Zemirot or Z'miros (Hebrew: זמירותzǝmîrôt, singular: zimrah but often called by the masculine zemer) are Jewish hymns, usually sung in the Hebrew or Aramaic languages, but sometimes also in Yiddish or Ladino. The best known zemirot are those sung around the table during Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Some of the Sabbath zemirot are specific to certain times of the day, such as those sung for the Friday evening meal, the Saturday noon meal, and the third Sabbath meal just before sundown on Saturday afternoon. In some editions of the Jewish prayerbook (siddur), the words to these hymns are printed after the opening prayer (kiddush) for each meal. Other zemirot are more generic and can be sung at any meal or other sacred occasion.

The term zemirot is used by Spanish and Portuguese Jews to refer to the sequence of psalms in the morning service, known to other communities as pesuke de-zimrah.[1]

Words and LyricsEdit

The words to many zemirot are taken from poems written by various rabbis and sages during the Middle Ages. After zemirot gained a foothold in the 11th to 12th century, sages and rabbis continued to expand the repertoire by contributing new songs. In particular, kabbalists of Safed and Italy such as Isaac Luria and Israel Najara generated mystically oriented zemirot compilations, often composing lyrics to fit the tunes of surrounding gentile musical selections from the Levant.[2] Others of the zemirot are anonymous folk songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. In all cases, the words of the zemirot generally focus on the themes of the Sabbath or the specific holiday being celebrated and will deploy elaborate intertextual references to the Bible, mystical works like Sefer Yetzirah, Midrash, or Talmudical or legal literature within the songs for either artistic or expressive reasons. Frequently, the songs will rehash lists of prohibitions or of encouraged conduct, while underscoring the idea of reward and covenant. Often the lyrical tie-in to Shabbat is merely implicit. Over time, various songs have acquired an association with the Sabbath or holidays based on their incorporation of metaphors for Shabbat such as redemption and Jewish chosenness, even when mention of Shabbat per se is absent.


The melodies of the zemirot vary greatly from one Jewish community to another, a result of local tunes and/or styles of music getting adapted to the same liturgical poems. Hence, repertoires will differ among the diverse Jewish exilic communities in which they originated. In certain European centers, the zemirot were devised to be purposely accessible, hewing close to the melodic models of German folksongs so as to support the participation of the wider community in singing, especially while cantorial renditions of synagogal liturgical texts became increasingly elaborate and discouraged communal mastery - at most an occasional synagogal phrase would be introduced to these folksong melodies to Judaize them.[3] Still, at least some Ashkenazi tunes were conceived of for soloists in a liturgical vein, particularly for songs with deviating verse lengths (i.e. in contrast to the norm of zemirot alternating between choruses and verses of fixed length).[4] By contrast, Sephardic tunes are generally more florid.[5] One famous hymn, Adon Olam, (Ruler of the Universe) has proven particularly adaptable, and has been set to numerous tunes. Jews of different backgrounds enjoy sharing the various versions when they meet around the Sabbath table. New tunes continue to be written today for the same ancient lyrics. It is now relatively rare, however, for new zemer-type lyrics to be written, except for in the Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish communities, (e.g. Aharon Amram, Asher Mizrachi, etc.).[6]


The zemirot are quintessentially associated with the Shabbat table, as a domestic form of liturgy constituting a pious practice for participants. The first evidence for the practice of singing zemirot occurs in the northern French manuscript Machzor Vitry,from around the turn of the 13th century. Per scholar Albert Kohn, the Machzor Vitry included a fixed repertoire of day and evening meal songs as a rabbinic initiative to create a domestically situated liturgy complete with sophisticated song texts for the occasion, particularly from poetry written by rabbis such as Ibn Ezra and other masters.[7] According to Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, the zemirot could also have had various functional uses, becoming ritualized occasions for separating between the obligatory meals of Shabbat lunch and the third meal, or substituting for Grace after Meals.[8]

Friday Night ZemirotEdit

There are three mandated meals for Shabbat, and each meal is associated with its own zemirot - yet the association was in flux, particularly when it came to separating between the Shabbat lunch and the third meal. Generally, the earliest compilations of zemirot featured very few nighttime zemirot, favoring daytime zemirot, perhaps for the functional advantages of daytime zemirot such as the greater ease of reading lyric sheets in daylight (although some commentators have maintained that a reason for lighting Shabbat candles is to enable singing of the zemirot). Generally, there are more mystically laden themes in the night meal songs compared to the daytime songs. While mystical songs like Isaac Luria's Asader Seudata trilogy were annexed to each of Shabbat's three meals, there is a greater proportion of such songs sung at night.

The Friday Night Zemirot can be separated into the songs that are sung before Kiddush to prepare for it and those that are sung afterwards between courses, or alongside conversations.

