The Mesorah of Rebbes Playing Violins

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Rafi Perlstein, a chossid of the Kretchnif dynasty where violin playing is an inseparable part of Chanukah lighting, wrote about the history of the centuries-old Kretchnif-Nadvorna tradition.

“Since I was a small child, I waited all year to hear the rebbe’s special niggun,” he said.

The custom began with Rav Mordechai of Nadvorna (1824–1894), who used to tell his sons: “Who will meet the Moshiach and play before him? Chaim the musician? Maybe you will merit to greet him and play before him.”

The story is told of Rav Mordechai’s son, Rav Meir of Kretchnif, who went to cheder on his own accord when his father was absent from home for a long time. Upset that the teacher had usurped the duty to teach his son Torah, Rav Mordechai ordered Meir not to look at any sefer until he forgot alef beis. But having a good memory, Rav Meir took a while to forget, and he meanwhile built a violin and learnt to play proficiently.

Playing the violin became such a holy avodah for Rav Meir that his father would wake him at night to hear him play. The avodah was passed from generation to generation, with the instrument generally played after lighting the Chanukah licht.

The current Kretchnifer Rebbe continues the custom of his father, who often played a special tune attributed to his grandfather, Rav Eliezer Zev of Kretchnif, to play the violin to perek 13 of Tehillim, “Hinei mah tov umah no’im.

“The purpose of it all is the minhag, the sacred avodah, the sublime gathering of the chassidim and principally, the mesores,” Perlstein says.




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