Friday, December 26, 2008

Hanukkah Day 4: Mi Yemalel in three part harmony, with religious controversy and annoying little brothers

Chag Sameach everyone. I'm still a day behind, but am trying to catch up. For Hanukkah day 4, I've got two takes on the popular Hanukkah song Mi Yimalel (Who Can Retell) and some thoughts on the meaning of the song.

First, the music. I don't know much about this lovely version other than the singers are Oren and Chaya the video was uploaded yesterday by Oren and Oren from the Berkley Hillel. Great job folks.

Oren and Chaya's Mi Yemalel

Next up is an adorable home recording from YouTube user Emorutube showcasing a young lady's (Emorutube's daughter?) pajama-clad home performance. As a dad with two daughters, I loved this one. My house is filled with shows like this. Kudos to the young lady for grace and perseverance despite dad with camera, an annoying kid brother, and one or two forgotten words. Love it.

So, about the controversy. No doubt that Mi Yimalel is a very popular song with the empowering message "[b]ut now all Israel must as one arise, Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice". In short, in every age we've got troubles and in every age we need to respond to them ourselves. But not everyone loves that message. I read an interesting grumble on NeoHasid.Org recently that complained that "Mi Yimalel embodies the dangerous hubris that characterized the anti-religious branch of Zionism. The message of Mi Yimalel is that we find salvation only through our own strength and power. That is the downfall of the State and the tyrant equally." because "In Judaism, rabbinic and Biblical, it is God who is moshi'a savior, fodeh rescuer, and go'el redeemer." A commentator on the NeoHasid website noted that we shouldn't be surprised by the song's slant because "the song was written in the middle of the 20th Century, by Menashe Rabina, a Communist, a Zionist and a music critic, who was fiercely anti-Nazi." I've been able to confirm that as correct but haven't been able to find a good biography of Rabina yet that might expand on it.

I bring this up in the same spirit I mentioned a related grumble about Peter Yarrow's popular "Don't Let The Lights Go Out." As songs, and prayers, for that matter, become part of our collective cultural experience it's easy to forget that they were composed at a specific time and with a specific meaning. However you interpret and respond to that time and meaning is your own business, but you should be aware of what you're singing. Personally, I have no objection Rabina's sentiment. From both a secular self-preservation standpoint and a religious Tikun Olam perspective Jews are expected to act in the world and having a few songs around that celebrate that call to action is just fine. I also see the writer at NeoHasid's point that putting ourselves too firmly in the role of being our own savior may be arrogant, disrespectful, and self-defeating.

On a holiday that celebrates Judah Macabee's victory but quickly points out that it was a miracle, these are ideas worth thinking about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I come from a very similar place.... ie. Small town Ontario, very few jews, including my two young children. It's good to see others in the same situation pushing the boundaries of readily available knowledge and actually seeking it for themselves.

Miss Jaffit.

Ps. I myself am a musician. Jew-tunes coming your way ;)