Friday, July 23, 2010

The Rivers of Babylon Don't Reach Ramallah

The Boney M rock group recently appeared in Ramallah, and sang lots of their songs to an appreciative audience - but not, you guessed it: By the Rivers of Babylon. Someone thought that might be bad karma, or poor taste, or something. You wouldn't wish to offend Palestinians with reflections on Jews pining for their homeland, would you, even if the image is so deeply entrenched in Western culture that rock bands and other popular musicians hum about it.

Since this blog is not Palestinian, however, and as a service for the public, I've collected some musical performances you won't be allowed to hear in Ramallah.

Oops! Sorry, wrong song.


NormanF said...

Its the word "Zion" that offends the Palestinians. Ya'acov, let's see: they can't accept the Jewish past. How on earth do you expect them to accept the Jewish present?

Anonymous said...

I don't expect them to accept anything but going on with the charade seems to be to me very conducive to stabilizing the status quo

in my book the most important thing right now would be to stop those blasted monthly Kindergeld payments of Messrs. Int'l. Give the money to them for something else, for any playground they want but not as premium for the creation for yet another new refugee.


Your Correspondent said...


I did not know this song existed. Who wrote it?

Sylvia said...

And I've been wondering why in the world Israel radio kept playing that song over and over again recently. So they may not have played it - but they heard it in Ramallah as well as in Gaza.

Sylvia said...

Joking, right?

Empress Trudy said...

Palestinians would prefer the version of the story in the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet; a blasted world.

joseph said...

Dr. Lozowick,

I'm an old folkie, so the Streets of London was great to listen to even though off topic.


Anonymous said...


is this the story you are referring to?
By the Waters of Babylon

I'm asking because it seems to have been published with different titles.


Empress Trudy said...

Yes that's it.

Your Correspondent said...


The words, of course, ring a bell. I did not know the pop tune version existed.

Interesting how the words of the Psalm (137) have been edited even in the first version of the song.

JG Campbell said...

Apart from anything else, the Psalms, including Ps 137, are sacred scripture for Christians too, and there's a long and rich tradition of reading, praying, and singing the Psalms in Christianity as a result. In fact, on balance, I would think that the Psalms, including Ps 137, are more important in Christian theology and liturgy than they are in Judaism.

Indeed, I have a friend who used to be a Benedictine monk in a monastery in Scotland where they would sing through the whole Psalter in Latin, including Ps 137, every week of the year!


Lee Ratner said...

It would really solve the water problems in the region if the waters of Babylon did reach Ramallah.;).

Anonymous said...

JG Campbell wrote:

"I would think that the Psalms, including Ps 137, are more important in Christian theology and liturgy than they are in Judaism. "

Instead of "thinking," take a look in an annotated siddur(Jewish prayerbook) such as Koren or Artscroll and you will see that Psalms (we call them Tehilim) comprises the majority of our liturgy (daily, sabbath and holiday). Also, we recite Ps. 137 weekdays before Grace After Meals. It is the custom of many plain old lay people to recite additional psalms daily, as well as, in times of distress.

For Jews who are engaged in ritual practice, Psalms are quite important.


AKUS said...

Bravissimo, yakov!

Anonymous said...


in case you are watching this thread:
somebody very unsavoury is saying things about you which according to google you seem not to want made public or which are plain false and that while he is an "anti-Zio".

Say hello and I give you the details and no I don't want to get into e-mail contact with you people and I don't want to create unnecessary web-traffic for the "gentleman".

IMHO and experience there are too many thugs at the anti-Zio-side


JG Campbell said...

What are you talking about, Nycerbarb?

Did I say that the Psalms are not important in Judaism? Of course I didn’t because, like you, I realize that among other things a selection of Psalms features prominently in the traditional siddur – 63 Psalms appear in the British Orthodox Authorised Daily Prayer Book, for example, while even Siddur Lev Chadash, the siddur of the progressive Liberal Judaism movement in the UK, has 39 Psalms in it.

Nonetheless, if you compare the overall place of Psalms in the Jewish and Christian traditions, it seems to me that they are probably even more important in Christianity than they are in Judaism – just as the Pentateuch, while important for both Jews and Christians, has had a more central role in Judaism than in Christianity. In other words, it would be difficult to argue that Psalms is the most important book of the Tanakh in Judaism, whereas a good (though not unchallengeable) case could be made that Psalms is the most important book of the Old Testament for Christians.

But it’s not a competition. And in any case, my overall, if rather modest and poorly expressed, point was simply that the Book of Psalms in various forms has been around for a very long time. Its essentially polyvalent language has been read and interpreted by all kinds of communities, including the Christian communities of the Middle East, in all kinds of ways throughout the ages – as Gillingham, PSALMS THROUGH THE CENTURIES (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008) helpfully shows.

As for the word ‘Psalm(s)’ itself, it is commonly used by English-speaking Jews in my experience. Indeed, it has a long and noble history, for the Greek equivalent, psalmos, was employed long before the rise of Christianity by Greek-speaking Jews in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, where it is the equivalent of mizmor (which is a more common term in Hebrew Psalms than tehillah). Having said that, tehillim is also an ancient title, for it is found in one of the most significant manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran – a first-century CE copy of the Psalms known among scholars as 11QPsalmsa or 11Q5.

Incidentally, the most fascinating thing about 11Q5 is that it shows us that the precise content and order of the Psalms wasn’t yet finalized among Jews as late as the 1st century CE. Not only does it have Psalms from the Masoretic Psalter in an unfamiliar order (e.g. Psalm 118, 104, 147, 105, 146, 148) but it also contains Psalm 151 (found in the Septuagint), Psalms 154-5 (known from the Syriac Psalter), and several previously unknown Psalms!

Finally, when you say “you will see that Psalms (we call them Tehilim)…”, your use of “you” and “we” strongly suggests that you’re making assumptions about my own identity and background. Please don’t, because you don’t know me from Adam.


Anonymous said...

Jonathan -

I am sorry you took offense at my comment to you, as no offense was intended.

You are right, I don't know anything about you other than 1) you have excellent taste in blogs and 2) you think "Psalms, including Ps 137, are more important in Christian theology and liturgy than they are in Judaism."

I was surprised by that opinion, and told you why I didn't agree. (I still disagree.) I didn't say they weren't important to Christians.

As for the "we" "you" language, you may not believe this, but in my Brooklyn ghetto, there are many, many Jews who do not know the English/Greek names. In fact, I was probably a teen before I realized that Psalms and Tehilim were the same!

We seem to be "separated by a common language."


JG Campbell said...

Thanks, Nycerbarb, apology accepted. Apologies from me that my original comment on this thread was so unhelpfully vague.

And on one thing we agree - we both obviously have an excellent taste in blogs!