Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur

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Learn to sing Yigdal Print E-mail
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All transliterations, commentary, and audio recordings are copyright © 1997, 1998, 2002, 2009, or 2016 by Jordan Lee Wagner. All rights reserved.

Here are some of the most popular melodies for Yigdal, which is included near the beginning and/or the end of the davening on most occasions, though not always sung aloud.

  • This melody is probably the one best known and in most widespread synagogue use. It was written by Meyer Leon in 1772, when he was 18 years old. He wrote it in London, where he changed his name to Michael Leoni. Thomas Olivers, a minister at Wesleyan, wrote new English lyrics for it in a Christain idiom, and a four-part musical arrangement of it in Protestant style. Olivers included the result in his hymnal, giving it the title "Leoni." In that form it has been included in most Protestant hymnals ever since. This recording is, of course, the Jewish congregational original.

  • This melody is borrowed from Keil Adon, a hymn in the Shema Section of the Shacharit Service for Sabbaths.
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When the great Jewish thinker Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides) was a young man, he was influenced by Aristotelian and Arabic philosophy. He attempted to systematize his Jewish faith by reducing it to thirteen axioms. They are listed in Rambam's commentary on the Mishnah.[i] They were challenged by his contemporaries, and have been rejected by many of the greatest Jewish thinkers since then.[ii] Some disagreed with Rambam's principles, while others opposed the effort itself. Rambam never referred to them again during a long life of sage commentary and mature philosophy.

But those thirteen articles of faith became the basis for Yigdal, a poem written between 1100 and 1500, possibly by Daniel ben Judah of Rome about the thirteenth century.[iii] Yigdal has thirteen lines, paraphrasing Rambam's thirteen articles of faith. Every line has sixteen syllables, and all end with the same rhyme.

In some synagogues, Yigdal will be sung at the end of Friday night services, in place of Adon Olam. In the beginning of the Preliminary Morning Service, Yigdal follows Adon Olam. (Both are relatively recent additions at the beginning of the day's liturgy.)

Rambam himself would probably be surprised by Yigdal, since he opposed the introduction of such poetry into the Siddur. He maintained that unacceptable doctrines would thereby be introduced.[iv] Furthermore, the version of Yigdal found in most siddurim has a fifth verse that deviates from Rambam's fifth principle. This is either due to a very early scribal error, or due to the poet's own philosophy differing from Rambam's.[v]

As noted earlier [ on page 93 of the Synagogue Survival Kit ], all Jewish liturgical components were constructed as one (and only one) of the following: praise, petition, thanks, supplication, affirmation, or study. Yigdal is structured as a hymn of praise and located in the service where praise is appropriate, but with contents that are more appropriately used as affirmation. It doesn't fit the traditional Jewish structural models of liturgy.

Furthermore, Yigdal's preoccupation with systematizing and declaiming elements of faith is not typical of Judaism and makes many Jews uncomfortable.[vi] No traditional authority has ever employed Rambam's formulation as a touchstone of Jewish commitment, and even prospective Jews-by-Choice need not accept any creedal statement at all. The touchstone of one's Jewish commitment has always been behavioral -- the observance of the commandments, especially kashrut and Shabbat observance, coupled with exemplary works and lifestyle.

Many congregations skip Yigdal; and siddurim that follow Nusach Ari (the variant liturgical rite employed by the Lubuvitcher Chasidim) omit it entirely. (Note that omitting Yigdal -- for any of the above reasons -- need not imply disagreement with the principles themselves.)

[i] re: Sanhedrin 10:1

[ii] Including Ramban (Nachmanides), Crescas, the Shulchan Aruch, and Abarbanel. See also Joseph Albo Sefer Halkarim.

[iii] Birnbaum says 15th century, Bloch says 12th century, Emden suggests it is by the Rambam (!?).

[iv] c.f., Teshuvot Ha-Rambam, responsa 127 & 128.

[v] At issue is the choice of a lamed or a vuv. Is it "v'chawl no-tzar", as per Rambam's principles? Or is it "l'chawl no-tzar", as found in most prayerbooks? One letter changes the meaning of the verse significantly.

[vi] e.g., Ba-ar Ha-tav (Shulchan Aruch Siman 46) asserts that the Ari did not say it, since according to Kabbalah it should not be said. [My thanks to Oscar Tauber for calling my attention to this.]

--- adapted from "The Synagogue Survival Kit" by Jordan Lee Wagner, publ. by Rowman & Littlefield. 1997.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 December 2009 02:39

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