Zemirot

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This article is about a type of Jewish religious music, Zemirot. For the main article on religious Jewish music, see Religious Jewish music.

Zemirot or Z'mirot (Hebrew: זמירות‎) (Yiddish: Zmiros; Biblical Hebrew: Z'miroth; singular: zemer/z'mer) are Jewish hymns, usually sung in the Hebrew or Aramaic languages, but sometimes also in Yiddish or Ladino. The best known zemirot are those sung around the table during Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Some of the Sabbath zemirot are specific to certain times of the day, such those sung for the Friday evening meal, the Saturday noon meal, and the third Sabbath meal just before sundown on Saturday afternoon. In some editions of the Jewish prayerbook (siddur), the words to these hymns are printed after the opening prayer (kiddush) for each meal. Other zemirot are more generic and can be sung at any meal or other sacred occasion.

The words to many zemirot are taken from poems written by various rabbis and sages during the Middle Ages. Others are anonymous folk songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. The words generally focus on the themes of the Sabbath or the specific holiday being celebrated.

The melodies vary greatly from one Jewish community to another, as local tunes and styles of music are adapted to the same liturgical poems. One famous hymn, Adon Olam, (Ruler of the Universe) has been set to literally hundreds of different tunes. Jews of different backgrounds enjoy sharing the various versions when they meet around the Sabbath table. New tunes continue to be written today for the same ancient lyrics. It is now rare, however, for new zemer-type lyrics to be written.

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

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