Drooling on the Pillow

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Treyf Banquet 

Here are three tunes by the Klezmatics, from their Rise Up! Shteyt Oyt! album.

The first is Kats un Moyz. Count the subversive musical elements that creep in and stare from the shadows or flash by like a witch in a hurricane.

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This one reminds me of a hot summer night about fifteen years ago when I lived in Washington Heights. My side of Broadway was mostly Hasids, the other side was all Dominican. One evening I was walking home I looked down at a vacant lot in which an enormous tent had been raised. With the heat, some of the top panels had been removed and I could see perhaps three hundred Hasids dancing. The music was so abandoned and the dance was so ecstatic, and yet they were three hundred men in black coats and black hats and payots, packed so closely they each had their hands on someone's shoulders, turning in a vast pinwheel around the center pole. No space between them that I could see, and yet they would suddenly spin and leap and shout and then lurch forward in their mad dance. It was moving and stunning and a little scary for a Irish kid from the shore. (Even though I lived for two years in Lakewood.)

Here's what Kenneth Rexroth said about Dancing Hasids:
Hasidism came to have a whole group ritual, special
ways of celebrating the old Jewish holidays and rites of
passage. Most conspicuous was ecstatic dancing of a
peculiar character. It is like nothing else in the world,
although I suppose its antecedents go back to the dancing
dervishes of the Levant and through them to the
Corybantic brotherhoods of the Baals and Baalats of Canaan.
Great emphasis was placed on the bath of purification. For
the antiquity of this we have physical evidence amongst
the Essenes of the Dead Sea settlement. The Baal Shem
frowned on asceticism and taught that the holy man
“redeems” food and drink by consuming it. Alcohol was
consumed, especially before dancing, to produce a kind of
holy intoxication. Erotic mysticism and direct adoration of
the Shekinah as the Bride of God were central to most rites.
The ritual dance was customarily performed to singing in
which all took part, dancing in a circle around a young boy
with a pure unchanged voice who stood in the center of the
ring dance on a table, and who was understood as a surrogate
for a woman. Dances like this are referred to in both the
Jewish and the Christian Apocrypha and they are common
in other Gnostic sects from Japan to Bengal. This, however,
did not result in any sort of orgiastic sexual promiscuity.
There is no question but that sacred prostitutes, male and
female, were part of the temple ritual until the revolution
which “discovered the ancient documents” of the present
Torah. In Hasidism their place is taken by each married
couple — a temple unto themselves. All Hasidim, and
especially their leaders, the Zaddiks, were expected to
marry, and the final expression of erotic mysticism was
centered in the marriage bed and the family. In this
way Hasidism, after all its colorful and emotional detour,
returns to be at one with the most orthodox mystery of
Judaism — the seed of Israel.
Anyway, Tepel, reminds me of the music I heard that night.

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Lastly, Holly Near's I'm Not Afraid speaks for itself. The notion is commonly expressed these days, usually disguising a fundamental hostility to religion in general. Taken at face value, however, which, since this album was produced in the months after 9/11, is how I take this expression of it, it represents the essance of humanism.

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