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Zmirot (Table Songs)
Jewish family singing

Zmirot (singular – zemer) are Jewish hymns sung around the table during Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Some are specific to certain times of the day - the Friday evening meal, the Saturday noon meal, or the meal just before sundown on Saturday afternoon; others are generic and can be sung at any meal or other sacred occasion.

Music at table was a regular feature in ancient Jewish life and was discontinued only as a mark of mourning for the abolition of the Sanhedrin. Even then the later rabbis found it necessary to insist on abstention from these domestic melodies. The ancient custom later received a powerful impetus from the spread of the Kabbalah and the belief in the visits of celestial guests on the Sabbath. Many compilations of zmirot were published in the 16th century, especially in Amsterdam and Constantinople.

The words to many zmirot are taken from poems written by rabbis and sages during the Middle Ages and are usually sung in Hebrew or Aramaic, but sometimes in Yiddish or Ladino. Others are anonymous folk songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. They generally focus on the themes of Shabbat or the particular holiday and the melodies vary greatly from one Jewish community to another, as local tunes and styles of music were adapted to the same liturgical poems.

The term zmirot is used by Spanish and Portuguese Jews to refer to the sequence of psalms in the morning service, known to other communities as pesuke d’zimrah.

Zmirot (Table Songs) Recordings Songsheets Stories
D’ror Yikra
Hachamah Meirosh (Shabbat Hamalkah)
Ki Eshmera Shabbat
Lecha Dodi
M’nucha V’simcha
Shalom Aleichem
Tsur Mishelo
Tzamah Nafshi
Yom Shabbat Kodesh Hu
Yom Zeh M’chubad
Zemer l’Shabbat Chanukah

Credits for song introductions:
Jewish Encyclopaedia
Mark Duke
Hirsh Cashdan

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