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Notes from Limmud 2005

Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast: An In-Depth Look at Hatikvah

Colin Bulka

[The Hatikvah, "The Hope", is the Israeli National Anthem.]

The session started with the playing of a recording of the Hatikvah by Al Jolson in the 1930s. The first notable thing about it is Jolson's use of the Ashkenazi pronunciation. It was also more yearning than anthemic as sung. The words are also different to what has emerged as the canonical version; it ends:

עוד לא אבדה תקותינו
התקוה הנשנה
לשוב לארץ אבותינו
עיר בדוד דוד בנה/היה

The Hatikvah was originally written as a nine-verse poem by Naftali Herz Imber, born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Imbar wrote it in 1878, when he was aged 22, said to have been inspired by the founding of Petach Tikva [Entrance of Hope", one of the first Zionist settlements in Ottoman Palestine]. He did not, however, publish it at this time.

The themes of the poem were possibly influenced by Polish patriot songs. The Polish song "Poland is not yet lost, while we still live" became the Polish national anthem with the birth of the republic between the two world wars.

Imber went wandering, and in 1882 arrived in Palestine. There he went to ראשון לציון [Rishon leTsion, another early Zionist town], and performed it to a group of farmers. One of them, Samuel Cohen, was very moved and set it to a Moldavian folk tune "Carul cu Boi" (Cart and Oxen)—which the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana had also used in 1874 for "The Moldau" from his song-cycle Ma Vlast (My Land).

It was published in 1886 under the title תקותינו "Our Hope", which it retained for a number of years.

The wording went through a number of changes over the years, reflecting changes in nationalistic ideas and customs. The words "Where David once live" were exchanged for "Zion and Jerusalem" in the chorus. Another important change was the call to be "a free nation in our land" and not just to "live in the land of our fathers". [The original fits better with Herzl's vision as expressed in Altneuland... but Herzl was writing before WWI and expected the Ottoman Empire to go on dominating the region.] The accent was switched to what became the standard Israeli pronunciation [Sephardi pronunciation watered down to remove the sounds Ashkenazim found hard]. The melody was also changed to fit the cadence and syllable stress of the new version. These changes can be traced through the various printed editions of the world such as the 1909 version from the Hebrew Publishing Company.

In 1898, in the German Newspaper Die Welt, and 1900, at the Fourth Zionist Congress, the Zionist movement held competitions for a Zionist anthem. No song was them chosen. In 1901, one of the sessions of the Fifth Zionist Congress, in Basel, ended with the singing of Hatikva (still called Tikvatenu). By 1903 it was sung in a number of forms by a number of people, but not everyone. By 1905 it was sung by everyone at the Seventh Zionist Congress. It can be said that Hatikva was then unofficially adopted as the Zionist anthem, though officially it was not adopted until 1933, and only passed into Israeli law five years ago!

O while within a Jewish breast
Beats true a Jewish heart.
And Jewish glances turning East,
To Zion fondly dart

O then our Hope—it is not dead
Our ancient Hope and true
Again the sacred soil to tread
Where David's banner flew.

O While the tears flow down apace
And fall like bounteous rain
And to the fathers' resting place
Sweeps on the mournful train,

And while upon our eager eye
Flashes the City's wall
And for the wasted Sanctuary
The teardrop trembling fall

O while the Jordan's pent-up tide,
Leaps downward rapidly,
And while its fleaming waters glide,
Through Galilee's blue sea

And while on the Highway there
Lowers the stricken Gate,
And from the ruins of Zion's prayer
Upriseth passionate

O while the pure floods of her eyes
Flow for her People's plight
And Zion's Daughter doth arise
And weep the long, long night,

O while through vein in ceaseless stream
The bright blood pulses yet,
And on our fathers' tomb doth gleam
The dew when sun is set,

O while a feeling of the love of the nation
Beats within a Jewish heart
Even today we can still hope
That we will be spared G-d's anger

Hear Brothers, mine, where e're ye be,
This Truth by Prophet won:
"'Tis then our Hope shall cease to be
With Israel's last son!"
כל עוד בלבב פנימה
נפש יהודי הומיה
ולפאתי מזרח קדימה
עינו לציון צופיה׃

עוד לא אבדה תקותינו
התקוה הנושנה
לשוב לארץ אבותינו
עיר בה דוד חנה׃

כל עוד דמעות מעינינו
יזלו כגשם נדבות
ורבבות מבני עמנו
עוד הולכים על קרבי אבות׃
עוד לא אבדה...

כל עוד חומת מחמדנו
לעינינו מופעת
ועל חרבן מקדשנו
עין אחת עוד דומעת׃
עוד לא אבדה...

כל עוד מי הירדן בגאון
מלא גדותיו יזולו
ולים כנרת בשאון
בקול המולה יפלו׃
עוד לא אבדה...

כל עוד שמה עלי דרכים
שעאר יכת שאיה
ובין חרבות ירושלים
עוד בת ציון בוכיה׃
עוד לא אבדה...

כל עוד דמעות מהורות
מעין בת עמי נזלות
ולבכות לציון בראש אשמרות
עוד תקום בחצי הלילות׃
עוד לא אבדה...

כל עוד נטפי דם בעורקינו
ברצוא ישוב יזלו
ועלי קברות אבותינו
עוד אכלי טל יפלו׃
עוד לא אבדה...

כל עוד רגש אהבת הלאום
בלב היהודי פועם
עוד נוכל קות כם היום
כי עוד ירחמנו אל וזועם׃
עוד לא אבדה...

