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Shalom aleikhem (Israel Goldfarb) 2:27
 

Liner Notes

Although it is but one of many extant tunes for this text, this particular shalom aleikhem melody—composed by Rabbi Israel Goldfarb—is unquestionably the best known and most widely sung version in the United States and Canada for this para-liturgical Sabbath poem. Since its introduction in the early part of the 20th century, it has become the almost exclusive version in America—especially among Ashkenazi Jews—replacing other earlier ones, except among certain Hassidic circles. It has acquired the status of a folk tune, and has also become known among Jews in the British Isles, South Africa, Australia, Europe, and even Israel. Even where other shalom aleikhem melodies are part of the repertoire, such as in England, Goldfarb’s is often familiar as well.

The text of shalom aleikhem belongs to a special category of Sabbath “table songs” or “table hymns” known as z’mirot shel shabbat, which are sung both before, during, and after the festive Sabbath meals. It is the first in the traditionally prescribed order of those hymns for the first Sabbath meal, the Friday evening one. It precedes the premeal kiddush (the acknowledgment, chanted over wine, of gratitude for God’s having hallowed the Jewish people through His commandments and for His gift of the Sabbath as a perpetual heritage) and the other various z’mirot that are sung as the dinner progresses.

This is a four-stanza hymn based on an allegorical passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 119B), in which each person is escorted home from the synagogue on the eve of the Sabbath by two angels—one evil, and the other beneficent. If they find no Sabbath peace in the home, the evil angel exclaims, “May it [also] be thus on the next Sabbath!” But if they find the home properly prepared for the Sabbath and infused with the special Sabbath spirit of peace, the beneficent angel expresses the wish that it also be the same there on the following Sabbath. The evil angel is then divinely compelled to give his assent by responding “amen.” Hence the words in the final stanza: “May your departure be for peace, angels of peace!” (viz., peace for the following Sabbath as well).

Shalom aleikhem is of comparatively recent origin and apparently is the creation of 17th-century kabbalists. No specific attribution has been established, nor is any reference to the poem found in ancient or medieval sources. Some rabbinic authorities, in fact, such as Rabbi Yaakov of Emden (1697–1776) and the Vilna Gaon (1720–97), originally objected to some of the wording of shalom aleikhem because of its suggestion of angels as intermediaries. Others, however, endorsed the practice as a poetic ushering in of Sabbath peace in the home, and the custom eventually prevailed—not only among virtually all Ashkenazi Jewry, but even as an adopted practice in some Sephardi and other non-Ashkenazi circles as well.

Israel Goldfarb’s now famous tune for shalom aleikhem was first published in the volume Friday Evening Melodies (1918), and it later appeared in Goldfarb’s collection Sabbath in the Home (1953). The melodic incipit is nearly identical to that of a much earlier tune version (for the same poem) that was part of the repertoire of the Bratslaver Hassidim in the Ukraine—the followers of Reb Naḥman of Bratslav (1772–1811), to whom one later source even attributed that older tune. But the remainder of Goldfarb’s melody is unrelated.

By: Neil W. Levin

 

Lyrics

SHALOM ALEIKHEM

Sung in Hebrew

 

Peace be upon you, angels of the Most High and Exalted One,
Of the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be He.

May your coming be for the sake of peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High,
Of the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be He.

Bless me with peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High,
Of the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be He.

And may your departure be for peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High,
Of the King of Kings, the Holy One, praised be He.


 

Credits

Composer: Rabbi Israel Goldfarb

Length: 02:27

Performers: Neil Levin, Conductor;  Schola HebraeicaSimon Spiro, Cantor

Date Recorded: 07/01/2001
Venue: New West End Synagogue (C), London, UK
Engineer: Bertram Kornacher and Morgan Roberts
Assistant Engineer: Hamza, Andreas
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Levin, Neil

Additional Credits:

© Simon Spiro Organization
Translation by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman

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