroy veln di daytshn faln.
And when the holy Messiah comes
I will be the first into battle.
We’ll set upon the Assimilators
And beat them day and night.
No need for powder or lead,
Bullets will be flying everywhere.
And the moment the Rebbe adds a verse from Scripture,
The Assimilators will drop like straw.
un es vet nokh tsuhelfn
zurekh un burekh, yankev, danil,
zindl, grindl, khayem, smil,
berl, shmerl, getzl, azril,
veln firn dos gantse krentsl.
keyle, beyle, yente, sose,
khane, brayne, yakhne, dvose,
sime, blime, pesi un rose
veln tantsn dos mitsve-tentsl.
And helping out will be
Zorekh and Baruch, Jacob, Daniel,
Zindl, Grindl, Chaim, Samuel,
Berl, Shmerl, Getsl, Azriel,
Keyle, Beyle, Yente, Sose,
Hannah, Brayne, Yakhne, Dvose,
Sime, Blume, Pesi and Rose
Will dance the Mitsve Dance…
der rebe vet zayn der komendant.
er vet komedirn ahin un aher.
un ikh vel zayn zayn atyudant,
di khsidim dos militer.
un az der rebe vet onfangen fun toyre tsu shmaysn,
tsu bavayzn zayne havayes,
azoy veln di khsidim onhoybn tsu shisn
af di drabes, af di hultayes.
The Rebbe will be the commander.
He’ll issues orders this way and that.
And I will be his adjutant;
The Chassidim–his troops.
And when the Rebbe begins thrashing them with Torah,
Making his faces at them,
The Chassidim immediately open fire
On the freethinking prostitutes and adulterers.
And helping out will be
Zorekh and Baruch, Jacob, Daniel,…
di daytshn, zey vern dokh poshet dil–
zey veysn nit vos zey zoln tin.
zey hobn a tants vos heyst ‘shmadril’:
eyner loyft aher, un der anderer ahin.
un di daytshke vos tsimblt af dem shlambil
vet fayerdike kneydlekh esn;
un az der rebe vet aroyfleygn zayn lape af ir,
vet zi in tsimbl fargesn.
un es vet nokh tsuhelfn…
The Assimilators will simply get confused–
They won’t know what to do.
They have a dance called the ‘Shmadrille’:
One runs this way and the other runs that way.
The Lady Assimilator tsimbling* her ‘shmambourine’
Will eat hot matzo-ball ammo.
And when the Rebbe lays his paws on her
She’ll forget all about her tsimbl*.
And helping out will be
Zorekh and Baruch, Jacob, Daniel..
*tsimbl = cimbalom/hammered dulcimer; tsimbling = to play a tsimbl (or in this case, to beat with sticks as if playing a tsimbl)