A Woman of True Worth
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Ben Zion Shenker’s setting of Eshet ḥayil—the words from Proverbs that are customarily recited at the Sabbath eve table in praise of one’s wife as part of the preliminary ritual before the meal—is one of his most beloved melodies. Unlike many other more restrained tunes for this text and its Sabbath eve function, this version has an unmistakable and deliberately intended Hassidic flavor, even though it is entirely original and has no specific melodic source in Hassidic song traditions. It was brought to public attention outside Shenker’s own Hassidic world through this arrangement by Stanley Sperber for mezzo-soprano solo and four-part mixed chorus a cappella. Sperber made the arrangement in the 1960s for the Zamir Chorale in New York, of which he was the founder and director. With Eileen Penn (daughter of the well-known Yiddish writer Asher Penn) as the soloist, it became one of Zamir’s trademark numbers and was performed at nearly every Zamir concert during that time frame, always “bringing the house down.” On one of Zamir’s concert tours of Israel in that same period, it was performed so frequently and at so many venues that Miss Penn was actually dubbed “the eshet ḥayil lady” by city bus drivers and store proprietors who recognized her from concerts they had attended.
(For a discussion of the meaning and significance of the text, see the notes to Judith Zaimont's A Woman of Valor in Volume 4)