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Nigun / Nigunim | UbuWeb Ethnopoetics

1. Nigun 1, sung by Rabbi Moishe Rubin, 4:23

2. Nigunim from the Rebbe's Farbrengens (Celebrations), 35:30

As a form of musical/verbal meditation, nigun chanting (pl. nigunim) often dispensed with words as such or transformed the words of sacred texts into non-semantic vocables. In use among observant Jews in eastern Europe, the chanting resembled the widespread Christian practice of glossolalia ("speaking in tongues") and connected to religious and mystical notions of extasis. (The resemblance to Asian mantric chanting might also be noted.) The best description is that of Nachman of Bratzlav (1772-1810), whose practice involved a system of solitary meditation called hisbodidus (hitbodedut) — practiced at times as a virtual return to forest and wilderness:

And through the zaddik’s nigun,
when in him tonguetied Moses
all lost souls
rise from the abyss,
find their way from the void.
All tunes are reabsorbed in
the song of silence,
all heresy integrated and dissolved,
tune and word
in the thought song.

(Translated by Zalman Schachter)

And again: "In the high spheres there exist temples that can be opened by song only."

further notes. (1) The repeated vocable in Moishe Rubin’s nigun represents either the Hebrew word mah = "what" or, when reduplicated, the Yiddish word for mother, or can be heard as both. (2) The dudeleh nigun develops into a series of riffs or improvisations on the Yiddish second person pronoun du — the intimate form of address underlying Martin Buber’s well-known essay I and Thou: "He who speaks the word God and really has Thou in mind (whatever the illusion by which he is held), addresses the true Thou of his life, which cannot be limited by another Thou, and to which he stands in a relation that gathers up and includes all others. // But when he, too, who abhors the name, and believes himself to be godless, gives his whole being to addressing the Thou of his life, as a Thou that cannot be limited by another, he addresses God." (3) The "nigunim from the Rebbe’s Farbrengens"(celebrations) is an example of a collective chanting of a series of nigunim.

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