*IN YIDDISH* Michael Lukin, The Jester, the Theater Actor, and the Bard: Three Types of Creators of Yiddish Popular Songs

When and Where

Tuesday, November 21, 2023 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm
Jackman Humanities Building
170 St. George St., Toronto, ON M5R 2M8


Michael Lukin


Himel Family Yiddish Lecture Series
Co-sponsored by the Al and Malka Green Fund in Yiddish Studies

Michael Lukin (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The Jester, the Theater Actor, and the Bard: Three Types of Creators of Yiddish Popular Songs

During the post-vernacular era, songs became a prominent symbol of Yiddish culture, as well as an easily accessible channel to connect modern-day audiences with the language, the literature, and the prewar Jewish way of life. Notwithstanding the undisputable benefits, this focus often also limits our encounters with the multifaceted phenomenon of singing in Yiddish, as it developed over centuries. Commercial recordings, songbooks, social media, and concert programs frequently repeat the same few hundred songs over and over, while ignoring all the others, thus reinforcing certain stereotypes.

A closer examination of the entire documented Yiddish repertoire reveals its rich diversity: the various layers that comprise this vast corpus exhibit numerous stylistic distinctions. The old traditional folk songs, those disseminated mainly orally before WWI, disregarding “copyrights” of their creators-performers and consequently existing in multiple versions, differ significantly from the popular songs—those displaying a certain respect for the authorship of their lyrics and melodies, and disseminated, accordingly, primarily through the stage and/or print.

We will focus on this latter sub-repertoire of the Yiddish corpus, the popular songs in Yiddish, and acquaint ourselves with the varied aspects of their lyrics and melodies. The idiosyncrasy of the art of each group of Yiddish performers, songwriters, poets and composers was dictated by the historical backgrounds that accompanied their activities, performance contexts of their songs, and their different audiences. Through listening to rare archival audio recordings, we will see how these factors shaped the poetics and the music, and thus clarify the meaning of the term “Yiddish popular song”.


Michael Lukin studies the traditional culture of Yiddish speakers from ethnomusicological, folkloristic, and historical perspectives. His recent publications—in Polin, Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore, and Shofar—deal with the music and poetics of Yiddish folk songs. Over the past four years, as a Polonsky fellow in Oxford and a Mandel-Scholion postdoctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Lukin has engaged in an extensive exploration of additional aspects of Yiddish-speakers’ music—the semiotics of its various genres, its encounters with Western classical repertoires, and the politics of its scholarship. Lukin teaches courses on music, poetry and folklore in the Yiddish realm, Hasidic musical thought, and Jewish musical traditions at the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University. Currently he is a visiting fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he focuses on his new project about Hasidic nigunim.




This event will be delivered in-person in JHB616 (170 St. George Street) and accessible by ZOOM on Tuesday, November 21, 2023 at 12:30 PM.

To attend via Zoom, please click THIS LINK on Tuesday , November 21 at 12:30pm.




Himel Family Yiddish Lecture Fund, Al and Malka Green Fund in Yiddish Studies


170 St. George St., Toronto, ON M5R 2M8