BADḤAN (Heb. בַּדְחָן; "entertainer"), merrymaker, rhymester who entertained guests, especially at weddings. The Talmud mentions professional jesters who cheered the melancholy (Ta'an. 22a) or who amused bride and groom (Ket. 17a; Ber. 30b–31a). Jewish itinerant singers, called badḥanim or leiẓanim ("jesters") are mentioned in medieval rabbinical literature (e.g., R. Elijah b. Isaac of Carcassonne's Asufot); they seem to have appeared as professional entertainers at weddings and at Ḥanukkah and Purim celebrations, much after the pattern of the troubadours and ballad singers. The merrymaking of these badḥanim, who were also the forerunners of Jewish theatrical art, consisted not only of folksongs and comic stories but also of skillful puns on scriptural verses and talmudical passages, which required a certain amount of Jewish learning. As a result, the rabbinical authorities protested against the badḥanim who parodied the Kaddish at wedding festivities or who committed the near-blasphemy of "amusing the guests with jests on scriptural verses and holy words. Happy the man who abstains from such" (R. David ha-Levi, in Turei Zahav to Sh. Ar., OH 560:5).
In Eastern Europe the badḥan (or marshalik, from Ger. marschalc, in the sense of "master of ceremonies," and not from Heb. mashal, "proverb"), acted as the professional wedding jester. The *Chmielnicki persecutions (1648–49), and the rabbinical opposition to unbridled merrymaking, even at weddings (based upon Sot. 9:14), led the badḥanim to introduce a new style of entertainment – the forshpil – in which the badḥan addressed the bride with a rhymed penitential exhortation while the women performed the ceremony of bedeken, i.e., covering the bride with the veil before proceeding to the ḥuppah (see *Marriage Customs). In the case of orphans, the badḥan's rhymes invoked the memory of the departed parents and injected a sorrowful note. Later, at the wedding feast, the badḥan entertained the guests with music and with jests that contained personal allusions to the important guests and participants. In the course of time the literary style of the badḥan developed into a sort of Hebrew and Yiddish folk-poetry, the most renowned exponent of which was Eliakum *Zunser of Vilna, who composed over 600 songs of this kind. A fine portrayal of the badḥan is the character of Breckeloff in I. *Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto. In recent times the institution of the badḥan has been replaced by more modern forms of entertainment.
A. Berliner, Aus dem Leben der deutschen Juden im Mittelalter (1900), 57, 58; I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), 213–4; Hirsch, in: JQR, 13 (1901), 601–2; Lifschitz, in: Arkhiv far di Geshikhte fun Yidishen Teater un Drame, 1 (1930), 38–74; Eisenstein, Yisrael, 2 (1908), 302–3.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.