Zemirot Are for Everyone *     

An invitation to the Shabbat meal and the songs that adorn it.
Melodies for various zemirot:
     Click  here.      

"Zemirot melodies around the world"  At the "Let My People Sing" weekend at Isabella Freedman, Aug 13-15, 2015.  Sample zemirot melodies from places like Yemen, Turkey, Georgia, Syria – even the USA. 

National Havurah Institute
"Rebuilding through Singing: Making the Zemirot our Own."  We explored the zemirot's allusions, looked at the authors social circles and our contemporary folk music, and discussed
how these songs can enhance our Shabbat meals and bring people togetherMore info [course AM-13]

                                          —     —     —     —    —    —    
    You’re sitting around a table with your friends or family.  Great food; nothing to rush off to; just relaxing and shooting the breeze.   It is in this setting that the Shabbat zemirot find their home.
. . .
    Zemirot are songs with structured stanzas distinguished by the informal setting in which we sing them
– typically around the Shabbat table They have been called a "mirror of the soul life of . . . Israel," because they reflect so many themes held dear by the common Jew, and set into poetry and music that reach our inner self Scores of generations of Jews in vastly varying times and cultures have sung these and similar songs in the privacy and comfort of their dining roomWith my commentary, I hope you will enjoy them too.

Insider Information
     The zemirot are in many ways our people’s folk music: music transmitted over time that captures the fancy of the culture.  They contain numerous allusions to places, events, ideas and phrases with which that culture’s members are familiar.  These allusions are the "insider information" which enriches folk poetry’s message.  The goal of the commentary I am writing is to provide the keys that "unlock" the secrets that insiders of Shabbat zemirot have enjoyed over the centuries.  Some lines paraphrase biblical passages that were well-known to people immersed in a Jewish community; some allude to key experiences of our people: the revelation at Mount Sinai; the celebration at, and then the destruction of the national Temple in Jerusalem; the Jews’ migrations and sufferings over centuries and yearning for redemption.  Above all, of course, the Shabbat zemirot celebrate the Shabbat experience: the change of pace, the focus on spirituality, the favorite prayers and foods.
    Both the texts and melodies of zemirot are selected by decentralized popular choice, and change over time – especially the music.  The melodies have always been a combination of handed-down melodies and more recently incorporated ones.  Jews both absorbed melodies and styles from communities around the world in which they lived, and retained an anchor of musical modes and styles from their mid-eastern and biblical roots.  (This anchor is reflected in nusach, the liturgical-musical traditions which assign particular modes and phrases to particular services of the day, week, and seasons.  This becomes a vehicle which colors each of these services, whereby the same words are sung to distinctive modes and themes that create experiential associations with each time of day/week/season.  For more about the role of nusach in our days, see my article, Nusach — Reclaiming a Lost Heritage.  

The Shabbat Meal – "Zeh Hashulhan"
    The Shabbat meal at home occupies a prominence in our tradition unlike most religions — in an informal, setting that Judaism nonetheless regards as a central part of observance.  Until the modern era, the home (and these meals) was more central than the synagogue; among communities that pass Judaism on to the next generation, these meals still are.  Mandatory parts are few (even for the observant); this leaves great room for variety and individual expression.
The Joy of Singing
    Singing is fun, but many amateur singers feel intimidated at the thought of singing in public.  Here, however, you are around your table with just your friends, and you can "let your hair down" and just sing away.  Recordings and friends can help you learn melodies, but it is not a performance – really, one notch removed from "singing in the shower."  That is one reason why "zemirot are for everyone."
    These songs can work on so many levels: The texts alone carry many messages: celebration, joy, connection to something greater, consolation at troubled times.  Poetry conveys multiple meanings (and this book explores these meanings).  And there’s the plain fun of singing and hearing the music.

Invitation: Enter the World of Zemirot
  "So, what’s stopping you?"  
   Judaism contains the opportunity for spiritual experience every bit as much as many eastern religionsYet as with The Wizard of Oz, this experience is in our own back yard ("no place like home").  We had it all along.
    Enter the world of these rich poems and songs!  Read some of the commentaries.  Get some friends or family together.  Learn some melodies.  After some practice you can enjoy sitting back and letting loose.  You have found a new past-time with many dimensions that can enrich your life.

*Title of upcoming book containing English commentary on the zemirot. A portion was printed as my senior thesis
  for Ordination at the Academy for Jewish Religion, 
© 2009

Shabbat lunch program with Rabbi Jonathan Zimet, January 11, 2014
at Temple Beth El, Poughkeepsie, NY (118 Grand Ave, betw Hooker and College Ave.) 
Exploring the poetic allusions in a few of these zemirot and singing some together.

Shir Hashirim.org  the Song of Songs  Shir Hashirim  exploring its diverse dimensions