שמעו אחי בארצות גודי
את קול אחד חוזינו
כי רק עם אחרון היהודי
גם אחרית תקותונו׃
...הדבא אל דוע

The modern words, of course, are:

כל עוד בלבב פנימה
נפש יהודי הומיה
ולפאתי מזרח קדימה
עיין לציון צופיה

עוד לא אבדה תקותינו
התקוה בת שנת אלפיים
להיות עם חפשי בארצינו
ארץ ציון וירושלים׃

Where the second verse ends: "To be a free people in our land // The land of Zion and Jerusalem." (And no, I'm not going to try and put it into verse in English.)

One of the other considerations for the Zionist National Anthem was Psalm 126 (שיר המעלות), to the tune composed by the famous cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. In 1979 when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt on the White House lawn, he read aloud the complete שיר המעלות in Hebrew.

The following is based on a sheet produced by the Hillel Joseph Meyerhoff Center:

We were like dreamers. Rabbi Yochanan said: This righteous man [Honi haMa'agel] was troubled throughout the whole of his life about the meaning of the verse from Psalm 126, "A Song of Ascents: When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers." He wondered: Is it possible for one man to live long enough to dream continuously for seventy years? [As it is written, "For the Lord said: When Babylon's seventy yeas are over, IO will take note of and I will fulfill you my prommise of favour: to bring you back to this place." (Jeremiah 29:10)]

One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a carob tree; he asked him, "How long does it take for [this tree] to bear fruit?" The man replied, "Seventy years."

When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree, and he asked him, "Are you the man who planted the tree?" The man replied, "I am his grandson." He then exclaimed, "It is clear that I have slept for seventy years." He then caught sight of his ass who had since given birth to several generations,and he returned home. He asked, "Is the son of Honi haMa'agel still alive?" The people answered him, "His son is no more, but his grandson is still living." He said to them: "I am Honi haMa'agel", but no one would believe him.

He then walked to the Beit haMidrashand there he overheard the scholars say, "The law is as clear to us as in the days of Honi haMa'agel, for whenever he came to the Beit haMidrash, he would settle for the scholars any difficulty that

Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children. Honi sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him, and the rocks enclosed upon him which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years.

Jewish heart
My heart is in the East, and I in the uttermost West
My food has no taste. How can it be sweet?
How can I fulfil my pledges and my vows,
When Zion is in the power of Edom, and I in the fetters of Arabia?
It will be nothing to me to leave all the goodness of Spain
So rich will it be to see the dust of the ruined sanctuary.
(Yehuda Halevi 1141 CE)

A song of ascents. When the Lord restored the return to Zion, we were like dreamers. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then they said amonsg the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them!" The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced. Restore our return, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. They who sow in tears shall reap in joy. Though he goes along weeping, carrying the seed-bag, he shall come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves. שיר המעלות. בשוב ה׳ את־שיבת ציון היינו כחלמים׃ אז ימלא שחוק פינו ולשוננו רנה. אז, יאמרו בגוים הגדיל ה׳ לעשות עם־אלה׃ הגדיל ה׳ לעשות עמנו היינו שמחים׃ שובה ה׳ את־שבותנו כאפיקים בנגב׃ הזרעים בדמעה ברנה יקצרו׃ הלוך ילך ובכה נשא משך־הזרע. בא־יבא ברנה נשא אלמתיו׃

The land: Wherever I go, I am going to the Land of Israel
(Rabbi Nachman of Braslav)

they had." He called out, "I am he," but the scholars would not believe him, nor did they give him the honour due to him. This hurt him greatly and he prayed [for death] and he died. Raba said: "That is why the people say, 'Either you have companionship or you may as well be dead.'"

(Talmud, Ta'anit 23a)
Ein Yahav
A night drive to Ein Yahav in the Arava Desert,
a drive in the rain. Yes, in the rain
There I met people who grow date palms,
there I saw tamarisk trees and risk trees,
there I saw hope barbed as barbed wire.
And I said to myself:
That's true, hope needs to be like barbed wire to keep out despair, hope must be a mine field.
(Yehuda Amichai)
Jerusalem in the Snow
While velvet vcover the town
Like a tallit
The canopy of clouds
Like a wedding canopy above a bride
Dressed in white
The wind ascends
With the sound and melody
Of crystal
The fragile heart
Like a flake of snow.
Is like this snow,
Beautiful at moments,
But muddy for hours and days
When it melts.
(Anat Bental)

Imber died in 1909 in New York and his remains were reinterred at the Mt Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem in 1953.

A discussion followed on the following topics:

Compare and contrast the Hatikvah and שיר המעלות as suitable for use as the Zionist anthem.

What is the role of a national anthem? Pride and unity in nationhood? Source of pride vs manifestation of pride. Is it important? For the British, no; for many countries, yes.

What to do with the Hatikvah given that it is not appropriate for many Israelis: Arabs, non-Jews, etc. This issue was raised when the Arab Sakhnin football team won their tournament a few years ago, and the Hatikvah was played to honour them: they were put on the spot as to how to react!

Is the Hatikvah still relevant nowadays? The Zionist state now exists! Jonathan Freedland talks about Israel as a country on probation.

ירושלים של זהב [Naomi Shemer's song Jerusalem of Gold] has, with minor alterations, also been suggested as an alternative.


Date: 2006-06-26 02:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
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Re: hello

Date: 2006-06-26 06:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
Hello, Anonymous (do I know you?). If you're interested, I've also put up other notes from limmud (http://www.michael-grant.me.uk/limmud.html) and other talks I've been to.


Date: 2006-06-30 02:47 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
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