08 July 2022



Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a Jewish song about fucking, doubt, longing, being Jewish, kinky fucking, lust, melancholy, agapē, magic, and Jewish fucking.

The song is well-known because Jeff Buckley did a cover in which he says, “yes, really, this song is totally about fucking”:

It is not a Christmas song and it is not an Easter song. It is an extremely Jewish song about Jewish fucking.

Christians: do not tempt Reb Cohen’s shade to rise out of Sheol to explain this.

There are three acceptable versions — Cohen’s, Buckley’s, and this guy’s in Yiddish:

I was inspired by verses from Life’s Not Fair You See ...

I’ve heard there was some words in verse
Where Cohen wrote of sex and worse
But goys don’t really listen to it, do ya
It starts with lust, it ends with death
It’s fully yid in every breath
I just don't think you grok the “Hallelujah”

... to add a few of my own ...

When Cohen names the holy dove
He doesn’t mean romantic love
It’s obvious the meaning really threw ya
It’s not quite G-d, and sure ain’t Christ
The highest Good, but isn’t nice
It’s a cold and it’s a broken הַלְלוּ יָהּ

(And you can find a silly riff of mine among a delightful collection of them.)

My friend @ETori says:

I know my people like to make fun of Xtians fascination with Hallelujah. I mean, they hear it really differently than most Jews do. At the same time, there is such a pervasive sense of grief in it. It’s not just sex, it’s mourning, it’s anger, it’s love, it’s breathtaking.

I mean ... it’s in the tradition of the Song of Solomon, which Jewish educators tried to convince me was really about the Torah.

Or Hafez poems, where Muslim clergy try to tell you that the wine is a metaphor for Gd.

Sammy Aurora underlines the point:

Hallelujah isn’t just a sex song, it’s a song by a very Jewish man that references his very Jewish (and very negative) perspective on God and religion. Please stop trying to make it a church song, thank you.

To ever one saying: “wait, it’s a sex song?”:

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end”
Rolling Stone: How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Brilliantly Mingled Sex, Religion

Also to clarify, “negative” is the wrong word for the portrayal of God and religion in Cohen’s work, but what I meant was that it’s something other than uncomplicated praise and worship and often has a dark undertone. Which makes it weird to use as a Christian hymn.

Babadybbuk snarks:

Me: how about a remake of Boorman’s Excalibur but make it KING DAVID and essentially one long ass music video for Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and it’s SO H•RNY that it has gentiles vomiting in the aisles during screenings 🤔

Question asked while making the film fest rounds: what compelled you to make this highly controversial film???

Me: The Christian gentiles had to be taught a lesson. For too long they’ve been making Cohen’s Hallelujah about Jesus when all this time it’s been a h•rny Jewish song.

Jacob Brogan snarks:

New rule: If you’re going to do something (figure skating, scoring an emotional scene in an animated comedy, etc.) accompanied by any version of “Hallelujah,” you have to first write a short essay explaining what you think the lyrics mean.

I would like to also use this space to rescue a linkrotted commentary I like:

I wrote this a while ago for FB after someone asked “wait, what is the song really about, I thought it was about an abusive relationship?” Thought I would share here.

This is your obligatory PSA that Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen is a DEEPLY and undeniably Jewish song.

Cohen was born, lived, and died as an Orthodox Jew - he also embraced elements of Buddhism, but contrary to what people may assume, that doesn’t mean he stopped being a religious Jew. He himself said so in interviews - that he was content with his religion and identified as Jewish.

A lot of his music is informed by his Judaism and by the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. For example, Abraham’s famous line of “hineni” or “here I am” being used as the refrain in “You Want it Darker.” Cohen’s “Who By Fire” is a pretty literal interpretation of the Unatoneh Tokef prayer from the Yom Kippur liturgy, about inescapable morality. His work is often very literally and directly informed by his Judaism.

Hallelujah is perhaps the ULTIMATE example of Judaism in Cohen’s work. It uses two famous stories from the Tanakh - the imagry of “bathing on the roof” comes from King David (of secret chords and psalmistry) and his adulterous lust for Batsheva. The lyric about tied down and having ones hair cut is an allusion to Delilah cutting Shimshon/Samson’s hair, betraying him and stealing his strength. Hallelujah itself is a Hebrew word - “Hallel” means praise, the “u” ending makes it a vocative command, and “Jah” represents the Divine, the object of praise. It means “you should/let us praise the Divine.”

Cohen wrote DOZENS of verses for the song, and most people covering the song use the ones selected by Jeff Buckley for his cover. However, if you look at the original verses Cohen sang, you’ll find even MORE Jewish sentiment.

