Bless the Lord, My Soul is one of the many hymn texts of non-Jewish origin included in the 1914 edition of the Reform movement’s Union Hymnal, which was published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The text, a rhymed English paraphrase of Psalm 103 and thus theologically neutral, was written originally as a Christian hymn by Isaac Watts, and it is found in a number of Christain hymnals set to various tunes. Its incorporation into the early editions of the Union Hymnal was an accepted practice of the time in American Reform worship. In the 1914 edition it is set to a tune adapted from a piece by Robert Schumann.
In editing the third, 1932 edition of the hymnal, one of Abraham Wolf Binder’s aims was to introduce to American Reform services traditional tune versions as well as a number of melodies extracted from classic European synagogue compositions, both of which had been for the most part bypassed in the earlier editions and were therefore unknown to Reform congregations in America. In this case, Binder retained the Watts text but set it instead to one of the best-known traditional tunes of the Western, or Amsterdam, Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi rite, in which it is sung to the biblical text az yashir moshe (thus Moses sang) on Sabbath mornings and other special days on the liturgical calendar. It is known as the shira melody, or shirat hayam (the song [of Moses] at the Sea of Reeds, following the successful escape of the ancient Israelites from their Egyptian pursuers). The same melody, or a variant, is also sung in the Western Sephardi tradition to the Spanish text Bendigamos al Altísimo (Let us praise the Lord most high), which is basically a brief encapsulation of the birkat hamazon (benedictions [“grace”] after meals) that is customarily sung in addition to or as a supplement to the full text. In the custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York, Shearith Israel, for example, it is sung after meals on the Festival of Sukkot, as well as on other occasions.
Sung in English
From the n’ila service (excerpt from Psalm 103 for Concluding Service for Yom Kippur).
Bless the Lord, all ye, His works, in all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Performers: Samuel Adler, Conductor; Rochester Singers
Text: Union Prayer Book 1949
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