The author of this article is the well known Jewish character dancer and pantomimist who is specializing in dances of the ancient and the modern Hebrew culture.
Dancing among the Jews can be traced to the very dawn of their history. In describing the Exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt, the Bible does not fail to tell us that this great historic event was celebrated "with timbrels and with dancing" by all the women under the leadership of Miriam, the prophetess, sister of the great lawgiver and leader of the race, Moses.
A little late the Bible also relates that when the Children of Israel made for themselves a golden calf their sacrifices and worship were accompanied by dancing, to the horror of Moses.
And when we review the early chapters of the Hebrews in the land of Canaan, during the period of the Judges, we encounter passage after passage which tells us of military victories that the maidens of Israel greeted "with singing and with dancing." We read of the daughter of Jephtha coming out to meet her triumphant father with "timbrels and with dancing." In the book of Samuel, we read how the "women of all the cities of Israel" came out to meet King Saul after his victory over the Philistines "with singing and dancing."
FACTS NOT AVAILABLE
Unfortunately, we are completely at a loss to know whether the Jews of ancient Palestine ever succeeded in developing a style of dancing that was characteristically their own, as they succeeded in creating a style of poetry that was purely Hebraic and has lived on to this day. For we have no detailed description of how the Hebrews danced, and no pictorial record has been handed down to us, for the Jews were forbidden "to make a graven image."
The student of the Jewish dance today, finds it impossible to reconstruct the ancient Jewish dance, and must content himself with mere references, and with dance forms which have come down to us through the medium of folklore that has probably undergone many changes and adaptations. Many of these dance forms are traceable to Talmudic and medieval origin.
In Talmudic times a Jewish feast was not considered complete without dancing; and even noted scholars were known for their characteristic dances with which they entertained at various festivals. It was also considered an act of piety to dance in honor of a bride at a Jewish wedding. We know that rabbis vied with each other for this Mitzvah and honor. One Tadmudist, Rabbi Judah ben Illan, is remembered for his characteristic wedding dance in which he waved a myrtle branch as he swayed back and forth.
ROLE OF CHASSIDIM
In modern times the greatest group of what may be called traditional Jewish dances has been preserved for us by a sect of Jews known as Chassidim. This sect came into existence during one of the darkest moments in Jewish history, during the turning point of medievalism, when the Jew of the European ghetto saw before him nothing but darkness.
Suddenly, like the rays of a bright light that has come to dispel the darkness, the call of the saintly Baal Shem struck into the heart of the Jewish masses in the ghetto. The lives of tens of thousands of Jews were completely revolutionized when they suddenly found themselves in the ranks of the Chassidic movement.
Their leader, Baal Shem, offered them an escape from their suffering. By example, he taught them to forget their worldly cares, and to find joy in communion with their Creator. What greater escape from physical oppression can one find than in the union with the Almighty? This was attained through worship and devotion coupled with joyousness such as could be expressed only through ecstatic dancing and singing.
ON VIEW ON SABBATH
One who is interested in the Chassidic dance can still see examples of it on any Sabbath or festive occasion, by visiting the shtiebel, or gathering place of a Chassidic congregation, of which there are still many throughout the world.
Outside of Chassidism, Jewish folk-lore has kept alive a number of other dances that have become traditional among Jews during the centuries of the Dispersion. The Jews have preserved dances that were related to festive religious occasions and to the wedding ceremony, such as the wedding dances variously known as the Kusher tantz, Mitzvah tantz and the Broyges tantz, and completely discarded their dances of the soil in which they engaged in ancient Palestine.
In our own generation, as we observe the return of the Jew to Palestine, and the re-creation of a new Jewish national culture, we find that the dance has begun to play a new role in the life of the Jew. Both as a spontaneous expression on the part of masses of enthusiastic young Jews, and as a medium in the field of creative art, the Hebrew dance is once more coming to the fore. For who has not heard, or read, of the feverish dancing of the Chalutzim, the pioneers of modern Palestine? Their dervish-like dancing of the Hora, although only an adopted dance, has become known throughout the world. This Hora-dancing with its heavy thumping rhythm, as if symbolic of a new peasantry, has become so closely coupled with the message of the new Palestine, that wherever you come upon a group of Chalutzim, whether it be in Palestine, or in the training farms of Poland, Germany or America, you are sure to find the Hora danced by all.
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