Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt: Shir Hama’alot

Chazzanut/Cantorial Music

Shir Hama’alot by Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt  
Via: Youtube

From Psalm 126 in the Hebrew Bible, Shir Hama’alot (שיר המעלות; Hebrew for “Songs of Ascent”), is essentially a song of gratitude to God for being freed from captivity, for fulfilling a dream of returning to Zion. The melody was composed by Cantor Pinchas Minkowski​ [1859–1924] and made popular by Cantor Rosenblatt [1882–1933]. 

I found it noteworthy and interesting that religious Zionists lobbied for Shir Hama’alot to be Israel’s national anthem, writes Neil W. Levin for the Milken Archive of Jewish Music:
Some religious Zionist groups, already disaffected by the secular nature of the Zionist movement, lobbied for a biblical text. They usually proposed Psalm 126, shir hama’alot b’shuv adonai et shivat tziyon (A song of ascents: When God brought back those who returned to Zion ...), which refers to the restoration following the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian captivity. For religious Zionists, that would at least have provided the desired acknowledgment of a Divine parameter to the modern Zionist enterprise.
But Hatikvah was chosen (Herzl disliked it, but he died in 1904), chiefly because the early pioneers liked it (officially adopted by the members at the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933; it only officially became Israel's national anthem in 2004). Not in serious contention was the biblical Psalm 126 and its references to a return to Zion from Babylonian exile (“When the LORD brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream” (verse 1), since this is what it seems what the Founding Fathers of Israel (and not of Zion) wanted, that is, for the new nation to be unlike the old nation.

This might explain the reluctance of the secular leaders to use a biblical Psalm, avoiding its use would allow the new nation to separate it from its past and make a new history that starts only with the history of Zionism, which dates only to the late nineteenth century. Some view this as a tragic mistake, and it may well be. Not to return to old arguments, but it does seem that this verse suggests that the national dream of the Jews cannot be separated from the ideas of national redemption through the work of God.

Supporting this view, Rav Kook writes: “The Zionist movement could not have convinced millions of Jews to uproot themselves if not for the people’s deep-rooted longings for the Land of Israel. It is our faith and anticipation of redemption that enables the realization of Israel’s national segulah.” [Hebrew for treasure; segulah here is understood as a spiritual quality; Israel has a unique potential for greatness.]

The Zemirot Database gives the following lyrics for the prayer/song:

שיר המעלות
שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלות 
בְּשׁוּב ה' אֶת שִׁיבַת צִיּון 
הָיִינוּ כְּחלְמִים: 
אָז יִמָלֵא שחוק פִּינוּ 
וּלְשׁונֵנוּ רִנָּה 
אָז יאמְרוּ בַגּויִם 
הִגְדִּיל ה' לַעֲשות עִם אֵלֶּה: 
הִגְדִּיל ה' לַעֲשות עִמָּנוּ 
הָיִינוּ שמֵחִים: 
שׁוּבָה ה' אֶת שְׁבִיתֵנוּ 
כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶּגֶב: 
הַזּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה בְּרִנָּה יִקְצרוּ: 
הָלוךְ יֵלֵךְ וּבָכה נשא מֶשֶׁךְ 
הַזָּרַע בּא יָבא בְרִנָּה נשא אֲלֻמּתָיו

Shir Hama’lot
Shir Hama'alot,
B'shuv Adonai et shivat tziyon
hayinu k’chol'mim.
Az Y’male s'chok peenu ulshoneinu rina.
Az yom'ru vagoyim
higdil Adonai la'asot im eleh; higdil Adonai la'asot imanu hayinu s’meicheim.
Shuva Adonai et shiviteinu ka'afikim banegev.
Hazor’im b'dimah b'rinah yiktzoru.
Haloch Yelech uvacho,
noseh meshech hazarah,
bo yavo v’rinah noseh alumotav.

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