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FOLK-SONGS:

Songs or ballads originating and current among the common people, and illustrating the common life. Jewish folk-songs exist in languages and dialects other than Hebrew and Judæo-German; in Ladino, for instance. Traces of Hebrew folk-songs may be found in the Talmud. In Ta'an. 26b it is related that on the 15th of Ab and on the Day of Atonement the daughters of Jerusalem assembled in the vineyards to dance before young men, and sang:

"O young man, lift up thine eyes And look before you choose; Look not for beauty, But seek for good breeding. False is grace, and beauty is vain; A God-fearing woman is alone worthy of praise."

A fragment of a bridal song is recorded in Ket. 17a, where Rab Dimi says: "Thus they sing before a bride in the West":

"Her eye without kohl, Her face without paint, Her hair without curl, Yet a form full of grace."

A ballad of the narrative kind is the tale of the "Pious Man" () included in the hymns for the termination of the Sabbath, universally sung by Ashkenazic Jews. The balladic narrative is the composition of an author whose name is acrostically indicated in the last verses as ("Jesse, the son of Mordecai"). It relates, in verse, the story of a destitute pious man who became rich by the favor of the prophet Elijah. Judæo-German folk-songs are those formerly current among the Jews in Germany and those living in the mouths of Yiddish-speaking Jews in Russia, Poland, and other countries. The former have been preserved in collections of Jewish folk-songs published in Germany, particularly in that issued at Worms about 1595-1605. One of the ballads contained in that collection is given as an example by Dr. A. Berliner in his "Aus dem Inneren Leben der Deutschen Juden im Mittelalter" (Berlin, 1900). It was sung as an accompaniment to a particular dance, and it reads in part:

"O young lady, will you not dance with me? I pray you will not take it amiss; Joyful I must be As long as I can. Your body, tender and young, Has wounded me in love, So have your eye serene And your crimson mouth; Close, then, your arms, Dear love, in mine And my heart will recover."

But this is more an adaptation than a ballad of Jewish origin.

The Judæo-German ballads current in the Slavonic countries lack no originality, though they may be adaptations from German folk-songs or translations and imitations of Slavonic compositions. Their spirit, however, is Jewish. For instance, the idea of remaining an old maid is a very sad one for a Russo-Jewish girl, and she sings:

"I sit upon a stone And I am seized with weeping; All girls do marry, But I remain alone."

Another begins:

"When the pleasant summer comes We are playing with sand; Where our dwelling is There is our land. Black cherries we are plucking, Red ones we let stand; Handsome lads we are taking, The ugly we let go!"

A ballad sung by children in some parts of Lithuania runs:

"Little boys and little girls Took one another; Ninth of Ab was wedding-day And no one came, Except Uncle Elijah With his long cloak, On his gray little horse, With his long beard."

Bibliography:
  • No less than 375 Yiddish folk-songs are contained in a collection by S. M. Ginzburg and P. S. Marek, Jüdische Volkslieder in Russland, St. Petersburg, 1901;
  • others are given in Wiener's Popular Poetry of the Russian Jews, in Americana Germanica, vol. ii., No. 2, and in his History of Yiddish Literature, pp. 53 et seq., New York, 1899.
  • A number of folk-songs in Ladino are given by Danon in R. E. J. xxxii. and xxxiii.;
  • others are contained in Urquell, i. 206; vi. 28, 97, 158;
  • Neue Folge, i. 45, 195; ii. 27.
  • See Cradle Songs.
  • See also Grunwald in Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdischen Volkskunde, i. 50-67, ii. 37-49, iii. 9-22, iv. 124-130, viii. 154-157.
J. A. Ha.
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