Belfology - On Titles: Mysteries, Clues, and Misconceptions

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Contents

  1. Rumynski Zhok
  2. Yikhes
  3. Moldovanskaya Dudochka
  4. Moldovanskaya Dudochka
  5. Rumynski Zhok Tanets
  6. Simkhas Toyre
  7. Bolgarskaya
  8. Bolgarski Zhok
  9. Moldovanskaya Hanga
  10. U Rabina
  11. Nokh Havdole
  12. Fun Der Khupe
  13. Na Rasvete
  14. Bessarabski Freilikhs
  15. Rumynski Motiv
  16. Dem Rebns Havdole
  17. Bessarabski Zhok
  18. Lomir Beyten Got
  19. Zayt Lustik
  20. Mayofis
  21. Turetskaya
  22. Tsu Der Hafokes(Belf 22)
  23. Khosidl
  24. Khotinskaya
  25. Amerikanskaya
  26. Der Arbaytsman
  27. Freylikhs Bruder
  28. Svirskaya
  29. Lipvetskaya
  30. Der Farzorgter Yid
  31. Hop Lyalya, Rumynski Piesnya
  32. Gora Holya, Rumnyski Tanets
  33. Tanets Rabina(Belf 33)
  34. Nakhes fun Kinder
  35. Khasid U Rabina
  36. Odesskaya
  37. Oy sa falshe velt
  38. Polnieshtskaya
  39. Surra U Ravvina
  40. Baym Rebns Tish

On Titles: Mysteries, Clues, and Misconceptions

Titles and place names can be tricky.

This site has used the tune names as they were rendered into English translit by our sources - which is at least one step removed from the original label.

The Russian and Yiddish are themselves translits from the English translit, except when the title seemed to have originated in that language (or in Ukrainian), in which case the original native word was used.

We can learn a fair amount about the time and place these tunes are from through the titles. However, we can also be thrown off track by not checking all modern assumptions (for example, the meaning of "Romanian", covered in another article).

Generalities to keep in mind when considering the titles.

  • Don't assume titles have any real connection to the tune.
    • Sometimes common tunes don't have names until a recording or transcription is made, and names may be plucked out of thin air.
  • Don't confuse modern boundaries with place names referenced.
    • Fixed boundaries for countries, based on the national identity of the people inside those boundaries, is a fairly new concept. Belf recorded on the eve of the Great War, which followed the decline of two major imperial forces in the area, simutaneously nationalist concepts were reaching a mature stage. "Nationality" is a concept with different meanings in different places and times.
  • Transliteration without context can fool you.
    • Don't assume all Cyrillic is Russian and that Ukrainian is a degenerate dialect of Russian. This is no more true than the idea of Yiddish as broken German.
    • This can lead to odd tranlits. No matter how it was tranlitted into Cyrillic, no Jew looks for three stars on Saturday night to see if it's time for "Gavdole" - whether your crowd says Hahv-doh-lah or Hiv-doi-lowh, it's always a 'ה', not a 'ג'. If Г was used instead of Х, clearly it's a Ukrainian translit.

Glossary - frequent words and word formations

-skaya / -ская (suffix)
Suffix found at the end of several "place name" tunes, this ending changes a feminine noun into a feminine attributive adjective. The noun is left off, being clear from context that it applies to the song. Thus, "Amerikanskaya" simply means "American", or rather, "An American Tune".1
-ski / -скый (suffix)
See -skaya above; this is for masculine. Ruminski Zhok is "Romanian Zhok".
Zhok
(Romanian) a dance and a rhythm, like the Yiddish or Romanian (but not Israeli) hora. By the way, "hora" means mountain in Russian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian. Could that be a reference to that "hump" in the beat of a hora?
Hora (Gora)
(Ukrainian, Yiddish, Russian) See Zhok. Also Ukrainian for mountain.
Havdole (Gavdole)
(Yiddish and Hebrew) - literally,"seperation". Usually refering to the time on Saturday night when Shabbos ends; right after Havdole is a good time to get out the instruments and play a few tunes, when we're still feeling Shabbosdik but it's too late to start the week's work.
Khupe
(Yiddish and Hebrew) the wedding canopy (usually a tallis) for a Jewish couple, more generally, a marriage ceremony
Tanets
(Russian, Yiddish, German) a dance (not specific)
Frelikh/Freilikhs
(Yiddish)happy, joyful, celebratory
Reb, Rebn, Rebns, Rebe, Rav, Rabbi
(Hebrew, Yiddish) Not identical in meaning, and certainly not in nuance. "Rabbi/Rabi" is your learned community leader, who can make halakhic decisions for the community, conduct a wedding, and so forth - he is not imbued with mystical powers or special connections with the Almighty. "Reb" is just a term of mild respect for any adult Jewish male. Don't call a Rabbi "Reb" unless he's your best friend from childhood. Rebe/rebbe is the royal head of a hasidic dynasty, some thought to have special powers, others simply seen as embodying the best traits of Jewish knowledge, practice, and learning.
Zakhidnia Ukraina
Not in a tune title, but used in the descriptions. "Western Ukraine", specifically that section of modern Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary defined in the 1918 declaration of the Rada as including ‘Eastern Galicia bordered by the Sian River, but including the Lemko region; northern Bukovyna, including the towns of Chernivtsi, Storozhynets, and Seret; and the Ukrainian region of northeastern Hungary’. The area encloses the village and city names mentioned in tune titles.

