Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hasidic Trance

Last semester I taught Eastern European Jewish History and in our last class we looked at the afterlife of this culture. We focused on two aspects of this question: the resurgence of interest in Jewish culture in an Eastern Europe almost devoid of Jews, and the attempts to preserve or adapt this culture outside of Eastern Europe.

One of the oddest aspects of the latter is the adoption by a breakaway group of Breslov hasidim of a Moldovan trance song put out by a boy band called O-Zone. Popularly known as the "Numa Numa song," these hasidim have changed the lyrics to "Rebbe Nachman, Nachman may-Uman, Nachman may-Uman, Rebbe Nachman may-Uman" [Rebbe Nachman from Uman].

Now there is a longstanding hasidic tradition of taking secular or profane melodies and elevating and sanctifying them by giving them a religious meaning. In the old days, it was Ukrainian folk tones, now it's Moldovan electronica. What's even odder is that many of these Breslov hasidim aren't Eastern European at all, but mizrachi (Eastern) Jews who have embraced this offshoot.

So basically, we've got here Moroccan Jews dancing to Moldovan electronica in celebration of Ukrainian hasidic rebbe. I can't think of a better example of the dynamism of culture.

I'm posting below three clips of dancing Breslov hasidim.

The first is in Kikar Tziyon (Zion Square) in Jerusalem:

The second is on an Israeli highway after a minor traffic accident:

The third is at the annual Breslov pilgrimage to Rebbe Nachman's grave in Uman for Rosh Hashanah last year (note the mizrachi music and hip hop hasidic kid). It's a modern-day hasidic Woodstock:


uncle les said...

would that be TRADITIONAL breslov hasidim dance? remarkably similar to spastic white american heterosexual.

or french.

J.B. said...

What you have to remember is that Breslov dancing, unlike American (or French) dancing, is designed to achieve a mystical purpose.

Here's one of Rebbe Nachman's sayings on dancing:

"It is a wonderful thing when people dance for joy for the sake of a mitzvah! .... As your joy begins to radiate, it will spread to your legs and you will literally start to dance for joy. This will banish the forces of the Other Side, which grip the legs. The force of severity and harsh judgements will be broken, and then you will be able to receive blessings. The fire with which we dance is `a fire offering, a sweet savor to the Lord' (Numbers 28:8). But when one dances in the heat of the evil inclination, it is a `strange fire' (Leviticus 10:1) and the wine which he drinks is the `wine of drunkenness,' which gives a hold to the forces of the Other Side. But dancing with holy intentions has as much power to sweeten the harsh judgements as a redemption."

Michael Alpert, the klezmer musician and yiddish singer, translates Nachman slightly differently: "It's a great mitzvah to be constantly in party mode."

uncle les said...

to show respect, let me concede that rebbe nachman could sans doute get down, but i'm sticking to my guns: these paticular disciples need to free themselves and advance beyond swah.

mitzvahs. i'm all for mitzvahs.

but, there is mystical and there is mystical. when inspired, all dancing aspires to some sort of mystical. these guys don't look anywhere near close to any sort. of mystical or mitzvah.

love the alpert quote. although to a much less extreme brave old world could use a little klezmatics loosey-goosey themselves. c'mon alpert, shake that thaing.

Rabbi Yonah said...

Good Shabbos!