Saturday, February 3, 2007

Tracking down 'Yonah Matzah'

This week I'm learning about zemirot (zemiros, z'mirot, z'miros), hymns and songs sung on Shabbat in the home. While they're a pretty standard part of traditional Jewish practice, I've only had minimal exposure to them through synagogue functions. I ran across a discussion of them them while I was researching piyyut and mentioned them to my wife thinking that it would be nice to add some to our Shabbat dinner ritual. Not only was she interested in the idea, it turned out that she even had a favorite zemer (song). She learned it at an oneg (post-Shabbat service celebratory gathering) honoring Rabbi Schmuel Sandberg in Boston. The only problem was that the gathering was years ago and she could only remember part of the chorus. Yonah Matzah. Was that the name?

I did some digging on the web and found references to 'Yonah Matzah' but couldn't find any lyrics sheets or recordings. Fortunately, the folks on the Jewish Music mailing list came to the rescue. The title is 'Yom Shabbaton", "yonah matzah" is just part of the chorus. We even had the lyrics in a USY bencher. (A bencher is a handy reference book or pamphlet with Shabbat and holiday blessings, zemirot and the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after Meals))

It turns out that Yom Shabbaton is a very popular zemer. There are a lot of recordings available online, including at the USY Z'mirot project, and as well as a number of CD's. The CD tracks I've listened to don't move me much, but the SiddurAudio is spot on. A bunch of folks with good enough voices and a lot of heart singing the kind of lovely melody I want to hear at my family table every Shabbat.

I don't have a good primary reference, but a number of websites attribute Yom Shabbaton to Judah Halevi the 10th century Spanish poet and philosopher. I also don't have a good translation (yet) for Yom Shabbaton but the website for the Vocolot/Linda Hirschhorn recording "Gather Round: Songs of Celebration and Renewal" provides this:

Yom shabbaton eyn lishkoach.
Zichro kereyach hanichoach.
Yonah matz'ah vo manoach
vesham yanuchu yegi'ey koach.

[A day of Sabbath rest.
As hard to forget as sweet scent.
The dove finds comfort
and there the weary rest.]


More information about zemirot can be found at the JewishEncylopedia site.


Mike said...

Thanks for finding this song. Its one of my favorites from Shabbat back at Camp Ramah. It recently popped into my mind as my wife and I began considering naming our soon-to-be son, Jonah. Thanks for the links to audio because I can't carry a tune!

Jack said...

That's great. I'm glad I was able to help.

And Jonah is a great name. I've got two little girls, but if I'd had a boy I was thinking about Jonah, too. Gershon was my first choice but my wife nixed that one. sigh.

Anonymous said...

I was searching for a good zemirot cd/songbook when I discovered this excellent blog. I am obliged for the link to the z'mirot project. It caused me to take a better second look. I have to say I really love this zemir; Cantor Jeffrey Shiovitz did not make it too difficult. Cantors are a tough act to follow on Friday nights.

We also have small children and are still looking for a good zemirot collection.


Jack said...


Are you looking for a words, words & music, or recordings? Any particular favorites you want on it? Let me know and I can see what I can find for you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jack:

I am primarily looking for good Hebrew recordings of traditional versions of the shabbat zemirot. There are many recordings out there. The problem I encountered is that many cds are cut by cantors, who are wonderful, but occasionally become operatic, making them, let us say challenging to sing along with. We too live far from the Jewish mainstream--no Jewish bookstores or music stores--and this makes shopping for these recordings on line a hit or miss proposition.

I was hoping to find a cd/songbook combination.


Saul Oresky said...

Just found your website - excellent! I'm doing a presentation for one of my rabbinical school classes on this Medieval poem, which is, as you said correctly, attributed to the 11th-12th Century poet-philosopher Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi. The first letters of the five stanzas are an acrostic of Yehudah (yud, hey, vav, dalet, hey). The ArtScroll Zemiros, a collection and explanation (from a traditional viewpoint) of the zemirot, has a translation of it. Linda Hirschorn and Danny Masseng, among others, have nice renditions of it.