Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mitsves shtekn, the mitsvah of the stick: a concept which is hopefully extinct. Yiddish theater song.

I don't have the melody for this one, and though Morris Rund claims on the title page of the broadside (see below) that it was copyrighted in 1909, I didn't find it mentioned in the Heskes index. Just as well: it's a song which deserves oblivion.

I submitted my tentative translation to the Yiddish Book Center's for help, but nobody responded.

I can't tell whether the song is viciously tongue-in-cheek or merely vicious. There are also translation problems, so please opine.

Michael Wex helped me:

It's pretty much a tasteless joke. It's mitsves shtekn, i.e., the mitsve or commandment of the stick [i.e., it's a mitsve to have one]. It's possessive.

Is it really a mitsvah to beat your wife, your mother-in-law, or your card-playing husband? Naomi Graetz wrote:
Rabbis regularly advise men to restrict their wives to the home and be responsible for educating them. Thus the husband, who “owns” his wife, is given a great amount of latitude in educating her. In this view it is permissible and acceptable to beat one’s wife in order to keep her in line. The rabbis who justify beating see it as part of the overall “duties” of a husband to chastise his wife for educational purposes.
The text:

A lidl fun mitsves hob ikh far aykh atsind
Ikh bet aykh fraynd hert oys
Di mitsve zikh lernen dos darf zogor? a kind
Un hitn ven er vert groys
Ven eyner kholile treft on a vayb a shlak
Oyshaltn fun a hur ken er nit
Iz a mitzve a groyse derlangen ir in bak
Und shlogn biz in blut
A shtekn muz zayn fargegreyt
Visn darf dos a yeder man
Und yedn tog zikh nemen tsayt
Di mitsve mekayem tsu zayn! - oy di mitsve


Hitn zolt ir gut di mitsve
Kom hot ir nor tsores plog
Di mitsve hit op yedn tog
Dem shtekn greyt
Halt in der zayt
Dos iz der bester plan!
Kom vet ir di mitsve ophitn
Vet ir hobn a lebn a gutn
Gedenken darft ir ober gut
Az shlogn muzt ir biz in blut
Fergest es nit
Un hit op git
Di mitsve mekayem tsu zayn!

A mitsve yetst lernen vel ikh a yedn yid
Ver nor a shviger hot
In shtub zi tsu haltn dos veyst a yeder gut
Farzindikt zikh bay Got
Ven zi kumt kholile tsu aykh in gast tsu geyn
Fargest in der mitsve nit
Nemt glaykh a shtekn un brekht ir yedn beyn
Und varft zi aroys in strit
A shviger iz in shtub a shpin
Keyn ergers fun ir ken nit zayn
Darum fraynde hot gut in zin
Di mitsve mekayem tsu zayn! Oy di mitsve

Oykh froyen aykh lernen vel ikh yetst mitsves fil
Gedenken zolt ir dos
Kom treft ir dem man in salon baym kortn shpil
Bombedirt im glaykh dem noz
Es treft oykh a mol ven der man er trinkt zikh on
Un fangt on shrayen in hoyz
Fargest nit di mitsve vos ir darft damolt ton
Di oygn shlogt im oys
Di vedzshnem nemt bay im bald tsu
Und lozt im fun der shtub nit geyn
Farshporn vet ir dan fil mi
Di mitsve mekayem tsu zayn! Oy di mitsve
I have a song about mitsvahs for you now
I ask you to hear me out, friend
Children must learn the mitsvahs
And observe them when they're grown up
If one, God forbid, meets up with a woman/wife who's a (disaster/nuisance)
He can't hold himself back from a whore
It's a great mitsvah to hit her cheek
And beat her until she's bloody
Every man should know this
And every day take the time
To fulfill the mitsvah!


You should observe the mitsvah
As soon as you have troubles
Observe the mitsvah every day
Hold the stick ready at your side
That is the best plan!
As soon as you observe the mitsvah
You'll have a good life
You must keep in mind, though,
That you must keep beating until there's blood
Don't forget, observe it well,
To fulfill the mitzvah!

I'm going to teach a mitsvah now to every guy
Who has a mother-in-law
Everybody knows to keep her in the house
Is to sin before God
When she, God forbid, comes to visit you
Don't forget the mitsvah
Just take that stick and break every one of her bones
And throw her out in the street
A mother-in-law in the house is a spider
There can't be anything worse
Therefore, friends, keep it in mind
To fulfill the mitzvah! Oh, the mitsvah...

Also, women, I'll now teach you many mitsvahs
You should remember this:
As soon as you catch your husband in the salon playing cards
Bomb him in the nose
It also happens sometimes, when your husband drinks too much
And begins shouting in the house
Don't forget the mitzvah you should carry out then
Punch out his eyes
Swiftly take his wages away
And don't let him out of the house
That way you'll save yourself a lot of trouble
In fulfilling the mitsvah...

Here are the original sheets, click for larger view:

For sheet music (but not of this song) and/or performances contact me:

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