Simchath Torah


[yig-dahl, yeeg-]
Yigdal (יִגְדָּל; yighdāl, or יִגְדַּל; yighdal; means "Magnify [O Living God]") is a Jewish hymn which in various rituals shares with Adon 'Olam the place of honor at the opening of the morning and the close of the evening service. It is based on the 13 Articles of Faith (sometimes referred to as "the 13 Creeds") formulated by Moses ben Maimon, and was written by Daniel ben Judah Dayyan (Leopold Zunz, "Literaturgeschichte", p. 507), who spent eight years in improving it, completing it in 1404 (S. D. Luzzatto, "Mebo", p. 18). This was not the only metrical presentment of the Creeds; but it has outlived all others, whether in Hebrew or in the vernacular. A translation can be found in any bilingual siddur.

With the Ashkenazim only thirteen lines are sung, one for each creed; and the last, dealing with the resurrection of the dead, is repeated to complete the antiphony when the hymn is responsorially sung by Chazzan and congregation. The Sephardim, who sing the hymn in congregational unison throughout, use the following line as the 14th: "These are the 13 bases of the Rule of Moses and the tenets of his Law".

Sephardic tunes

"Yigdal" far surpasses "Adon 'Olam" in the number of its traditional tunes and the length of time during which they have been traditional. In the Spanish ritual, in its Dutch-and English-speaking tradition, the hymn is often sung, according to the general Sephardic custom (comp. e.g., Yah Shimeka), to some "representative" melody of the particular day. Thus, for example, it is chanted at the close of evening service on New-Year to the tune of 'Et Sha'are Raẓon. On Friday evening the Sabbath "Yigdal" is customarily sung to the same melody as are "Adon 'Olam" and Ein Keloheinu. On the three pilgrimage festivals, the melody shown here is the tune favored. Its old Spanish character is evident.

Ashkenazic tunes

In the Ashkenazic ritual "Yigdal", though always commencing the morning prayer, is not invariably sung at the close of the evening service on Sabbaths and festivals, being often, especially in Germany, replaced by "Adon 'Olam". In Polish use, however, it is more regularly employed as the closing hymn, while in the synagogues of north-western Germany, Holland, and England, where the influence of the Sephardic ritual has been felt by that of the Ashkenazim, "Yigdal" is considered an integral portion of the Sabbath and festal evening prayer; and in London for fully 2 centuries there has been allotted to the hymn, according to the occasion, a definite tradition of tunes, all of which are antiphonal between chazzan and congregation. The most familiar of these tunes is the Friday evening "Yigdal". It is utilized also in Germany and in some parts of Poland and Bohemia as a festival "Yigdal". The melody may date from the 17th century or perhaps earlier. The tune was also used by the hazzan Myer Lyon (who also sang on the London opera stage as 'Michael Leoni') at the Great Synagogue of London, where it was heard my the Methodist Thomas Olivers; he adapted the tune for the English hymn The God of Abraham Praise, which can be found in Hymns Ancient and Modern, with the Yigdal melody entitled 'Leoni'.

Next in importance comes the melody reserved for the solemn evenings of New-Year and Atonement, and introduced, in the spirit of Ps. cxxxvii. 6, into the service of Simchath Torah. This melody is constructed in the Oriental chromatic scale (EFG # ABCD # E) with its two augmented seconds (see synagogue music), and is the inspiration of some Polish precentor, dating perhaps from the early 17th century, and certainly having spread westward from the Slavonic region.

In the German use of Bavaria and the Rhineland the old tradition has preserved a contrasting "Yigdal" for New-Year and Atonement that is of equally antique character, but built on a diatonic scale and reminiscent of the morning service of the day.

For the evenings of the 3 festivals (shalosh regalim) the old London tradition has preserved, from at least the early 18th century, three characteristic melodies, probably brought from north Germany or Bohemia. That for the Passover illustrates the old custom according to which the precentor solemnly dwells on the last creed, that on the resurrection of the dead (in this case to a "representative" theme common to Passover and to Purim), and is answered by the choristers with an expression of confident assurance. The choral response here given received its final shaping from David Mombach. The "Yigdal" for Shavu`oth is of a solemn tone, thus strikingly contrasting with those for the other festivals.

