B’Shem Omro

I was trying to verify the attribution of the poem/prayer “We Remember Them” (which may even have the title “Memorywork,” though I’ve only seen that one place) to Rabbis Sylvan D. Kamens and Jack Riemer. So I googled “Rabbi Sylvan D. Kamens Jack Riemer We Remember Them” — and this is what I got at the bottom of the sidebar:

Browse a huge selection now. Find exactly what you want today.

Pause.  Laugh.

Go on to the serious stuff behind it.

I found that the poem circulates primarily without attribution on the Internet; also, Rabbi Sylvan Kamens often turns into “Sylvia,” and “Rabbi” is usually missing even if both men are correctly identified.

This matters to me right now because last night, and again Saturday and Sunday, Albany Pro Musica is singing this poem set to music, and the composer claims that it is by an “unknown poet.” Oops. (To see for yourself, click here and scroll to the very bottom, or read the liner notes from the composer’s original recording — exactly halfway down the page.)

According to the Talmud* (sources cited at the bottom of this blog), “Whoever tells a thing in the name of the one who said it, brings redemption into the world.”  Implication:  Whoever repeats something without giving proper credit is delaying the achievment of peace and justice (the words that I understand when I hear “redemption of the world”).

An aside: This teaching is originally Purim-related: So thou hast learned, “Whosoever reports a thing in the name of him that said it (b’shem omro) brings deliverance into the world,” as it is said, “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai” …because as a result of Esther identifying Mordecai as the source of the information about a threat to the king’s life, the Jews of Persia were later saved.  (Actually, it’s not quite that straight of a line from Esther’s report to the deliverance, but it’s certainly an important part of advancing the story and heightening the drama.)  Here’s a nice piece about bloggers doing exactly this — speaking b’shem omro — which is where I borrowed that translation from. Also take a look at the this great blog entry about the Talmud and the Internet which actually gives the locations in the Talmud where you can find this teaching; see the bottom of this post*. (In the interest of b’shem omro, “in the name of the one who said it,” you can hover over those two links to find out the names of the writers.)

So I’m EXTREMELY distressed that this poem, which is held up by the writer of the the liner notes to the composer’s original recording (remember, scroll exactly halfway down the page) as an example of the message that “memory is the responsibility of everyone,” is itself repeated in such a formal venue without proper attribution!

*The dictum to repeat a teaching b’shem omro can be found in Pirkey Avot 6:6, and in Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) Megilah 15A, Hulin 104B, and Niddah 19B.