Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Religious Harmony

I'm not too thrilled with the annual "Christmas-ization" of Chanukah each year; i.e., the prominence that this relatively minor Jewish holiday is given - by the Gentile world and by much of the Jewish as well - just because it happens to fall at the same time of year as the major Christian holiday. When colleagues ask me why I'm working during my Holiday this week, given that they know I take off for obscure ones like "Pentecost" and "The 8th Day of Solemn Assembly", I sigh inwardly and roll out my Valentine's Day analogy. That's the one that goes, "Pretend you lived in a country where the main religious holiday fell in February, then everyone would think Valentine's Day is the main Christian holiday just because it comes at that same time of year..."

Of course what makes it worse is that Christmas and Chanukah have virtually nothing in common from a theological standpoint.

HOWEVER - here's one area where harmony between these two religious holidays does exist, on a very literal level. I discovered long ago that the traditional tune for Maoz Tzur (see Mirty today for more about this famous hymn) harmonizes perfectly with... drum roll please...
Deck the Halls!
Try it, you'll see what I mean!

On a related note, does anyone else think that the standard "Young Israel" synagogue tunes for "Ein Keloheynu" and "Aleynu" sound sort of church-like? They have that ponderous, stately tone and pace that seems to just beg for organ music in the background.

Conversely, I refuse to believe that "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is not really a Jewish niggun. It sounds like it comes right out of the Yom Kippur service, or maybe a forgotten Dveykus album from the 80s.

Oh well, as Elvis Costello says,
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony?
Maybe I found a little bit of it here, at least musically? (Or maybe I'm just getting loony-tunes?)


At 12/29/05, 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting connections. Since my stepkids are with their Mom this week, my husband and I have to recite the brachas and sing Maoz Tsur without the help of anyone who can actually sing. Last night, the dogs were seen wincing and covering their ears with their paws. But when the kids come back, we'll try the Maoz Tsur / Deck the Halls harmony.

At 12/29/05, 10:37 AM, Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

I guess if you go far back enough, you'll find that singing in shul and in church probably come from similar sources to begin with. The Yekkes sing many parts of their davening, which obviously come from their influences in Germany, etc.

It's funny you mention it though, because in every shul, there are arguments about what you should or shouldn't sing, and what tune you can or can't use, etc.

At 12/29/05, 10:45 AM, Blogger Elie said...

I will give credit to my Dad for originally pointing out to me the "church-like" sound of the two shul tunes I mentioned. I don't know whether this perspective was based on his knowledge of liturgical history (which was extensive) or his own personal musical preferences.

Either way, I like the peppy Carlbachian tune for Ein Keloheynu much better than the old fashioned one - and in fact the Carlbach tune is now used most weeks in my shul (yay!). I wish someone would come up with a similar new tune for Aleynu!

At 12/29/05, 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've often imagined slipping into some chasidish shtiebl somewhere and using "Stairway to Heaven" for Lecha Dodi. It fits, you know. What would the reaction be? "That's a beautiful niggun, what Rebbe composed it?"

Soccer Dads Former Roommate

At 12/29/05, 11:41 AM, Blogger Elie said...


You brought back a great memory! When I was in YU and stayed for Shabbos, I used to like eating with the waiters - they were always a fun-loving bunch of guys (also they started earlier and had access to the stash of goodies in the kitchen!) We discoverd that practically any tune, if done slowly and with enough "ai-yi-yi"-ing, can sound like a yeshivishe niggun. When were were feeling particularly silly, we used to start singing niggunim based on TV themes like Gilligan's Island and The Munsters. Sometimes the rabbeim would join in without realizing what the tunes really were!

At 12/29/05, 4:22 PM, Blogger yitz said...

Oy, I have a lot to say here, but am too tired for it all :(

But - a few quick points:

Methinks the old Yekke aka Young Israel "Ein Kelokeinu" sounds more like a German pub song, than from the church. Dunno 'bout Aleinu, haveta think about that one. I have an inkling that some of these pub songs crept into the German Jewish synagogue liturgy. BTW Chabad consciously adapted some Russian barsongs to niggunim.

As far as the Stairway to Heaven attempt - I got a better one for ya. Try the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" as a niggun. It's in waltz time, and when played without words can sound very Jewish-niggun-like. I once sang it at a Carlebach minyan for "Ana b'Koach" and it went okay!

BTW, after the first time we made a Carlebach minyan in my shul here in Jerusalem, it was a Shabbos-Rosh Chodesh morning. After that ONE time, we ALWAYS sing Ein Kelokeinu to a Carlebach tune [he composed 3 tunes for Ein Kelokeinu!]

At 1/1/06, 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just posted on the origins of "Jewish music"... I was planning to write it anyway, but had to link to yours especially as we did try this at home (oy!). I can't find the track-back URLs for your posts, but in any case you can see it here.


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