Monday, June 22, 2015

The Entertainer

Judging by the jokes included in so many movies about marriage, there is a great deal of pressure on the best man to present a toast that not only honors the groom, but is entertaining as well. At a traditional Jewish wedding, however, there is no specific concept of either a best man or a toast.

In some communities, particularly among the Chassidim, there is a person whose specific job is to serve as the wedding entertainer. The most common term for this person is “badchen,” although historically there are other types of wedding entertainers as well, such as latzanim (clowns, people performing a more base humor) and mashkilim (storytellers). While every badchen has his own “shtick” (repertoire), their performances generally combine humor, poetry, Torah subjects, Talmudic exposition and family history for their performance pieces. The best known aspect of badchanus (the act of the badchen) is the graman, a poem/song that humorously parodies the subject of the poem (usually the groom).

While the idea of the badchen/entertainer can be linked back to the Talmud, it is interesting to note that during the Middle Ages the custom of this type of wedding entertainment was discouraged. Many of the writings about the ban on badchanus consider badchanus the actions of a fool. However, many now believe that this was also a reflection of the challenges of the era, when many Jews were terribly impoverished and persecution was a constant concern.  The disregard for badchanusduring this era did not occur in the Chassidic community, which is why modern badchanim are primarily found only among the Chassidim.

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