Monday, April 26, 2010

Hey Marge, remember when we used to make out to this hymn?

(Crossposted to Jewschool.)

I got back today from Mechon Hadar’s Third Independent Minyan Conference in New York, where I was representing Segulah. The conference included leaders of independent minyanim around the world (including several Jewschoolers), and there’s a lot more to say about it, but for the moment, I’ll just blog on a tangential matter:

Yesterday afternoon, the conference events took place in Kehilat Hadar’s usual space at the Second Presbyterian Church. During mincha yesterday, we started hearing the church organ from upstairs. At first it was just background noise, but then I listened more carefully and thought “Wait a minute, I’ve heard that before.”

They were playing a Christian hymn called “The God of Abraham Praise”, whose story I had learned about in a class at the 2008 NHC Summer Institute. The melody was written around 1770 for the Hebrew poem “Yigdal” by Myer Lyon (Leoni), hazzan at the Great Synagogue in London. The Methodist preacher Thomas Olivers was inspired by this melody and wrote very different words to it, and centuries later, they’re still playing it in New York. This Yigdal melody continues to be well-known in the Jewish world. (Until I learned its story, I had no idea that it went back so far; I figured it was just one of those shul tunes from the early- to mid-20th century.) Except that Jews tend to sing it much much faster. Listen below and then imagine it 3 or 4 times faster, and see if you recognize it!


  1. When i heard them playing this, I thought I must just have a one track mind and I dismissed it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Woah cool story! it was a bit incongruous to have a discussion about halakah and independent minyanim with 'church music' playing in the background.

  3. Hi Jon,

    I hear you, though some who are involved in independent communities grew up with church music and organs.

  4. Ruby K--

    While there very well may be exceptions, I would guess that the places in which you grew up that used organs and church music didn't also have discussions about halakhah, and almost certainly not about independent minyanim!

  5. There has long been a tradition of melody "sharing." The timing, however, is just priceless!

  6. Dude, they sing all the verses at that pace? Few poems in the Jewish liturgy can match the tedium.