Saturday, July 25, 2009

Subverting Mourning

Some people (such as Iconoclastic Litvaks) object to the custom to sing Lekha Dodi to the tune of Eli Tziyon on Shabbat Ḥazon, the Shabbos before Tish‘a b’Av. They think that it's an infringement by the mourning of Tishabav onto Shabbat, when public displays of mourning are inappropriate.

I was thinking about that this past Friday Night, as we sang Lekha Dodi to the tune of Eli Tziyon at shul, and I realized that it's not quite that simple. Lekha Dodi interweaves two themes — one is the approach of Shabbat, and the other is aspirations for Redemption. Matisyahu got the title of his album “Shake Off the Dust... Arise” from Lekha Dodi, after all, where it refers to the Jerusalem and the Jewish People, identified with each other, shaking off the necrotizing chains of exilic lethargy and rising to meet the Messianic Age.

Lekha Dodi is fundamentally hopeful — just as we stand at the end of the mundane week, on the threshold of the transcendent alternate universe of Shabbos, it looks out from Galut forwards, hopefully towards the Coming Days, and leaving the Valley of Tears behind.

When we foreshadow Tish‘a B’av by singing Lekha Dodi to the tune of Eli Tziyon, we aren't taking the mournful nature of the Fast and applying it to Shabbat where it doesn't belong — we're subverting and undercutting the entire mourning process before it's even had a chance to really get started. We go into Tishabav confident and hopeful, looking forwards towards the as-yet-unfulfilled prophecies of Consolation, instead of just looking back at the already-fulfilled prophecies of Calamity. Long before we read Eikha, we've already spun its message.

Complete and utter side-point:
You can also use the tune of Eli Tziyon to sing the song of the Dwarves longing for their dispossessed homeland in Prof. JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, both the English original and הנעמי's Hebrew translation. Which is pretty cool, considering the similar themes.


Blogger DafKesher said...

Davka (pace iconoclastic litvaks), I *like* the idea that there is one shabbos a year when we tell God that we will keep his shabbos, but we sure as hell won't enjoy it. We'll be all sad, not wear shabbos clothes, only eat meat and drink wine because he told us to. I like the נזופים atmosphere that (should) prevade Hazon.
But it doesn't, b/c someone decided we should be happy and sweet-smelling on shabbat. Or because we hate being sad in July.

7/26/2009 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Litvak said...

Interesting thought there, if I got what you meant.

I want to throw some other ideas out there for people to consider.

"Some people (such as Iconoclastic Litvaks) object to the custom to sing Lekha Dodi to the tune of Eli Tziyon on Shabbat Ḥazon, the Shabbos before Tish‘a b’Av. They think that it's an infringement by the mourning of Tishabav onto Shabbat, when public displays of mourning are inappropriate."

I believe those that follow the GR"A don't do it, I think some Yeshivos go in that path, at least for this, and I believe that Hassidim don't either - at least some of em.

On the surface, it seems like an infringement of the spirit of Shabbos.

However, 1) If it is done before shkiya, before borchu, etc., it may still be considered pre-Shabbos, 2) I see a parallel to the old minhog practiced in some places, where in case of a (bar minan, lo oleinu) oveil R"L, the oveil walks into Shul right after boi visholom and the tzibbur says 'HaMokom yinacheim'. How is that allowed? Answer - same as above. 3) I am wondering - those that object to/question the lecha dodi with niggun of Eli Tzion niggun on grounds of aveilus on Shabbos, do they similarly object to the Eicha tune in which the haftoro of Shabbos chazon is read? If not, why the different reactions?, 4) Do they object to saying Av Harachamim on Shabbos?

7/26/2009 12:13 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i like your "davka" idea!


The "Iconoclastic Litvak" i talked to on Friday (one of my rebbeim) does also object to using Eikha trop for the haftara, and told me that when he's in charge, he doesn't let people do it (or use Eli Tziyon for Lekha Dodi). He similarly objects to the mostly-obsolete minhag of wearing weekday clothes on Shabbat Ḥazon that DafKesher alluded to above.

7/26/2009 12:24 PM  
Blogger Tzvee Zahavy said...

Then should we also not make mention of Tisha B'av davening times in the shul handout distributed on Friday night, nor announce it nor make any reference to calendar at all? Isn't the notion that we are either happy or mourning oh too simplistic? Can we not recognize the time of year in the tunes of the davening when we surely recognize the upcoming event in the haftorah? i am so totally at sea with your objection...

7/26/2009 1:24 PM  
Blogger Aharonium said...

Using the tune of the Dwarves is all the more interesting when one consideres that Tolkien modeled the race of the Dwarves on the Jews (according to a letter Tolkein wrote in the mid-50s).

8/10/2009 10:57 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Even the Dwarves' language is meant to be Semitic-esque!

8/10/2009 11:06 AM  
Blogger Aharonium said...

The article on Dwarves at wikipedia, offered up the quote I read so long ago, on page 176 of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1981) edited by H. Carpenter:

"I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue..."

and here, the money quote: "The dwarves of course are quite obviously, wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic, obviously, constructed to be Semitic." (from a 1971 BBC radio interview)

But my favorite quote is his reply to the Nazis. This, from an article that appeared in the Jewish Journal back in 2001, and unfortunately, unsourced:

"After Hitler came to power, but prior to World War II, the German government officially requested, through Tolkien's publisher, that he establish his racial purity so they could authorize a translation of The Hobbit (the prequel of 'The Lord of the Rings').

The Oxford don, struggling financially to support his family, could have used the income from Third Reich sales. Instead, though Tolkien is a Germanic name, he took the opportunity to remind the Nazis of the ludicrous pretension of racial purity.

'Thank you for your letter.... I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend,' he wrote. 'I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are inquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people....'"

8/10/2009 11:47 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

It's not just that "Tolkien" is a Germanic name — Prof. Tolkien loved Germanic culture, such as Anglo-Saxon (Old English) literature and the Norse epics. He was horrified by what the Nazis did with his cultural heritage.

8/10/2009 12:05 PM  
Blogger Aharonium said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8/10/2009 12:37 PM  
Blogger Aharonium said...

Found Tolkien's reply to the Nazis sourced in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (Michael D. C. Drout, ed.) in its entry on "Judaism". The letter is no. 30 from 1938.

J.K. Rowlings materialistic, banker class, and magical weapons crafting Goblins don't receive as Tolkien's Dwarves but their derivation from medieval stereotype is obvious. The evolved abstraction of stereotyped Jew into a Goblin "character class" is so complete in fantasy literature it could be easily missed. I wonder if Rowling is even aware of it -- her portrayal of Goblins is neutral and nuanced (similar to her depiction of other magical species, e.g. the Giants). Meanwhile, there are human classmates of Harry Potter who are Jewish if we may infer this from their last names. Presenting Jews as human magicians is oddly enough, a huge leap in fantasy lit due to its deep roots in romantic traditions ambivalent towards Jews.

8/10/2009 1:02 PM  

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