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Friday, March 26, 2010

Has the world's gone hopping mad?/Hasidic Lady Gaga

Jewish weddings have always been boisterous occasions and Hasidic weddings today are no exceptions. What has changed in the past ten years is the role that music and live entertainment plays. Weddings have become professionally run shows that incorporate a technological and artistic sophistication that rivals (and often surpasses) the vast majority of American weddings. Weddings with major (Hasidic) entertainers often spawn viral videos on Youtube which in turn help the artists sell CDs. Remember that this is all within a community that for the most part officially frowns on the internet. Hasidic singers (all male) don't exactly go on world tours so weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and fund-raising gala dinners for charities compose the bulk of the live music scene.

Yiddish is the dominant spoken language in Hungarian Hasidic Communities in Brooklyn but English is often incorporated into parties as a sort of special ceremonial register to contrast even more sharply with the traditional wedding songs (mostly in Hebrew, some in Yiddish) or prayers. But it's no just the language of America that is being incorporated into Hasidic entertainment but also its music, sometimes fairly covertly. In this clip the entrance of the bride/groom (announced by the Hebrew/Yiddish words khusn/kale) is punctuated by a Hasidic band playing a medley of Lady Gaga songs. Lady Gaga? Certainly not what one would expect a religious Jew to listen to at a wedding. Of course, most of the audience has no idea who Lady Gaga is (people of course will find the songs familiar as anyone walking down the street in Brooklyn has heard them). And those who know who she is or who have (חס-ושלום) seen her music videos is certainly not going to confess to the fact and risk putting their own standing in the community at risk or risk ruining the party for others by revealing exactly what is being played. So a catch-22 begins of most people not knowing what is being played and those who do know keeping quiet about it.

Despite what most people would assume, this is fairly typical of the historical religious Jewish engagment with popular culture. In Hungary, Yiddish was the language of the home, kheder (religious school) and yeshive (seminary) but Hungarian was used ceremoniously at events, including informal parties and I've heard from people who grew up there, even weddings. Just like English is now being used in America. The custom lyrics, written specially for the occasion, are also a standard part of Eastern European wedding entertainment (badkhenes), which often incorporates sophisticated rhyming, complete with multilingual puns and double entendres which serve to provide transitions between the various stages of the festivities and again, separate the holy from the profane. Hence, this strange culture clash with Lady Gaga being played by payes wearing Hasidim is not really a break from Jewish tradition but part of its continuation. So without further ado, here's the now famous Hasidic Lady Gaga clip


And more towards my taste, here is some much more traditional Hasidic Badkhenes in incredibly interesting Yiddish verse.


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