The tune for Tabernacles displays a gaiety quite rare in synagogal melody. It was employed by Isaac Nathan, in 1815, as the air for one of Lord Byron's "Hebrew Melodies", being set by him to the verses "The Wild Gazelle" in such a manner as to utilize the contrasting theme then chanted by the chazzan to the last line as in the Passover "Yigdal".

Other old tunes for the hymn, such as the melody of Alsatian origin used on the "Great Sabbath" before Passover, are preserved in local or family tradition (cf. Zemirot).

Hebrew text

  1. .יִגְדַּל אֱלֹהִים חַי וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח
    :נִמְצָא וְאֵין עֵת אֶל מְצִיאוּתוֹ
  2. .אֶחָד וְאֵין יָחִיד כְּיִחוּדוֹ
    :נֶעְלָם וְגַם אֵין סוֹף לְאַחְדּוּתוֹ
  3. .אֵין לוֹ דְּמוּת הַגּוּף וְאֵינוֹ גוּף
    :לֹא נַעֲרוֹךְ אֵלָיו קְדֻשָּתוֹ
  4. .קַדְמוֹן לְכָל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר נִבְרָא
    רִאשׁוֹן :וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית לְרֵאשִׁיתוֹ
  5. .הִנּוֹ אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם לְכָל(וְכָל) נוֹצָר
    :יוֹרֶה גְּדֻלָּתוֹ וּמַלְכוּתוֹ
  6. .שֶׁפַע נְבוּאָתוֹ נְתָנוֹ
    :אֶל אַנְשֵׁי סְגֻלָּתוֹ וְתִפְאַרְתּוֹ
  7. .לֹא קָם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמשֶׁה עוֹד
    :נָבִיא וּמַבִּיט אֶת תְּמוּנָתוֹ
  8. .תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת נָתַן לְעַמּוֹ אֵל
    :עַל יַד נְבִיאוֹ נֶאֱמַן בֵּיתוֹ
  9. .לֹא יַחֲלִיף הָאֵל וְלֹא יָמִיר דָּתוֹ
    :לְעוֹלָמִים לְזוּלָתוֹ
  10. .צוֹפֶה וְיוֹדֵעַ סְתָרֵינוּ
    :מַבִּיט לְסוֹף דָּבָר בְּקַדְמָתוֹ
  11. .גּוֹמֵל לְאִישׁ חֶסֶד כְּמִפְעָלוֹ
    :יִתֵּן לְרָשָׁע רָע כְּרִשְׁעָתוֹ
  12. .יִשְׁלַח לְקֵץ יָמִין מְשִׁיחֵנוּ
    :לִפְדּוֹת מְחַכֵּי קֵץ יְשׁוּעָתוֹ
  13. .מֵתִים יְחַיֶּה אֵל בְּרֹב חַסְדּוֹ
    :בָּרוּךְ עֲדֵי עַד שֵׁם תְּהִלָּתוֹ

English translation

  1. Exalted be the Living God and praised, He exists - unbounded by time is His existence;
  2. He is One - and there is no unity like His Oneness - Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness;
  3. He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal - nor has His holiness any comparison;
  4. He preceded every being that was created - the First, and nothing precedes His precedence;
  5. Behold! He is Master of the universe to every creature - He demonstrates His greatness and His sovereignty;
  6. He granted His flow of prophecy - to His treasured, splendid people;
  7. In Israel, none like Moses arose again - a prophet who perceived His vision clearly;
  8. God gave His people a Torah of truth - by means of His prophet, the most trusted of His household;
  9. God will never amend nor exchange His law - for any other one, for all eternity;
  10. He scrutinizes and knows our hiddenmost secrets - He perceives a matter's outcome at its inception;
  11. He recompenses man with kindness according to his deed - He places evil on the wicked according to his wickedness;
  12. By the End of Days He will send our Messiah - to redeem those longing for His final salvation;
  13. God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness - Blessed forever is His praised Name.

See also

External links

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography: A. Baer, Ba'al Tefillah, Nos. 2, 432-433, 760-762, 774, 988-993, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1883; Cohen and Davis, Voice of Prayer and Praise, Nos. 28-29, 139-142, 195, London, 1899.

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