Archive for dulcimer

“Reb Tsudek” Performed by Itzik Gottesman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 4, 2018 by yiddishsong

Reb Tsudek
Sung by Itzik Gottesman, recorded Nov 2018, Austin TX

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

I was asked to post the song “Reb Tsudek” as sung by the Yiddish poet Martin Birnbaum. He sang it to Michael Alpert and me in 1984-85 in NYC.  But, alas, I cannot find the original recording so I have recorded it myself.

Birnbaum was born in 1905 in Horodenke when it was Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Now it is in the Ukraine  – Horodenka. According to a NY Times obituary he came to the US in 1923 and died in 1986. In the YIVO Institute’s Ruth Rubin Legacy Archive, Birnbaum sings four songs but not this one. Those recordings were done in 1964.

I believe there is more Yiddish folklore to be discovered about this shlimazel (bad luck) character Reb Tsudek. When I asked the Yiddish poet Yermye Hescheles about him he affirmed that there was such a comic figure in Galicia, where both he and Birnbaum were from.

The song mocks the Hasidic lifestyle – absurd devotion to the rebbe, irresponsibility, staying poor. The word “hiltay” – defined by the dictionaries as “libertine” “skirt-chaser” “scoundrel” – is really a cue that this is a 19th century maskilic, anti-Hasidic, song. The word is often used in such songs. The humor also hinges on the double meaning of tsimbl both as a musical instrument (a hammered dulcimer) and as a verb – “to thrash or scold someone”.

couple tsimblA tsimblist, about to be thrashed by his wife.
(courtesy Josh Horowitz)

In the song two towns are mentioned: Nay Zavalek remains a mystery but Grudek, west of Lviv, is Grodek in Polish and Horodok in Ukrainian.

Here is a clip of Michael Alpert singing  the song, with Pete Rushefsky on tsimbl, Jake Shulman-Ment on violin and Ethel Raim singing at the Smithsonian Folkife Festival in Washington D.C.,  2013:


Fort a yid keyn Nay-zavalek,
direkt bizn in Grudek.
Fort a yid tsu zayn rebn – Reb Tsudek.
Tsudek iz a yid, a lamden.
Er hot a boykh a tsentn,
Un s’iz bakant, az er ken shpiln
of ale instrumentn.

Shpilt er zikh derbay (2x)

Fort a yid keyn Nay-zavalek
direkt bizn in Grudek.
Oy vey z’mir tatenyu!
Fort a yid keyn Nay-Zavalek
direkt bizn in Grudek.
Oy vey z’mir tatenyu!

Un Reb Tsudek, er zol lebn,
hot gehat a gutn shabes.
Tsudek hot gekhapt shirayem,
mit beyde labes.
Aheymgebrakht hot er zayn vaybl
a zhmenye meyern-tsimes.
Un dertsu, oy vey iz mir,
a tsimbl un strines.

“Hiltay vus iz dus!” (2x)

Oy hot zi getsimblt Tsudek
fun Zavalek bizn in Grudek.
Oy vey z’mir tatenyu!
Oy hot zi getsimblt Tsudek
fun Zavalek bizn in Grudek.
Oy vey z’mir tatenyu!


A man travels to Nay-Zavalek,
directly until Grudek.
The man is traveling to his rabbi,
Mister Tsudek.
Tsudek is a learned man,
and has a belly that weighs ten tons.
And everyone knows that he can play
on all the instruments.

So he plays as he travels –

A man travels to Nay-Zavalek
directly until Grudek,
Oh my, dear God!
A man travels to Nay-Zavalek
directly until Grudek,
Oh my, dear God!

And Reb Tsudek, may he be well,
had a good Sabbath.
Tsudek caught the Rebbe’s holy leftovers
with both paws [large, rough hands].
For his wife he brought home
a handful of carrot – tsimmes,
and in addition – oh no! –
a tsimbl with no strings.

Scoundrel! what is this? (2x)

Boy did she thrash Tsudek
from Zavalek until Grudek
Oh my, dear God.
Boy did she thrash Tsudek
from Zavalek unti Grudek
Oh my, dear God





“Der heyliker moshiakh” Performed by Josh Waletzky

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by yiddishsong

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.

Josh Waletzky

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).

“Der heyliker moshiakh”

“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,
The ringleaders.
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)

Der heyliker moshiakh in Noyekh Prilutksi‘s collection Yidishe folkslider (click to enlarge)