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Anim Zemirot (אנעים זמירות, lit. "I shall sing sweet songs") IPA: [ʔanˈʕiːm zĕmiːˈroθ] is a Jewish liturgical poem sung in the synagogue at the end of Shabbat and holiday morning services. Formally, it is known as Shir Hakavod (שיר הכבוד, lit. "Song of Glory") IPA: [ˈʃiːr hakkɔˈβoð], but it is often referred to as anim zemirot, after the first two words of the poem.
Anim Zemirot is recited responsively, with the first verse read aloud by the shaliach tzibbur (שליח ציבור, lit. messenger of the congregation), the second verse recited by the congregation in unison, and so on. The poem is believed to have been written by Rav Yehudah HeHassid, the 12th-century German scholar and pietist.
The main body of Anim Zemirot consists of 31 original verses, followed by two verses from Tanach: the first from Chronicles 29:11 and the second from Psalms 106:2. From the fifth to the twenty-eighth verse, the verses each begin with the successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet, except for the letter reish (ר) and tav (ת), both of which appear twice. As there are an odd number of verses within the main body, the congregation traditionally recites the last verse of the main body along with the shaliach tzibbur. The last two verses are then recited alone by the members of the congregation; the shaliach tzibbur recites the verse from Psalms aloud to indicate the completion of Anim Zemirot and allow the members of the congregation who are saying kaddish yatom (קדיש יתום, Mourners' kaddish) to begin their recitation.
The Holy Ark is opened for the recital of Anim Zemirot, befitting its formal title of "The Song of Glory." There is an account that this name originated because of an old tradition to recite the last four verses of Psalm 24 prior to reciting Anim Zemirot. According to the Levush, the recital of Anim Zemirot has been restricted so that it not become overly familiar and mundane. While most congregations recite it on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, the Vilna Gaon was of the opinion that it should be recited only on holidays. A small minority of congregations recite it only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
In many synagogues, it has become the custom for Anim Zemirot to be recited by a child.
Anim Zemirot is also known as Shir ha-Kavod:
- I make pleasant songs, and weave verses
- Because for You my soul longs.
- My soul desires to be in Your hand’s shade
- To know every mystery of Your deepest secrets.
In the very first stanzas, common themes of mystical theology are in place – the lust for secret knowledge, and the desire for intimacy steeped in emotional, almost erotic terms. And the key to the mystical theology of the Pietists is the word KaVoD (Glory):
- When I speak of Your Glory
- My heart yearns for your love.
- Therefore I will speak of Your Glories
- And Your Name I will glorify in songs of love.
To the author of Shir ha-Kavod, Kavod is the visible manifestation of God. It's the part of God that is graspable by human experience, which is yet not God:
- I will recount Your Glory, though I have not seen You
- I describe You though I have not known You.
This another common mystical motif, that of paradox: recounting what has not been seen, describing what cannot be known. It is the Glory that makes the agnostos theos, the unknowable God, yet accessible and relatable, hidden and manifest simultaneously. The Glory is, according to the author, what the prophets saw, what yields angels and anthropomorphic images of deity.
Note also that in stanza four it reads “Glories,” not “Glory.” For the Hasidei Ashkenaz, there are two Glories, a masculine “upper” Glory and a feminine “lower” Glory. The upper Kavod is obscure and inaccessible to mortals, but the lower Kavod can be perceived. From where did this two-fold emanation get derived? From a Biblical encounter between Moses and God.You will see My back, but My face cannot be seen (Ex. 33:23). It may also be inspired by the Talmudic dictum that one should pray with “eyes directed below and heart directed above” (Yeb. 105b). i.e., look at the lower Kavod while you imagine the unimaginable upper Kavod.
The masculine and feminine element comes from the Song of Songs, chapter 5, and Shir ha-Kavod uses the image of the male lover taken from there – “His locks are curled and black”; “dazzling and ruddy is He”; “His head is like pure gold” – as a description of Kavod. That also leaves open the possibility - unstated in the poem and therefore underdeveloped, but present nonetheless – that Israel itself is the female counterpart, the lower Kavod:
- He beautifies Himself through me, because He desires me
- And He shall be for me a crown of beauty.
The poem goes on using a letter of the Alef-Bet to start each stanza (some twice), linking the Kavod to the word mysticism found in earlier mystical works like Sefer Yetzirah. The poem concludes with an envelope stanza that reuses the verb "to yearn":
- May my contemplation be sweet to You
- for my soul yearns for You.
The use of the Hebrew word root Ayin-Resh-Bet here also has mystical connoations. It means "sweet," invoking the sensuous aspect of the mystical experience. But the same root means "to mingle," (sh'ti v'airev means "warp and woof"). This both parallels the opening line ("...and songs I weave...") with the image of interwoven thoughts and reflects the mystic's desire to merge with the divine.
- Anim Zemirot - R. Yehuda Hachassid - הזמנה לפיוט
- Complete Artscroll Siddur, page 472, commentary on Anim Zemirot
- Yaakov Klass (May 7, 2008). "Q & A: An'im Zemirot (Part I)". The Jewish Press.
- Yaakov Klass (May 14, 2008). "Q & A: An'im Zemirot (Conclusion)". The Jewish Press.