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Jewish Songs?

Songs of Songs - by Jody Rosen and Ari Y. Kelman; Tablet Magazine
Everyone seems to be thinking about the same thing! Or, are my eyes drawn to such articles because I am still thinking about these things?  Yes, I am still singing after our wonderful musical Shabbat service!   And I am still thinking about music and song, Judaism and prayer.  So here is another interesting article from Tablet Magazine about the 100 best Jewish songs. You might be surprised to see what makes it on the list. Listed are: "White Christmas," "Hound Dog" and "Over the Rainbow" (#1) as well as Adon Olam (#11 here; listen to our cantor singing this prayer to see why it really should be #1), Kol Nidre, Shema Yisrael, Avinu Malkeinu and Oseh Shalom. There are the Israeli favorites too: Yerushalayim shel Zahav, Shir LaShalom, Hatikvah, Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (#88) and Hava Nagila (you must listen to Bob Dylan's version of this classic here!).

What makes a song Jewish?  Is it a matter of the composer's faith?  (That is the only explanation for why "White Christmas" makes it on the list.)  Is it a matter of the song's content?  (One can argue, as the authors do, that "Over the Rainbow" could make it in based on content.  But #46, "Hound Dog?")  What makes a novel Jewish for that matter?  Is it because of the author or because of what he or she writes about?  Is Portnoy's Complaint a Jewish novel?  Is Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King?  Or only his Herzog a Jewish novel?  Writing and music mirror the experiences of Jews living in the countries they find themselves in.  Living in the United States we sometimes exert our Jewishness.  Other times we hide it.  When do we claim our identities?  When do we hide them?  This tension as well is often the source of creativity, giving us great music, literature and art. 

Obviously I choose never to hide my identity (that would be kind of hard when most people think my name is "rabbi") and why I suspect I am so enamored of Israeli culture.  It is often Jewish without ever trying to be and sometimes even without the author or singer being aware of the fact.  I don't think most Israelis hear as I do the Jewish and Biblical resonances in their everyday Hebrew.  Take for example the contemporary songwriter Muki and his song "Elohim." "You are the earth.  You are life.  You are creation.  You are the years.  You are love drifting away....  When I breathe, when I feel, I open my eyes, I look and know.  Hear this clear truth, these words, I know You.  God.  I do not fear You.  All I want is to meet You.  I have no doubt about You.  You are with me. I am with You.  Just don't ever forget me!"  Sometimes I find myself listening to the song as if meditating in prayer.  Listen as well to the new internet radio station: Jewish Rock Radio to discover more music and songs to lift your hearts and prayers.  I am certain you will not hear "Over the Rainbow" on this station.  But perhaps you should!