Monday, December 8, 2014

Is There Really a Santa Claus, Part 7

My latest holiday mix is called Is There Really a Santa Claus?, and a little over a week ago I kicked off the annual process whereby I offer a few observations about the various tracks that are featured. There are 39 tracks on this year's collection, and today I have some information about two additional cuts:

Track 19
The Great Menorah Debate, by Rabbi Neal Katz (2009)
Rabbi Neal Katz

Originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Neal Katz is a child of the progressive Jewish Reform Movement. He currently serves as rabbi for the Congregation Beth El in Tyler, Texas, but he is more widely known as a passionate song-leader who has been singing and writing about Jewish themes for over 25 years. "The Great Menorah Debate" can be found on his 2009 album Be a Light: Chanukah Songs for Grown-Ups. It tells about a difference of opinion with respect to the lighting of the menorah during the celebration of Hanukkah. 

Hillel and Shammai were two leading Jewish thinkers who lived within 100 years or so of the beginning of the Christian era. They disagreed on a number of important points concerning theology, ritualistic practices, and codes of conduct and founded two competing schools of thought that became known as the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. In general, the School of Shammai took positions that were stricter and more conservative than those backed by the House of Hillel. The debates between these two schools ultimately helped to develop Judaism as it is practiced today.

With respect to the lighting of the menorah, the House of Shammai believed that the entire menorah should be lit on the first night of Hanukkah, with one fewer candle being lit on each succeeding night to symbolize the dwindling supply of oil in the temple after it had been recaptured by the Maccabees. The House of Hillel argued that the number of lit candles should increase each night during the eight-day celebration so that the final night would be commemorated with the brightest glow in recognition of the increasingly impressive miracle that has occurred. Jewish tradition teaches that God eventually endorsed the positions of the House of Hillel, although this didn't prevent the House of Shammai from continuing to advocate its positions. Many observant Jews today honor both schools of thought by, for example, lighting two separate menorahs to honor the teachings of the two schools.

I like this song a lot, and, as a Unitarian, it introduced me to an issue I knew little or nothing about. What of the chorus that's sung between each of the substantive verses? Apparently "Hanerot, Hallalu, Madlikin" translates as "We light these lights." In fact, I came across an absolutely beautiful version of a song titled "Hanerot Hallalu," that includes the words "By this light remember when we lived in peace." One hopes this can become more than just a memory.  

Rabbi Katz's other songs are of similarly high quality. They're worth a listen. 

Purchase Rabbi Katz's Albums on CDBaby  

Track 18
Shut-In at Christmas, by Charlie Louvin (1998)
Several years ago, my Winter Wonderland mix featured a song by the country/western duo the Louvin Brothers called "Santa's Big Parade." Cited by the New York Times as "one of the preeminent brother acts in country music," the Louvin Brothers consisted of  brothers Ira Lonnie Loudermilk (1924–1965) and Charlie Elzer Loudermilk (1927-2011), better known as Ira and Charlie Louvin. Ira and Charlie were as different as two brothers could be. While Charlie was deeply religious, soft-spoken and refined, Ira rarely attended church, drank heavily and frequently argued and got into physical confrontations with others. Charlie eventually became fed up with Ira's heavy drinking, and in 1963 he left the duo to begin a solo career. Two years later, Ira was killed in a car crash. Charlie describes the quick trip to the top and painful decline of the Louvin Brothers in his memoirs, titled Satan Is Real.
Charlie Louvin

Charlie continued to record and perform music until his death in 2011 from pancreatic cancer. While his solo career was never as successful as The Louvin Brothers had been, Charlie was highly regarded within the music industry and he could draw a good crowd pretty much right up until the end. "Shut-In at Christmas" is a rather melancholy song that sounds as though it could have been slightly autobiographical. But it looks at Christmas from an all-to-common perspective, and it's nice that Charlie's able to put a brave face on the situation as he thinks back on the many happy holidays he enjoyed during better times.

Back with more on the next several tracks in a day or two.

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