Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Songs of the Season - The "Chassidic" Kaddish

Today is the 15th of Elul - the middle of this month of preparations. I've been very involved with clearing the physical spaces around me - my apartment, my office, my car - of all unnecessary clutter. It seems to me that I cannot in earnest begin a new year while still surrounded by the last year's (or years') mess of things.

One website I was reading for suggestions about doing this kind of cleaning gave an absolute rule - you can only touch something one time and in that one time you must either deal with it, get rid of it, delegate it, or file it away. What you cannot do is pick it up, say, "I'll figure this one out later" and then put it right back where it was. Imagine if we could follow the same process as we pick up the various pieces of our lives over this past year. Imagine if not dealing with something was not an option. It is an inspiring, if difficult to accomplish, idea. The potential however... to walk into this new year with a clean home and a clean spirit - well, that seems worth it to me.

Today's melody is the famous "Chassidic" Kaddish.

Download Cantor David Berger - Chassidic Kaddish

This melody, originally just for the last Kaddish Shalem at the end of Ne'ilah (the final service of Yom Kippur) has spread in many communities to pretty much every service of the High Holy Day season.

It is fun, lighthearted, and is able to change the feeling in the synagogue almost immediately. After all the hard work we've all been doing throughout the service, this "Chassidic" Kaddish provides a much needed relief.

But should High Holy Days be the time for fun?

The Zohar reminds that Yom Kippur (sometimes called "Yom Hakippurim" in Hebrew) can also be a "Yom K-Purim" "A day like Purim." Somewhere amidst the chest beating, self-reflection and prayers for forgiveness should be a little of the spirit and energy of Purim. I think this kaddish melody helps make that happen.

The music was written by Cantor Jacob Gottlieb (1852-1900) and was made famous by the "King of Cantors" Yossele Rosenblatt (1882-1933). Pretty much every other famous cantor also included the melody into their own repertoires, leading to a certain amount of confusion over the original authorship. Sometimes you'll see Roseblatt listed as the composer, sometimes Moshe or David Koussevitzky, sometimes it will be listed as "folk" - anyway - now you know - Jacob Gottlieb (also known as Yankel der Heizeriker (Jacob the Hoarse) deserves the credit.

The piece is made for cantor and congregation to sing together - with the famous "v'i..i..i...m'ru u u" refrain. Give it a listen and get into the Day Like Purim feel.

This year let's try and bring some real joy to our High Holy Day prayers. If we do the work I talked about above and really give ourselves a thorough physical and spiritual cleaning - we can come into 5771 ready to do the hard work and ready to celebrate the new year that is beginning.

Download Cantor David Berger - Chassidic Kaddish


  1. Hi there!

    I was surfing around and found your great blog, while looking for this tune's lyrics. Do you happen to know where I might find them or do you have them?


  2. can you post the score for this piece? It would be very nice to have it. Thanks!