Many years ago, the 10th graders asked me if they could use John Lennon’s song “Imagine” as the prayer for peace in their Confirmation service. I told them that I didn’t think that the lyric, “and no religion too” was a good text for a prayer service. After some discussion, we changed the line to “and one religion too,” and used it at Confirmation. Immediately after the service was over two congregants came up to complain, not about using the Beatles in a service, but about having dared to change John Lennon’s classic lyrics!
I guess that times have changed; tonight we will be changing all the lyrics. We are going to set much of the traditional Hebrew liturgy to Beatles melodies. I imagine that there will be some who will be unhappy with this choice. Perhaps you consider it inappropriate to set sacred lyrics to pop music. For those of you who feel this way, I offer this historical tidbit:
Adon Olam was a poem written as praise of God in the 15th century. Through the years it has been set to many different melodies. But the one that you most likely grew up with (the “traditional” melody) was composed in the 17th century. However, it was not composed for the synagogue. It was a German drinking song, whose original lyrics seem to have been lost, but whose melody is enshrined in synagogue services throughout the world as a closing song. Today we think of it as perfectly appropriate, but I can only wonder what the synagogue Board Meeting sounded like following the first time it was used!
Jewish musicians have always used the contemporary idiom in creating their liturgical music. That’s why Sephardic music sounds Middle Eastern, German Jewish music sounds Lutheran and late 20th century American Jewish music sounds like folk songs. What we are doing tonight is very much in keeping with Jewish tradition. I doubt that singing Shalom Aleichem to the tune of “With a Little Help from My Friends” will become a classic, but it is definitely not sacrilegious. And I’m certain that it will be a lot of fun!