If you attend synagogue services, sooner or later you will encounter Adon Olam, an ancient hymn. It has been part of the daily service since the 15th century.
The words are beautiful, and in Hebrew they are perfectly metrical. Because it is a beloved prayer that scans perfectly to 4/4 time, (iambic tetrameter, for poetry geeks) it can be sung to any melody in 4/4 time. Beautiful melodies have been written for it. Here’s an example:
If you search for keywords “Adon Olam Traditional” on YouTube.com, you’ll find many more. Here’s one of my favorites:
Because it’s so perfectly regular, you can also sing it to pop tunes. Here’s one making the rounds of the Internet lately:
I’ll spare you the one of two tweens singing it to a Justin Bieber tune. Suffice it to say, you can sing it to anything from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
For many Jews, myself included, the words can be a mantra in time of trouble. In essence, they affirm a faith in a God beyond all human understanding who is nevertheless present to my distress:
Adon olam, asher malach,
b’terem kol y’tzir nivra.
L’et na’asah v’cheftzo kol,
azai melech sh’mo nikra.
V’acharey kichlot hakol,
l’vado yimloch nora.
V’hu haya, v’hu hoveh,
v’hu yih’yeh b’tifara.
V’hu echad, v’eyn sheni
l’hamshil lo, l’hachbira.
B’li reishit, b’li tachlit,
v’lo ha’oz v’hamisrah.
V’hu Eli, v’chai go’ali,
v’tzur chevli b’et tzarah.
V’hu nisi umanos li,
m’nat kosi b’yom ekra.
B’yado afkid ruchi
b’et ishan v’a’irah.
V’im ruchi g’viyati,
Adonai li v’lo ira.
Translation: (note: Hebrew is a gendered language. In the interest of giving a fairly literal translation, I employed masculine pronouns. However, God is beyond all gender.)
The Eternal Ruler who reigned
before anything was created:
When all was made by His will
“Monarch” he was proclaimed to be.
And when everything is no more
He still all alone shall reign.
He was, He is,
and He shall be in glory.
And He is one, and there’s no other,
to compare or join Him.
Without beginning, without end
and to Him belongs dominion and power.
He is my God, my living Ransomer.
my solid Rock in time of trouble,
and He is my miracle and my refuge,
who answers on the day I call.
To Him I commit my spirit,
in the time of sleep and at waking,
And as with my spirit, so my body:
God is with me, I shall not fear.
Do you have a favorite tune for Adon Olam? What’s your favorite Jewish song?
9 thoughts on “Which Jewish Song has More Tunes than Any Other?”
Could you please let us out-of-area folks know that you’re okay after this morning’s quake, please?
Thank you so much, i like the traditional and also the variety, but i lean to the more stately which seems more in ‘tune’ with the meaning of the words. Is it mostly a traditional song in Ashkenazic services or is it universally used?
I shared this with Rebecca and she really liked it. I think that the ‘Happy’ version of Adon olam is pretty fantastic and the sound that the performers bring is awesome.
For me, the folk tune and chanty “Shenandoh” conveys the beauty of the words and their meaning, and isn’t cutesy, or martial, or schmaltzy, as I find many of the melodies to be. (I have even heard it done to the tune of “Hernando’s Hideway”, the tango from the musical “Pajama Game”).