Jewish music is many things, but fearful it is not. Jewish musicians— like Jewish novelists (Philip Roth), directors (Stanley Kubrick), and comics (Lenny Bruce)— have never been afraid to push the boundaries of accepted norms… or good taste. Some even bend the line until it contorts like a rubber band in a slingshot.
Here are 10 songs, in no particular order, that might make even Adam Sandler blush. I present them now in preparation for Purim, the holiday that celebrates the iconoclastic streak in Judaism. Just assume they are all NSFW. (This year, Erev Purim falls on the evening of Wednesday, March 7, and Purim itself is on the following day.)
1) "Kol Nidre," The Meshugge Beach Party.
You know surf music? Not the Beach Boys, but the hard twang that shows up in the Hawaii 5-0 theme song, or the incidental music in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Now imagine the most holy prayer on the most holy Jewish day set to that music. Moshe Waldoks, the performer, has something he can repent for… every year from now on. A sample can be found under Twenty Songs of the Chosen Surfers (the third one on the page).
2) "Shema Yisrael," Nomi
Speaking of key prayers set to off-key music… a nice Jewish girl from Cleveland moves to Israel and forms a choir; she and her group record a song. As she explains in an interview, "I mean, it's sort of roughly translating the text of the song, but basically life here is stressful and I'm opening my heart to God with a prayer." And what prayer would that be? The "Shema." And what music does she set it to? Madonna's "Like a Prayer." Yeah, but… see, the Shema is not "like" a prayer. It IS a prayer, possibly the most important Jewish prayer of all. Whatever— it's not as bad as what Madonna herself has done to Judaism…
3) "K*ke on the Mic," Hip Hop Hoodios
Yes, there are more Jewish rappers than the Beastie Boys. But these guys rap about being Judios, or "Hoodios" as they transliterate it; they are Sephardic Jews who rap in English, Hebrew, Spanish, and Ladino. On their Raza Hoodia debut EP, they include this song, with the memorable chorus: "I'm on the mic, I'm a crazy k*ke/I'm a Yid, gonna blow my lid/ My sound in fresh, like a pound of flesh/My nose is large, and you know I'm in charge." It's just sad that they couldn't find a rhyme for "heeb" (Well, there's an off-color comic named Larry Reeb, so maybe next album?). Their "best of" album is here; this song is Track 3.
4) "Zionist Girl," Eric Roth
Another Jewish rapper. Roth's album Anathema is chock full of nose-thumbing lyrics. But then there is this track, the story of his picking up a female IDF soldier at the Western Wall because he is turned on by her machine gun. So much so he tells her to leave it on when they go back to her apartment and has removed the rest of what she was wearing. Needless to say, this is not the definition of safe sex, and our hero ends up literally shooting himself in the foot… while, we presume, Theodor Herzl does backflips in his grave. For this, he founded the Jewish state? The entire album is here; this song is Track 10.
4) "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore," Kinky Friedman
Another story song. The speaker, ostensibly the Kinkster himself, is confronted by a bigot in a bar. The bigot leads with an anti-Semitic remark, then proceeds to spew every racist epithet he can lay his small, narrow mind to. Our Jewish hero responds by… arguing him out of his prejudice with his keen, Talmud-trained logic? Winning him over with his homey Jewish warmth and a bowl of chicken soup? Making him laugh in a way that undoes his prejudice with his Borscht-Belt honed wit? Nope! He simply smashes the bigot in the face with his fist. Even if Kinky does get to be Texas governor someday, let's hope he never makes Secretary of State.
5) "Christian Baby Blood*," Jewmongous!
The solo debut of Sean Altman (formerly of Rocakpella), is called Taller Than Jesus, and it is very much in the Kinky Friedman, um, tradition. In this song, he takes on the blood libel, the age-old slander than Jews use the blood of Christian babies to make matzah, and also to wash it down. (Just so we're all clear, we don't really do this.) The way Altman responds to the accusation, though, is by singing an Irish-style drinking song about how this "misunderstood" beverage is really quite yummy and popular. (*scroll down for sample MP3. Full lyrics are here).
5.5) Hasidic singer Rav Shmuel went for the same sorta logic in his folksong, "Protocols," which strummingly admits that "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are true." (Again, for the record, they're not.)
6) "In My Country There Is Problem," Borat
(Thanks to my wife for remembering this one!) Another country ditty, from our buddy from Kazakhstan. This one's self-explanatory. Sacha Baron Cohen-as-Borat sings this song in environments where he is sure there aren't that many Jews— say, a country bar— just to see if he can get non-Jews to sing along. They do, but we don't know if it's because they agree with the sentiment, or they realize it's a joke… or maybe they are too polite to make an ignorant foreigner feel unwelcome by not singing along. The real test would be if they sang along when someone like Toby Keith sang the song in the same bar.
7) "Dayenu," YIDcore
The lead singer of YIDcore is an attorney and the president of his congregation. He also is a multi-pierced, goggle-wearing punk rocker with orange-and-pink hair— sometimes spikes, sometimes dreads. Like they say, only in… Australia. His band wrangles, mangles, and strangles Jewish songs in pure punk style, and have even performed the entire "Fiddler on the Roof" in punk-ese. Too bad they weren't around to play Joey Ramone's bar mitzvah. YIDcore's version of the Passover standard "Dayenu" features an intro of mouth-in-heel-of-hand flatulence, followed by falsetto warbling, culminating in a headbanging chorus that really puts the "DIE!" in "Dayenu." Their Dayenu is not online, so here is there is their "If I Were a Rich Man" video, which updates the luxury imagery— L.A. style.
9) "The Inquisition," Mel Brooks
In "Springtime for Hitler," Brooks mocks Nazis, but even non-Jews do that— for instance, Spike Jones' "Der Fuehrer's Face." Here, the Inquisitors are skewered for being horrifyingly clever with their tortures, but the Jews are reprimanded for not being more aggressive in their response. One Jew, after describing his humiliating agony at the hands of his captors, which involved fireplace equipment, can only kvetch, "Was that considerate? Was that polite?" Well, what was he supposed to do, Mel? We hadn't invented the uzi yet. This ditty was from the movie History of the World: Part I, so you might as well see the visuals as well.
10) "Jewish and You Know It," Agent K
And the hits just keep coming. This just-released song is more a version of "I'm Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO than a parody of it, since the original version was sort of a parody itself of all the booty-shaking material out there. The lyrics are not all bad; the singer says you "know" he's Jewish because he keeps kosher, wears a kipah, observes "Shabbos," and even likes women in "long skirts." Some of the lines are offensive, like what he uses his "bar-mitzvah checks" to pay for (hint: it rhymes with "checks"). But mostly, it's his obsession with his, er, manhood, especially in the video. It gets to be a bit… much.
What does it mean, to have no idols? Why did the Golden Calf have to be ground into powder? Because we Jews have no sacred cows. The ability to find the absurd both in our enemies and in ourselves is a survival mechanism we Jews have honed to a fine— and sometimes ridiculous— art. The ultimate absurdity? That not taking ourselves or others seriously is something we take very seriously. And even against a Haman, a surprisingly effective weapon turns out to be a gragger.
Hey, what about you? Do you know an obnoxious Jewish song? Or a perfectly nice Jewish song someone did an obnoxious version of? Send it to us! If it meets our standards of obnoxiousness, we'll write it up. Just send the name of the performer and song, and a way I can listen to it, to firstname.lastname@example.org.