Pre-Kiddush Zemirot include

  1. Shalom Aleichem (Unknown Author), sung to greet the visiting Shabbat angels and secure the blessings of the Shabbat angels.
  2. Eishet Chayil (Proverbs 31:10-31), an allegorical song about a woman of valor, often sung in praise of the participation of women in the preparations for Shabbat.
  3. Ribon Kol Ha'Olamim
  4. Azameir Bishvachin (Isaac Luria), part of Luria's Shabbat trilogy for the three Shabbat meals, taking place in the apple orchard where mystical events can take place within the sefirotic context.

Other Friday Night Zemirot include

  1. Bar Yochai (Rabbi Shimon Lavi) in praise of the pseudo-messianic contributions of the Tannaitic sage, Shimon bar Yochai, qua authoring the Zohar.
  2. Kah Echsof (Aharon of Karlin (II)), is a rare Hasidic zemer. There is controversy surrounding its most common melody, which may have been used for another song, before being grafted onto Kah Echsof. The song describes the soul's yearning for it to be the day of Shabbat and confines its discussion to metaphysical and spiritualistic themes.
  3. Kah Ribon Olam (Israel Najara), sung in Aramaic, which uses references from the Book of Daniel to describe God's ultimate sovereignty over the array of created beings.
  4. Kol Beruei (ibn Gabirol) rehashes the poet's Neo-Platonic philosophical conceptions of the universe and of creation.
  5. Kol Mekadeish affirms the importance of dedicating oneself to Shabbat observance.
  6. Mah Yafit
  7. Mah Yedidut (Rabbi Moshe ben Kalonymus)
  8. Menuchah v'Simcha
  9. Odeh La'Kel (Shmaya Kasson)
  10. Racheim B'Chasdecha
  11. Tsur Mishelo
  12. Tsama Nafshi (Abraham Ibn Ezra) combines Neo-Platonic references and descriptions of the heavenly serenading of God.
  13. Ya'alah Bo'i L'Gani (Israel Najara) utilizes imagery of a garden, likening Israel to an ibex.
  14. Yom Zeh L'Yisrael

Saturday Lunch ZemirotEdit

The earliest zemirot compilations featured numerous day songs. The repertoire today includes several migrant compositions like Baruch Kel Elyon that in other eras were sung during the Third Meal. One reason for this confusion could be that many of the zemirot were written to bridge Shabbat lunch and the third meal, typically by functioning as a type of musical substitute for grace after meals.[9]

  1. Al Ahavat'cha
  2. Baruch Hashem Yom Yom (Rabbi Moreinu Shimon ben Rabbeinu Yitschak)
  3. Baruch Kel Elyon (Rabbi Baruch ben Samuel)
  4. Chay Hashem
  5. Deror Yikra (Dunash ben Labrat)
  6. Ki Eshm'rah Shabbat (Abraham Ibn Ezra)
  7. Malechet Machshevet Bi (Ariel Amsellem)
  8. Shabbat Hayom L'Hashem (Shmuel HeHasid)
  9. Shimru Shabtotai
  10. Yom Shabbaton (Rabbi Judah Halevi)
  11. Yoducha Rayonai (Israel Najara)
  12. Yom Zeh Mechubad

Third Meal (Seuda Shlishit, Shalosh Seudos)Edit

Shalosh Sudos is the third mandatory meal eaten for Shabbat. Unlike the other two meals, kiddush is not recited for it, but one does wash to eat bread. In the Chabad community, no meal per se is eaten. Instead, grains or special fruits will be utilized.

  1. Kel Mistater
  2. Askinu Seudata B'nei Heichala
  3. Mizmor L'David (Psalm 24)
  4. Yedid Nefesh

Ladino (Hekatia, Judaeo-Spanish, Judaeo-Catalan, Judaeo-Portuguese) ZemirotEdit

  1. Bendigamos Al Altissimo. This is very similar to other songs about bentsching.
  2. Kuando el rey Nimrod
  3. Dezilde a Mi Amor
  4. Dos Amantes
  5. El Rey Por Muncha Madruga
  6. La Mujer de Teraj
  7. La Rosa Enflorence
  8. Las Compras del Rabino
  9. Los Caminos de Sirkeci
  10. Los Guisados de la Berenjena
  11. Marinero Soy de Amor. The lyrics are taken from poetry by Miguel de Cervantes. The song exemplifies the genre of saudade, or a song of nostalgia and homesickness sung by the Portuguese. In this case, the poem expresses an exilic longing for the high culture of the medieval Iberian Peninsula or for Zion.
  12. Morena
  13. Non Komo Muestro Dio
  14. Ocho Kandelikas
  15. Pesah en la Mano
  16. Scalerica de Oro
  17. Shir Nashir
  18. Yo En Estando/La Adultera

See alsoEdit


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