Monday, March 07, 2016

The attack on the new collection of Western European piyuttim.

Let's talk about the vapid attack launched from the pulpit last shabbos against a new collection of Western European piyuttim.

[See it here: See it here:

The author of the attack avers that treating piyuttim as poetry is an insult. See, the authors of the piyuttim were too holy to bother with things like style, form, and structure. Magically, they were able to convey their brilliant ideas without debasing themselves through the use of literary techniques or tools. One wonders why they even bothered to use words, and if its a sin to think about their word choices.

Along with some other familiar gripes, our complainer also announces it suspicious that the editors of the new book saw fit to capitalize the word Christian, Their meticulousness is evidence of their corruption. Their work may be "beautiful", he protests, but it lacks "fire". Fire, I suppose, is only found among the sloppy and disheveled.

While this line of thinking may explain the appeal of shtiebles and justify the sad decline of Jewish aesthetics and the impoverished language many Orthodox Jews use, its quite an odd thing to hear it from a defender of the Western European traditions. Their champion, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, taught "that “Japheth (Greece) has ennobled the world aesthetically; Shem has enlightened it spiritually and morally”.  As Hirsch perceived, there is no inherent conflict between the two. Fire and beauty can coexist, which is something the authors of our powerfully beautiful piyyutim surely understood.


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