By itself, the term or word hamavdil (lit., [one or He] who distinguishes, or makes a distinction) would normally indicate a particular hymn of which it is the first word. This hymn is recited or sung in most Jewish rites as part of the havdala ceremony—the service that signals and formalizes the conclusion of the Sabbath by proclaiming and emphasizing the distinction between the holy (Sabbath) and the profane (the weekday about to commence).
Rumshinsky’s famous quasi-cantorial and partially folklorized song Hamavdil, however, is a secular Yiddish theatrical and concert number that only briefly quotes from that Hebrew hymn and is otherwise based liberally on the Yiddish havdala service text Got fun avrohom (God of Abraham)—a devotional and inspirational prayer with numerous text variants. At one time this prayer was customarily recited in traditional Ashkenazi circles primarily by women. Although women are not required under halakha to pray, they must nonetheless conclude the Sabbath with the hamavdil passage, which is incorporated in Got fun avrohom. Its message is a poetic extension in the vernacular of the havdala theme with regard to concluding and bidding farewell to the Sabbath and reinforcing its uniqueness.
Rumshinsky’s text, which hardly conforms to any of the standard ones found in printed prayerbooks, seems to be a pastiche of fragments of lesser-known variants to which he added his own words. Also incorporated in his song is the greeting customarily exchanged immediately after havdala (and for the rest of Saturday night, or motza’ei shabbat): “a gute vokh” (May you have a good week).
Indeed, it is Rumshinsky’s internal tune for that post-Sabbath greeting that gives the song its immortality. For it is to this now-ubiquitous tune that nearly every Ashkenazi congregation, Reform as well as traditional, has sung these words following havdala services for many decades—often to the Hebrew equivalent, shavu’a tov. It is thus assumed to be an anonymous folk tune, but there is no reason to believe that it is not Rumshinsky’s own, or that he borrowed it from folk repertoire.
It will no doubt come as a surprise to nearly everyone familiar with this tune that it was born on the Yiddish stage. And to those who have long known Rumshinsky’s Hamavdil as a concert number, it may be even a greater revelation to learn that it was introduced to the public as part of a Second Avenue theatrical production—one of twenty musical numbers in Rumshinsky’s 1922 operetta Der rebetsn’s tokhter (The Rabbi’s Wife’s Daughter), to a book by Shomer, a popular Hebrew and Yiddish novelist and dramatist who was perceived by his critics and detractors (among them, Shalom Aleichem) as having created a literature and style in Europe tantamount to a Yiddish version of pulp fiction. Der rebetsn’s tokhter was Rumshinsky’s updated revision and reworking of his 1909 operetta, A yidish kind, which he always considered his “first truly Jewish operetta.”
The story takes place in 17th-century Poland, approximately during the time of King John [Sobieski] III (reigned from 1674). Count Zaminsky, an impoverished Polish nobleman whose situation has continued to deteriorate, seeks to restore his fortunes by laying a new tax on the Jews and by organizing a marriage between his son Vladislav and the daughter of the wealthy and secure Count Orlov. It happens, however, that Vladislav is somehow in love with Henele, the only daughter of a rebetsn—which meant that the audience (with the possible exception of anyone who had never been to a Second Avenue production) already knew by the first act that Count Zaminsky’s son was not really Count Zaminsky’s son! The audience, which has already been given reason to suspect the circumstances, had only to wait for the final act to learn that he had been switched as an infant for an aristocratic Polish baby who died. It turns out of course that Vladislav is a Jew whose name now becomes Avrohom ben Yisro’el. Not only is he a Jew, says the messenger who delivers the good news, but a Jew with a true “Jewish heart of silver and gold.”
Hamavdil was sung in the operetta by the rebetsn, portrayed by one of the great Second Avenue prima donnas, Mme. Regina Prager. Since the song is listed as the seventh number, followed by Kum aheym tsurik (Come Back Home!)—also sung by Henele’s mother—it probably occurred in the first act, but in any case before the final act. There could have been a synagogue havdala scene, since it is listed as being sung with the accompaniment of a choir (the advertisement for the operetta boasted a “double choir”). Among its early recordings are those by William (“Wee Willie”) Robyn and Shloimele Rothstein, both tenors. No manuscript copy of a score containing the choral parts has been located. No choir was used on those recordings (which used an orchestra), and the published folio is for voice and piano.
Although the song was a female vocal vehicle in the stage production, it quickly became a favorite concert number for cantors and other male performers—and it remained known in that form. The Milken Archive recording follows that tradition.
By: Neil W. Levin
He who makes a distinction between the sacred and profane,
Will pardon our transgressions.
A good week, have a good week
A good week, a pleasant week …
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
watch over Your people Israel,
protect Your people Israel.
The Holy Sabbath is taking leave;
may the new week arrive with good fortune and blessing,
with all things good and with success.
To You alone we pray,
dear God! And let us say: Amen.
He who made a distinction between the sacred and profane,
between the Sabbath and the rest of the week,
“Hamavdil ben kodesh l’ ol.”
He will multiply our seed and our means
as the sand of the ocean.
We should multiply, and belong only to you,
“Hamavdil ben kodesh l’ ol.”
O, good Creator, O dear Creator,
Sing the “Hamavdil,” sing unto Him.
Praise our Creator. Praise only Him.
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
our belief in You is strong.
Watch over us and protect us from any new disasters.
Give us and send us a new, good week.
hamavdil beyn kodesh, ben kodesh lkhol,
khatosenu, khatosenu, khatosenu hu yimkhol.
gut vokh, gut vokh, gut vokh, a gute vokh,
gut vokh, gut vokh, gut vokh, a tayere vokh.
got fun avrohom un yitskhok un yakov,
bahit dayn folk yisroel,
bashits dayn folk yisroel.
der shabes koydesh geyt avek,
di naye vokh zol kumen tsu mazl un brokhe,
mit alem gut un hatslokhe.
mir betn nor bay dir aleyn,
gotenyu! venomar: omeyn.
der vos makht a tsvishnsheyd beyn kodesh l'hol,
tsvishn shabes un der vokhns,
hamavdil beyn kodesh lkhol,
oy, zareynu vkhaspeynu yarbe kakhol,
mir zoln zikh mern, dikh nor gehern,
hamavdil beyn kodesh lkhol.
oy, guter boyre, oy, tayerer boyre,
zingt dem hamavdil, zingt far Im.
loybt undzer boyre, loybt nor Im.
got fun avrohom, yitskhok un yakov,
mir zaynen bay dir ale takif.
hit undz un shits undz, oy, fun a nayer brokh.
gib undz, un shik undz a naye, gute vokh.
Composer: Joseph Rumshinsky
Genre: Yiddish Theater
Barcelona Symphony-National Orchestra of Catalonia;
Jorge Mester, Conductor;
Benzion Miller, Tenor
Date Recorded: 11/01/1998
Venue: The Warehouse (G) London, UK
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul
Publisher: Music Sales
Arranger/Orchestrator: Joseph Ness
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin