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Lekhah Dodi


LEKHAH DODI (Heb. לְכָה דוֹדִי; "Come, my friend"), the opening words and name of a hymn with which the Sabbath is welcomed. It consists of nine stanzas; the initial letters of the first eight stanzas acrostically form the name of the author Solomon ha-Levi (*Alkabez), a Safed kabbalist of the early 16th century. The opening line and refrain is: "Come, my friend, to meet the bride; let us welcome the presence of the Sabbath." Inspired by talmudic accounts (Shab. 119a) which describe how the scholars used to honor and welcome the Sabbath (likened to a princess or bride), the Safed kabbalists used to go on Friday afternoons into the fields to meet the "Queen Sabbath" in meditation and song. The hymn "Lekhah Dodi" reflects this practice as well as the kabbalistic identification of the Sabbath with the Shekhinah, the mystical archetype of Israel. Hence also the messianic motives in the hymn, echoing talmudic concepts associating redemption with the observance of the Sabbath (ibid. 118b).

"Lekhah Dodi" is sung immediately after the recital of Psalms 95–99 and 29, with which the Sabbath eve service starts in Ashkenazi synagogues; the hazzan stands on the bimah ("high platform") and not at his regular place to indicate that this part of the service is not in the original order of prayers. It is customary to turn around at the recital of the last stanza ("Bo'i ve-shalom") to face the entrance of the synagogue and bow. The "Sabbath bride" is thus symbolically welcomed. "Lekhah Dodi," among the latest piyyutim to be incorporated into the prayer book, is one of the favorite hymns in the Ashkenazi as well as in the Sephardi ritual. In the extant texts, there are only slight variations, although one version has five additional stanzas also attributed to Alkabez. In many rituals, "Bo'i kallah Shabbat malketah" ("Come our bride, queen Sabbath"; Shab. 119a) is added at the end of "Lekhah Dodi."

The Reform ritual has retained only an abridged version of the hymn consisting of the first, third, fourth, and the last stanzas (Union Prayer Book, 1 (1926), 27). "Lekhah Dodi" has been rendered into most European languages; among the well-known translations are those of the German poets J.G. Herder and H. *Heine. In his poem "Prinzessin Sabbat," Heineerroneously ascribed its authorship to Judah Halevi. Another version of "Lekhah Dodi" was composed by a contemporary of Alkabez, R. Moses ibn Machir, head of the yeshivah in Ein Zeitun near Safed (printed in Seder ha-Yom (Venice, 1599), 43).

[Meir Ydit]

Musical Rendition

The poem was written to be sung, but none of the contemporary sources offers any information about its original melody. In the first printed version of the text, in a Sephardi prayer book, Venice 1583/4, it is headed "To the tune of Shuvi Nafshi li-Menuhaikhi" (by Judah Halevi; Davidson, Ozar, 3665). This heading was taken over by two much later Sephardi prayer books, Amsterdam 1660/1 and Constantinople 1734/5, but apparently nowhere else. No conclusions can be drawn from it about the melody adopted or created in Safed, or about the ancestry of any one of the melodies presently used. Most of the existing melodies – A.Z. Idelsohn estimated their number at over 2,000 – show no distribution over a larger area and are either demonstrably late or the obvious products of musical styles that could not have been available or acceptable at Safed. Of the remainder there emerge three distinct melodies, one of which may well represent the original setting. Type-melody a is found in Ereẓ Israel, southern Syria, Turkey, and the Balkans and has also been notated from North African informants. It belongs to the *Maqam Nawa, which dominates the melodic character of the Sabbath eve and morning services in the Eastern Mediterranean communities, and Idelsohn proposed it as the original setting of "Lekhah Dodi." Type-melody b is found in the Sephardi communities of Amsterdam, London, Hamburg, and Leghorn. It is more complex than type a and has a definitely Oriental flavor. Type-melody c is found in the Sephardi communities of Bayonne and Bordeaux, in the Comtat Venaissin (i.e., Provence, a non-Sephardi community), and has also been notated from informants from Sarajevo (Yugoslavia) and Meknès (Morocco); its variants are extremely divergent, but all of them contain the elements of a Turkish military march. All these communities also have some strictly local melodies for "Lekhah Dodi" and the non-Sephardi Eastern communities have only local and regional melodies. The single example published from Yemen is sung to the general Yemenite pattern of psalm recitation (Idelsohn, Melodien, 1 (1914), nos. 20–21). In the Western Ashkenazi area, a certain stabilization was attempted by the melodic linking of "Lekhah Dodi" to the particular character of the respective Sabbath, week, or season. There were special melodies for Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbat Sefirah, and the melody used on the eve of Shabbat Hazon and during the three weeks between Tammuz 17 and Av 9 was based on *Eli Ziyyon. Many of the ostensibly free compositions also begin with a "seasonal reminiscence," such as the *Ma'oz Zur motive for the Sabbath of the Hanukkah week. The completely free compositions are in the majority, and the surviving cantorial manuals of the 18th century already contain hundreds of melodies which for the most part reflect the style of the gentile environments ("Menuetto," "Polonaise," etc.). They also show the interesting custom of setting each stanza to a different melody, or at leastdistinguishing "Hitoreri" ("Wake Up!") by an energetic melody and "Bo'i ve-Shalom" ("Come in Peace, O Sabbath Queen") by a lyrical one. Since the "reception of the Sabbath" in the synagogue precedes the "entrance of the Sabbath" itself, it was possible to accompany the ceremony, and especially the singing of "Lekhah Dodi," with musical instruments. There are references to this practice in several communities, notably Prague, in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Eastern Europe no trace of standardized renditions can be discerned. This complete freedom may account for Hebrew-Yiddish "Lekhah Dodi" "play songs" and parodies.

[Bathja Bayer]


Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 108, 388, 530; Davidson, Ozar, 3 (1930), no. 928; Abrahams, Companion, cxxiv–cxxvii; Y.Y. Cohen, Seder kabbalat Shabbat u-fizmon lekhah dodi (1969). musical rendition, sephardi type-melodies. typea: Idelsohn, Melodien, 4 (1923), nos. 3–7; J. Parisot, in: jaos, 24:2 (1903), 244; A. Baer, Ba'al Tefillah (18833), no. 937; Levy, Antología, 1 (1965), nos. 14, 20, 23; 3 (1968), no. 327. typeb: A. Baer, Ba'al Tefillah (18833), no. 329; E. Aguilar and D.A. De Sola, Ancient Melodies of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London (1857, 1931), no. 7 (also in: Idelsohn, Melodien, 4 (1923), 110); F. Consolo, Libro dei Canti d'Israele (1892), no. 5 (also in Idelsohn, loc. cit.); Levy, Antología, 1 (1965), no. 18. TYPE c: J.S. and M. Crémieu, Chants Hébraïques suivant le rite… de l'ancien Comtat Venaissin (1887), no. 1; M.J. Benharoche-Baralia, Chants Hébraïques traditionnels en usage dans la communauté sephardie de Bayonne (1961), no. 13; S. Foy, Recueil des Chants… en usage dans la Communauté de Bordeaux (1928); Levy, Antología, 1 (1965), no. 25; 3 (1968), no. 78. older west ashkenazic free and seasonal melodies: A. Nadel, in: ej, s.v.Lecha Dodi; Idelsohn, Melodien, 4 (1923), 217, 219–20, 222, 229; A. Baer, Ba'al Tefillah (18833), nos. 325–7. literature: Idelsohn, Melodien, 4 (1923), 109–10; Idelsohn, Music, 116, 362, 509 note 54; A. Friedmann, Der Synagogale Gesang (1904), 70–71; Adler, Prat Mus, 24, 28–30, 127. "PLAY SONGS" AND PARODIES: S. Lehman, in: Arkhiv far Yidisher Shprakh-Visenshaft, Literaturforshung un Etnologie, 1 (1926–33), 430.

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