The Tunes and the Titles

Rumynski Zhok
Romanian Zhok
Yikhes
literally, "origins". A person with yikhes would be from a good family, perhaps the grandson of a rabbi and the son of a succesful merchant. Hopefully, you marry someone with it, if you don't have it.
Moldovanskaya Dudochka
A dudochka is a small fipple flute. This probably refers to a traditional shepards pipe. Toy flutes are also called dudochkas. Thus, this refers to a tune that would be played on a small flute by a Moldovian shepard.
Chaban
The Ukrainian word for shepard. As this is a word of Turkic origin not found in Russian or Polish, it lends further credence to the theory that Belf's music is from Zakhidnia Ukraina.
Rumynski Zhok & Tanets
Romanian Zhok and Dance
Simkhas Toyre
"Rejoicing in Torah" - The last major holiday of the autumn season, after Rosh Hashana, Yom Kipper, Sukkes, and Simini Azeret. It marks the completion of the yearly cycle of Torah reading. "Hakafos" are circuits made around the shul, parade fashion, with those at the head of the line carrying the scrolls, as the rest of the community follows, singing and dancing. The title suggests this might be a tune to use as a Hakafos.
Bolgarskaya
Bulgarish Melody. No one seems to know why we call them that since they don't seem to be related to Bulgarian music. A bulgar usually is played in 8, but with a 3/3/2 rhythm that is associated with Balkan dancing.
Bolgarski Zhok
Bulgarish Zhok. Ditto. All the more so since, in Jewish music, the bulgar is a particular rhythm, and so can't be a Zhok. Perhaps for now we should simply think "Balkan" for "Bolgarski/Bolgarskaya", as close enough.
Moldovanskaya Hanga
Moldovian Hanga.
U Rabina
Nokh Havdole
After Havole.
Fun Der Khupe
From the Khupe, suggesting it is a song to play right after the smashing of the glass.
Na Rasvete
"At Daybreak". The tune was later used as incidental music in Ansky's play "דער דיבוק", "The Dybuk".
Bessarabski Freilikhs
Bessarabian Frelakhs
Rumynski Motiv
Romanian Tune
Dem Rebns Havdole
The Rebbes' Havdola.
Bessarabski Zhok
Bessarabian Zhok
Lomir Beyten Got
Let Us Beseech God
Zayt Lustik
"Be Happy!"
Mayofis
"How Beautiful" - this is considered by some to be a song of oppression, as it was the song the klemzers would be forced to play for the goyim, minstrel style.
Turetskaya
Turkisher.
Tsu Der Hakofes
For the Hakofs - suggesting a tune to be used for the Simkhas Torah processions.
Khosidl
A dance for a chassid.
Khotinskaya
Melody of Khotyn/Хотин/Hotin/Chocim. Khotyn is about 30 miles/60 km northeast of Chernivtsi - more of the evidence for a Zakhidno-Ukrayinska origin for Belf. Khotyn was a fortified town, thus becoming through centuries of war and power shifts, a major point for cultural contact. Here the Poles and the Ottomans pushed thier empires back and forth, with Kotin - nominally part of the principality of Moldovia under the control of one or the other for centuries. Here the Poles stopped the Ottoman advance in the 1600's, with the help of the Ukrainian Cossacks. In the 1700's the Russian Empire began challanging the Ottomans for Khotin, and in the 1800's it was pulled into the Russian Empire.

The largest population segment was Romanian. Jews lived there in significant numbers since the 1500s. Ukrainians arrived in large numbers in the 1800s - setting the stage for a Jewish Romanian Orchestra.

Following the Great War and the Russian Revolution (which persued a land for peace policy in the early years), it passed to Romania, and a tremendous massacre of Ukrainians was carried out. Jews left the area in great numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going to America or to major Russian cities in the Pale. Of the 15000 Jews living there in 1941 (when Romania seized it from the Soviets), almost all were killed within a week's time.

Amerikanskaya
American Melody.
Der Arbaytsman
The Workingman.
Freylikhs Bruder
Happy Brother
Svirskaya
Melody of Skvir.
Lipovetskaya
Melody of Lipovets.
Der Farzorgter Yid
The Confused Jew
Hop Lyalya, Rumynski Piesnya
Hop Lyalya, Romanian Song
Gora Holya, Rumnyski Tanets
Mountain Girl, Romanian Dance
Tanets Rabina(Belf 33)
The Rabbi's Dance
Nakhes fun Kinder
Joy/Pride/Pleasure from your Children.
Khasid U Rabina
The Chussid and the Rabbi
Odesskaya
Odesa Melody
Oy sa falshe velt
Oh, It's a False World!
Polnieshtskaya
Polish Melody
Surra U Ravvina
Surra and the Rabbi
Baym Rebns Tish
At My Rebbe's Table

Notes

  1. ^Russian roots and cases are particularly confusing if one isn't used to a strongly cased language. English does in fact have some cases - consider I vs me, but relies more on word order and predicates.

    "skaya" and "skii" are actually combinations of two suffixes to transform a noun into an attributive adjective. The "sk" part (not the only possibility, but the one we see here) transforms a noun into an adjective, like "ish" changes transforms the noun "Turkey" into "Turkish". However, that's not sufficient, since adjectives need to agree with the gender of the noun.

    Rumynski Tanets - Romanian Dance (dance being a masculine noun). Moldovanskaya Dudochka - Moldovian Shepards-Flute (Dudochka being feminine). Many of these tunes do not have nouns. If you are familiar with klezmer vocabulary, this is familiar in calling a tune a "Turkisher" - without saying if it's a tune, rhythm, melody, dance.

    In the Belf tunes, adjectives without nouns are is always rendered feminine. This suggests the noun is the feminine "мелодия" (melody), taking the "skaya" ending, whether it's a Beautiful Melody (красивейшая мелодия / krasiveishaya melodiya) or a Jewish Melody (еврейская мелодия / ivriskaya melodia) (ivri+sk+aya - Jew+ish+[singular feminine nomative adjective ending]).

References

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