Rummaging around the archives at the Center for Jewish History in New York recently, I stumbled upon an astonishing document. It’s a book of badkhones – rhymes, jokes and anecdotes, prepared for delivery at an old-fashioned Jewish wedding. The badkhn, or wedding jester/entertainer, is a role going back many centuries in Eastern European Jewish communities, and according to historians is the ancestor of the Jewish standup comedian. Everyone from Myron Cohen to Allen Sherman to Jerry Seinfeld owes their career to this tradition.
Beginning in the 1870s, a Keidan badkhn named David Lindy compiled his wedding material into a beautifully handwritten book, which was later brought to America and donated to YIVO by his son Abraham. Here is how the YIVO archivists describe it:
The rhymes in this handwritten manuscript were written to be delivered at the wedding on Saturday night, and the continuation of the wedding party on Sunday morning. The names of the couple and their families, missing in the book, would be added at the ceremony. The Saturday night verses were based mostly on the “zemirot” (religious songs) sung at the post-Sabbath meal, while the Sunday morning verses were based on Biblical verses known to all. The badkhn also used Talmudic and Midrashic sayings, and presented all this material in such an ingenious manner, as to bring joy and delight to all his listeners.
YIVO has digitized the cover and several pages (so you can view them here), which are notable both for the intertwining of Hebrew and Yiddish – a telling example of how our ancestors combined the two in daily life – and also for the elegant calligraphic style, reminiscent of handwritten Torah scrolls.
I wish there were more material on David Lindy; such a talented and creative Keidaner would be worthy of serious study.