The Shabbat, the day of rest, is a very important event of Jewish life. And the songs that rhythm this particular day hold a major place, at the synagogue as well as at home
According to the Hebrew Bible, God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. This day was blessed, proclaimed holy, and instituted as a day of rest (Exodus 20:8-11). In the Jewish tradition, the Shabbat, seventh day of the week, starts on Friday at sunset and ends on Saturday evening when three stars appear, approximately 40 minutes after dusk.
The root of the word « Shabbat » (in Hebrew שבת) comes from Hebrew shev (שב), or lashevet (לשבת), which means « to sit down ». Shabbat is thus a day to rest, out of time and material contingencies, one day in which the activities are reduced to the strict minimum, in order to come back to the essential: the family and the shared moments such as meals, prayers, and study of the Torah.
The songs hold an important place in the Shabbat rituals, such as the lighting of the candles, the Friday night Kiddush (blessing on the wine), the Birkat hamazone (prayers at the end of a meal), the Havdala (last Kiddush which closes Shabbat). The songs are also omnipresent during the five services and four Shabbat meals.
The welcoming of the Shabbat (Kabbalat Shabbat) starts on Friday before dusk with songs such as Ana Bekoa’h (a prayer attributed, according to the Talmud, to Rabbi Nechounia ben Hakanah), Lekha dodi (attributed to the kabbalistic rabbi Salomon Halevi Alkabetz) or the Song of Songs (Shir hashirim).The Piyutim Shalom Alekhem and Eshet Hayil (Book of Proverbs 31:10–31) are sung at home before the Friday night Kiddush.In introduction to the evening prayer, the psalms 92 and 93 are sung. The poem Ya ribon, written by Israel Najara (1555-1628), is sung during the Friday evening meal.
The Saturday morning service (Sha’harit) is particularly long, as it includes, in addition to the usual prayers, more piyutim (El Adon, La-El barouch), the reading of the Torah and of the Haftarah, followed by the additional service of Musaf. The Min’ha service is sung in the evening before the third meal. Then comes Motsei shabbat, the evening prayer which closes the Shabbat rest.
During the meals which are marked by the abundance of food, it is a custom to sing religious poems called Zemirot (or Tish nigunim by the Chasidim), such as Deror Yikra, Ki eshmera shabbat (text by Abraham Ibn Ezra, one of the most prolific and brilliant authors and poets of the Spanish golden age of the 12th century) or Yedid nefesh traditionally sung in the evening, during the third meal (Seouda Shelishit). The end of Shabbat comes also with songs such as Hamavdil ben kodesh lekhol, Elyaou hanavi or Laner velivsamim performed in particular by Yemenite Jews.
Let’s notice finally that the tunes, and even sometimes the lyrics of the religious poetry, change according to the origin of the worshippers. Thus the piyut Lekha dodi, which marks the beginning of Shabbat, is sung in all Jewish communities over hundreds of different melodies! Music then becomes a real marker of identity, an element of cohesion or sometimes of dispute when the cantor or the rabbi changes the traditional melody of the community without informing the worshippers.
Listen to :
Shabbat songs in the Western Ashkenazic rite
Shabbat songs in the Moroccan rite
Shabbat songs in the Algerian rite
Shabbat songs in the Italian rites
Shabbat songs in the Tunisian rite
Shabbat songs in the East European rite
Shabbat songs in the Comtadine and Portuguese rites
The Chasidic Shabbat songs
Shabbat songs in the Ethiopian rite