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Endnote: The Angel’s Offer; Irish Pipe Dreams

Riki Goldstein

A charming a cappella video version called “Kabbalas HaTorah,” performed by Zanvil Weinberger and the Malchus Choir, has captured the song’s Yiddish essence

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

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T

he Angel’s Offer

Some Things Never Change

The Yiddish ballad “Der Malach,” based on the midrash about the angel offering the Torah to the nations of the world, is one of Rabbi Yom Tov Ehrlich’s best-known songs, up there with “Yakob” and “Williamsburg.” The song — touching on well-known flaws of the Russian, German, French, British, American, and Arab nations who don’t want to accept the Torah (“nein, nein, halt dos alein…”) and ending with Hashem presenting his treasure to the Jews, who promise to cherish it — was originally recorded in Ehrlich’s own rich and lively Yiddish on one of his early albums, called Torah. Russian-born Ehrlich, who passed away in 1990, survived the Holocaust in Samarkand and later moved to Brooklyn, where he was probably the most prolific chassidic musician, composer, and lyricist of the 20th century, having recorded 36 albums of original compositions.

Avraham Fried recorded the song under the name “Di Torah” on his Yiddish Gems album back in 1992. And now a charming a cappella video version called “Kabbalas HaTorah,” performed by ZANVIL WEINBERGER and the MALCHUS CHOIR, has captured the song’s Yiddish essence, added some Yerushalmi chein, and brought Reb Yom Tov’s unique style to a new generation.

Rabbi Pinchos Bichler, the choir’s producer, says that just 24 hours after the video’s release, he got a call from a no-longer-observant young man. “He said, ‘You know, I always thought that the midrashim and aggados are no longer relevant to our times — but your video and this song brought it home to me that they are totally true until today. I might not be such a ‘good Jew’ at this time, but I feel proud to belong to the Am Segulah, who lives by the Torah.’ ”








Irish Pipe Dreams

Which Jewish hit song from the past two decades is accompanied by Uilleann bagpipes? Distinguished from the more well-known Scottish bagpipes by a softer and quieter sound, Uilleann bagpipes are the traditional national pipes of Ireland. They are usually played while seated (Scottish pipers invariably stand) and their bag is inflated by means of a small set of bellows strapped around the musician’s waist and right arm.

In the summer of 2005, composer YITZY BALD was working on compiling songs for DOVID GABAY’s debut album, Legabay. He had composed a tune that he felt would be the mega hit song of the album — "Digi digi da-dum digi digi da-dum" — and found words from an appropriate Gemara that made reference to the new singer’s name. Still, he wanted a great intro for the song, something original that would captivate listeners and get them into the niggun.

One afternoon, Yitzy found himself in the Sharper Image store, on South Street Seaport in Manhattan. He noticed a rack of music CDs, and on the cover of one of them was a bagpipe. “The instrument struck me as so regal and unusual. An idea came to mind — wouldn’t it be amazing if we could put bagpipe music into a Jewish song? I bought the CD and listened carefully, and for the next few weeks, I studied bagpipes and figured out how they play. They can’t reach every note and they play mainly in a major key. Finally, I wrote a musical arrangement for the bagpipe, for the first and only time.”

When it was ready, the search was on for a piper. Producer Avi Neumark found an Irish-American musician named Jerome O Sullivan, who came to the studio to record the intro. Captivated by the pipes’ sound, Yitzy decided to add a lone drummer to the second play of the intro. Legabay catapulted Dovid Gabay to the following year’s HASC concert and to the front row of the Jewish music scene. And O’ Sullivan? He found himself juggling Jewish wedding bookings.

 

Standing Ovation!

Veteran producer Dovid Nachman Golding hosts a walk down musical memory lane

Feeling Left Out

Over many years of producing recordings and concerts, I’ve come across a fair share of halachic conundrums that had to be addressed. The most common sh’eilah in the music business is, “Can we do a concert in a non-Orthodox temple?” Another one I’ve often heard is, “Do we have to use a complete pasuk in a song, or can we use just a part of it?” Then there’s the question, “Can we hire a non-religious musician for a Motzaei Shabbos event, assuming he’ll drive on Shabbos?”

Back in 1983, we were in the middle of doing the vocals on the second Uncle Moishy album, recording “The Brocho Song,” when our first sh’eilah came up. The lyrics that we composed included five of the brachos we make on food – hagafen, hamotzi, mezonos, ha’eitz, and shehakol. In actuality, there are six (ha’adamah). To be honest, I didn’t see a problem with that. But Zale Newman questioned putting only five of the brachos into the song and leaving one out. In the end we decided the question warranted an official psak, to be posed to a rav.

 

I drove over to Yeshivah Torah Vodaath and went to ask Rav Belsky ztz”l the question. I remember clearly how he was standing in the middle of the beis medrash, at the bimah, and I approached him and said, “Rebbi, I have a question. Can we do an Uncle Moishy song about making brachos on food, and mention only five of the six food brachos?”

Without missing a beat, Rav Belsky asked me, “Which brachah did you leave out?” I answered that the brachah I had left out was ha’adamah, but that I could change it to a different brachah if it was important.

 

Then Rav Belsky asked me, “And how do you think ha’adamah is going to feel?” I gave a smile and a small laugh. He looked at me with a stern face and said, “I’m not joking! Do it over.” I looked at him in bewilderment, not having anticipated that answer. He repeated himself. “Do it over. And include all the brachos.”

Of course, we did it over.

 

From that moment on, Suki, Zale, and I realized that taking on the responsibility of teaching children was no small matter and that we must be extra cautious when producing a children’s album.

In fact, one of Jerusalem’s tzaddikim, Rav Yosef Zenwirth ztz”l, was once speaking with Suki, when Suki mentioned that some of the musicians we use on the recordings are not frum. Rav Yosef said he would strongly recommend that even in such a case, prior to the recording session we should ask the musicians to have in mind that Hashem should bless their efforts in making the recording an educational tool for Jewish children everywhere.

 

Over the years, people always ask us if we’re allowed to make an event in, say, a place like Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall, where less-than-kosher performances take place all the time. The answer we give is that not only is it permissible to do a Jewish event in such a place, but perhaps this is really its ultimate purpose and that we’re in fact bringing kedushah into the building.

And finally, if we’re speaking of halachah, let’s address the elephant in the room: Listening to music that you didn’t purchase? Illegal downloads? Copying a friend’s CD? An unauthorized YouTube clip?

 

Never mind. In the words of my dear friend, Stanley Felsinger, owner of Camp Monroe and a stickler for honesty, “Do the right thing.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 709)

 

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