A badchen or badkhn (Yiddish: בּדחן) is a type of Ashkenazic Jewish wedding entertainer, poet, and master of ceremonies originating in Eastern Europe, with a history dating back to at least the seventeenth century. The badchen was an indispensable part of the traditional Jewish wedding in Europe who guided the bride and groom through the stages of the ceremony, act as master of ceremonies, and sing to the bride, groom and in-laws with the accompaniment of klezmer musicians. They also had a traditional role on holidays such as Hanukkah or Purim. Today they are primarily found in Chassidic communities.
History and descriptionEdit
There is a long history of entertainers at Jewish weddings dating back to the Talmudic era. The traditional role of the Eastern European badchen evolved from older Medieval and Early Modern Jewish wedding entertainers, such as the lets (לץ) or marshalik (מאַרשעליק), taking on a recognizable new form in Seventeenth century Poland. (Some sources may use the terms badchen, lets and marshalik interchangeably, whereas others treat them as distinct.) The earlier type of marshalik guided the ceremonies of the wedding in a more serious manner, but the badchen turned the role into that a of a religious-informed, moralistic comedian. In this role they also drew on Yiddish Minstrels and Maggids who had been traveling entertainers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The badchen was expected to generate energy for a party before and after the ceremony, and also to bring guests along in the transition to a more serious tone immediately before the ceremony. He would speak and sing in Couplets, weaving in references to the Talmud and Tanach as well as making sarcastic commentary on contemporary life.
The role of the badchen was also to guide the bride and groom through the various ritual and customary stages of the traditional wedding. These often began with a procession of the wedding party through the streets to the home of the bride, with the accompaniment of the klezmer band and occasionally the badchen. A further procession would take place later in the morning to the place where the wedding was to take place. The next stages often focused on the bride. In various places this phase would be called Bazetsn di kale (seating of the bride), kale bazingn (singing for the bride) kale badekns (bridal veiling), while the badchen sang couplets punctuated by accompaniment by the klezmer musicians. Of these couplets would include descriptions of a wife's responsibilities combined with phrases such as "kalenyu, kalenyu, veyn, veyn, veyn" (oh dear little bride, weep, weep weep).
After that, the klezmer band would escort the couple to the courtyard of the Synagogue for the legal part of the ceremony. Another stages was the mazltov or mitzvah dance where the badchen called up each woman present to embrace the bride, had men symbolically dance with the bride via a handkerchief, or other ritual forms to announce honored guests. The badchen also sang more lighthearted couplets during the wedding feast.
With the rise of urbanization and the Haskalah, the role of the badchen (and their partners the klezmer musicians) declined in importance in Jewish life in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some modern cultural critics in the early Twentieth century even disdained their art form, such as Saul M. Ginsburg and Pesach Marek who called the badchen a "mere mood manipulator at weddings" who "richly deserved the low status accorded to him in society". Judah Leib Cahan said that their arcane humor contributed to the "dry atmosphere" of petit-bourgeois Jewish life.
Today the tradition of badchens exists mainly in Chassidic communities. The modern tradition was largely developed by Chaim Menachem Mermelstien (born 1920 in Munkacz, died November 7, 1985, in New York City), considered the father of modern-day badchonus. Rav Shlomo Yaakov Gelbman (1953–2015) was another modern badchen and historian in the Satmar community. Current performers include Yankel Miller and Yoel Lebowits.
Various forms of modern Jewish entertainment which arose in the Nineteenth century were created by former Badchens, or drew on aspects of the tradition, including Yiddish song, Yiddish poetry, Yiddish Theatre, and Broderzingers. The so-called "father of Yiddish poetry", Eliakum Zunser, was a former badchen. Satirical Yiddish songs of the late Nineteenth century also drew on the tradition of the Badchen, especially in their use and parody of liturgical music, and many pioneering Yiddish-language recording artists of the early Twentieth century were former badchens, including Solomon Smulewitz and Frank Seiden. As well, an early genre of Yiddish-language recorded music involved parodies of the badchen's traditional performances by Yiddish Theatre actors such as Gus Goldstein, Julius Guttman, H. I. Reissmann, and the aforementioned Seiden and Smulewitz.
With the Klezmer revival in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was some renewed interest in badchen-style singing among klezmer bands. The revival band Kapelye included songs in that style on their albums Future And Past (1981) and Kapelye's Chicken (1987). The group Budowitz, in their attempt to recreate a Nineteenth century Jewish wedding sound, also included badchen-style performances on their albums Mother Tongue (1997) and Wedding without a Bride (2000).
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