Five Sephardic Choruses
Choose a track to play
00:00 / 00:00
No Work Selected
In 1991, Adler and translator/lyricist Cantor Samuel Rosenbaum were commissioned by a consortium of more than twenty congregations to write a work commemorating both the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 and 1497 and the arrival of western Sephardi Jews in North America in 1654. The lengthy work that emerged was entitled Ever Since Babylon, and a number of choruses who performed it later asked Adler to extract portions from the oratorio that could be sung as a suite. The resulting work is Five Sephardic Choruses (utilizing the Greek form of the word, rather than the Hebrew Sephardi, although the latter has become more common in recent years). Not all five melodies, however, are strictly Sephardi—i.e., part of the heritage of Jews whose ancestry extends to pre-expulsion Spain—as the Sephardi categorization has sometimes been extended loosely and simply to embrace non-Ashkenazi traditions of other eastern Mediterranean, western and central Asian, and Arabic Jews.
Yom gila is a Sephardi tune (Yom gila yavo), sung on the holyday simḥat torah, which joyfully celebrates the Torah, or divine teaching, immediately following the Festival of Sukkot. It is known in several variants throughout the Sephardi world, and scholars have transcribed some of those variants from communities such as Jerusalem and Salonika.
Ya ribbon olam is one of the Sabbath z’mirot—hymns traditionally sung at the table during or after the festive Sabbath meals. The text is by Israel Najara (c.1555–c.1628), but numerous tunes exist in Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and other traditions.
The melody of Ein keloheinu in this suite comes from the Amsterdam—or western—Sephardi tradition. In the form used by Adler here, it is typical of the dignity and solemnity of many of the hymn tunes of that aggregate community. In Ashkenazi ritual, this text, which is attributed to mystical sources, occurs toward the end of the morning service on Sabbaths and other holy days. According to several liturgical sources and authorities, it was designated for that place in the services in order—by virtue of its acrostic—to bring the total number of b’rakhot (benedictions) in the just-completed amida (the core set of prayers and b’rakhot said standing) to the daily number of nineteen from their abbreviated number of seven on Sabbaths and Festivals. According to that line of reasoning, the acrostic functions as a reference to those missing b’rakhot, serving as a “substitute.” In Yemenite and Sephardi rituals (in which the text contains some variations), ein keloheinu is also included on weekdays.
Adon olam is most widely known as a concluding hymn of Sabbath and other holy day morning services and can also be sung at the conclusion of those evening services—which some authorities suggest was its original function. (The same poem is also part of the preliminary morning liturgy in traditional contexts.) The poem, which gives evidence of Arabic meter that is frequently found in medieval Spanish-Hebrew poetry, is thought to date to the 11th or 12th century. It has been attributed to various poets of that period, including Solomon Ibn Gabirol. Although there is no universal agreement concerning Gabirol’s authorship, those who lean toward that conclusion point to his philosophical poem Keter malkhut (Royal Crown), where God is addressed in terms similar to the overall theme of adon olam. The musical version upon which Adler’s piece is based is from Sephardi tradition.
Zamm’ri li is apparently Yemenite in origin, or by tradition. Although it does not appear in any diwan (poetry compendium) of the Yemenite Jews, its text refers to “the joy of Yemen,” and the tune is typically Yemenite in character. Its Yemenite provenance is further supported by the fact that its text is a paraphrase of another, similarly known Yemenite song, Sapperi li yona. The first known version appears in an obscure 1932 Palestinian Hebrew songster, Shirei ha’aretz, published by Menashe Ravina (Rabinovitz). The refrain, ya’alu na (or, ya’alu ya’alu in some variants) tziyon mizraḥa (onward to Zion), has obvious Zionist significance and is therefore assumed to have been added later to the original two lines. The song, which gained substantial popularity in Israel, was subsequently published in various songsters for Israeli schools. Its most recent setting is a choral arrangement by the Israeli composer Sergiu Shapira, published in Tel Aviv in 1997.