“They say I took the name in vain, but I don’t even know the name.” Blasphemy or taking G-d’s name in vain has a very different meaning in Judaism - we can’t use G-d’s sacred Name unless we are directly addressing G-d, and even then, only the high priest can use it, and only in the most sacred place in the Temple at the most sacred time of the year. But because the Romans destroyed the Temple and exiled us, the high priest line was broken, the Temple doesn’t exist, and the Name is believed to have been passed down secretly in Babylonia until as late as 600ce, when it vanished entirely.

In a real sense, the original way that we communicated with G-d in Judaism has been destroyed by outsiders, and we’ve had to adapt. Judaism moved on, now a religion of text instead of Temple, but there’s still a GREAT sense of loss and displacement around that issue.

“There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter what you heard, the holy or the broken hallelujah” - not to get too deep into it, but, this is a reflection of Kabbalah, Jewish ontological mysticism. One explanation of creation is that G-d, the Eternal, withdrew in order to make space for the universe to be born. As G-d collapsed inwards, everything in the universe emanated out from G-d’s person like shafts of light. Everything that exists came from one of these 10 eminations of divinity or the 22 letters of the Hebrew language. There’s a blaze of light in every word - a spark that reflects how G-d used light and words to create everything.

This gets very very interesting when you get to the idea of “the holy or the broken.” Kabbalah conceives of those eminations as vessels that hold the divine light of G-d, but that the reason evil exists in the world is that long ago, the vesseks cracked and the sparks all fell out. Now, each positive aspect like love, strength, harmony, has a negative aspect, like death, sadness, corruption. Tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is the job of doing more and more good deeds in the earthly realm so that we can gather up all that light and positivity and repair what’s been broken in the world, on a personal level but also a cosmological one. So, while there’s a holy hallelujah - joy, thanksgiving, gratitude, praise - there’s also brokenness, sorrow, despair. But even that is part of the world, an empty shadow of the good aspects of existence, and you have to take the bad with the good and just try to make the world better.

“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” In Judaism, we don’t need an external source for salvation. You do the best you can, you apologize when you do wrong and try to do better, and if you still suck, you go to the equivalent of purgatory for 11 months max. Thats it. No hell, and no Jesus required.. Many Jewish people don’t believe in an afterlife at all, or believe in other options like reincarnation. But anyone who does believe in a positive afterlife (analogous to heaven or paradise) believes it’s available to anyone who simply tries to be a good person.

Now, one of the biggest problems actually comes from people adapting Jeff’s version. The verse “Maybe there’s a God above” was written by Cohen, but he didn’t sing it. Jeff Buckley chose to include it in his rendition. “Maybe” theres a G-d is a VERY Jewish sentiment. We are a religion, NOT a faith. Belief in G-d is more or less optional. No one, even in Orthodox circles, will ever ask you about your personal belief in G-d. That’s none of their business, it’s quite rude, like asking about money or something. Everyone sorts out their spiritual journey on their own, and Judaism makes a LOT of space for questioning, doubt, multiple conflicting viewpoints, even downright disbelief. As a result, there are many agnostic and atheist Jews who are still deeply religious and fully observant. However, in an ire inducing brand of Christian hubris, most Christian artists choose to change this to “I know that there’s a God above,” TOTALLY stripping the Jewish context from that line because doubt is not culturally acceptable in their faith-centric system.

Unfortunately, Christians often go even farther than inserting a forced and obligatory belief in G-d - I have heard renditions of Hallelujah with the lyrics totally changed, so that it becomes an Evangelical worship song about the love of Jesus, a Christmas song about the birth of Jesus, or even (horrifyingly) a Passion narrative song for Easter about the death of Jesus. There are THOUSANDS of songs on those topics already. Stealing a Jewish song for a Christian purpose is ironically just like the story of the rich man with many sheep who stole the poor man’s only sheep. Which is a metaphor for David stealing Batsheva from Uriah. WHICH IS LITERALLY IN THE SONG. It’s the biggest religion on earth stealing something from one of the smallest. To make matters worst, juxtaposing it with the crucifixion is BEYOND tone deaf, considering one of the origins of antisemitism is the accusation that Jews killed Jesus. No one in history has mistreated, exiled, exterminated, and abused the Jewish people to the extent that Christians have - and still, they have the nerve to take a fundamentally Jewish song and appropriate it for their purposes.

Hallelujah is a beautiful song, and many people of all backgrounds relate to it. That’s because, though it is a deeply Jewish song, its fundamentally about the tension between beauty and brokenness - in love, life, humanity, the divine, and the universe. Everyone relates to that. But thats THE central and foundational message of the song, onto which other messages are applied. To make it about Christmas, Jesus, or the crucifixion STRIPS that message and replaces it with (what Judaism essentially considers) idolatry.

To use this song at the RNC in support of the Trump campaign does the same thing. Though the lyrics were unchanged, the true message was stripped away, leaving behind an undeniable message - praise Trump. This is idolatry, this is blasphemy, this is appropriation, this is theft, this is defilement and violation and assult.

In conclusion:

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