March 15, 2013
Once a month for the last two years, we have taken one Shabbat as a teaching opportunity called Shabbat Shiur. We have explicated the various parts of our Erev Shabbat Service. We will conclude this part of Shabbat Shiur within the next few months. Tonight, we learn more about one of our most popular hymns, Adon Olam, which we sing at the conclusion of our Erev Shabbat or Shabbat Morning Service. Interestingly, Adon Olam is a short piyyut, or liturgical poem, that was first placed in the beginning of the morning service, where it is still sung in Traditional siddurim. It contains metrical monorhymed verses, ending in ra. Two different versions exist. The shorter version, which we sing, is commonly recited in Ashkenazic congregations. Sephardic congregations add several lines, one of which is “Bli erech, bli demion, without equal, without like,” referring of course, to God. Adon Olam means “Eternal God,” and focuses on the theme of God’s eternality and the speaker’s faith in God’s providence. It references some of the most well known verses in the 23rd Psalm. When the psalmist says, “I will fear no evil for you are with me,” the poet writes, “God is with me, I have no fear.” When the psalmist exalts that “my cup runneth over,” Adon Olam refers to God as “my cup of life.”
Authorship of Adon Olam has been attributed to the great Spanish poet Solomon ibn Gabirol but there is no compelling proof of his authorship. It may have been written in Babylonia in the 11th or 12th centuries and spread from there to the rest of the Jewish world. The themes of Adon Olam suggest that it was written originally as a night time prayer and was incorporated within the nighttime ritual to be recited after the Sh’ma. Adon Olam appears in Hebrew manuscripts prior to the invention of printing. With the adoption of the printed siddur, it became a universal part of the Jewish liturgy, usually opening the Weekday morning service. It is one of the most popular pieces of Jewish music and is the source of literally hundreds of arrangements. Cantor Braun will not share hundreds of arrangements with us tonight, but only a select few that represent the various melodies that we have sung for the last five hundred years.