Learn to sing Shir HaMaalot (Psalm 126) -- Jewish Grace After Meals Print
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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 Shir HaMaalot (Psalm 126; "A Song of Ascent"), which is sung at the beginning of the bentching (Grace After Meals) on Sabbaths and Festivals.

  • This melody is by Cantor Pinchas Minkowsky, who was the Chief Cantor of Odessa; but it is more commonly associated with Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, who popularized it in America in the early 1900's. It was originally performed very slowly, unlike the way people sing it at their tables today.

  • Here is a faster melody by Cantor Pinchas Minkowsky.

  • This melody is borrowed from Keil Adon, a hymn in the Shema Section of the Shacharit Service for Sabbaths.

Shir Ha-Maalot (Psalm 126): Introduction to the Grace After Meals on Shabbat and Festivals

The Jewish Grace is said after meals, not before. This is in accordance with Deuteronomy 8:10. The Grace After Meals is called Bir-kat Ha-Ma-zon (The Blessing for Sustenance) in Hebrew. Saying grace is popularly called "bentching" (from Yiddish). It takes about two minutes; but much longer if one is not in the habit.

After Saturday morning services, many Orthodox and observant Conservative congregations do not serve bread, no matter how elaborate the feast may otherwise be. Technically, this makes the event a "snack" rather than a meal. (Cakes and crackers don't count as bread.) Not only does this avoid the need to bentch (i.e., the grace after a snack is very short), but it enables congregants to return home to enjoy a traditional Sabbath "second meal" ritual.

Other congregations will serve bread, say Grace, and spend much of the afternoon singing z'mirot (Sabbath table songs); essentially transplanting the Saturday afternoon home ritual to the synagogue...

... Unless you are very familiar with Jewish dietary laws, do not bring food or beverages with you into a Conserva­tive or Orthodox synagogue. There is nothing wrong with bringing food per se. But many synagogues have facilities for the preparation and serving of kosher meals, and you might make an error that would cause your hosts great in­convenience and expense in restoring the premises to a "kosher" condition...

... Wait until the appropriate brief prayers are said before partaking. Do not be fooled by someone handing you wine or food; these are held until the appropriate prayer is concluded. If unsure, just wait until everybody else starts drinking before you drink, and wait until everybody else starts eating before you eat.

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

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 December 2009 10:48