Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lecha Dodi...Changing the Tune

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although there is a widespread custom to change the tune during Lecha Dodi when reaching the stanza of "Lo Tevoshi", it is actually quite unclear where this custom derives from. Some sources even suggest that it is baseless and evolved without reason.

Among the earliest sources which discuss a custom of changing tunes during Lecha Dodi are those emanating from the community of Frankfurt-am-Main. It is reported that in the community of Frankfurt-am-Main the custom was to change the tune when singing Lecha Dodi at the stanza of "Hitoreri". However, when reaching the stanza of "Boi B'shalom" the congregation would then revert to the tune which had been used at the start of Lecha Dodi, before having reached "Hitoreri".

Click here to read moreThe explanation for this custom was because the first letters of the first four stanzas are said to be an acronym for the word "Shlomo", representing both the name of the author of Lecha Dodi (Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz) and also serving as a reminder that mashiach will be a descendant of King David through his son Solomon. As the first four stanzas represent exile and the last four represent redemption, it was decided to sing each of these themes with separate tunes. Furthermore, the first letters of the last four stanzas represent the second word of the author's name, "Halevi", making it a good time switch tunes, as well. As the final stanza of "Boi B'shalom" is unrelated to either group of stanzas, it was decided to revert to the original tune with which Lecha Dodi had begun.[1]

There is a widely cited theory that the change of tune at "Lo Tevoshi" represents a switch in the theme of Lecha Dodi from that point onwards. This, however, is simply incorrect, as the change of theme to that of redemption actually occurs in the stanza prior, that of "Hitoreri", as mentioned above. This strengthens the legitimacy of the custom of changing the tune when reaching "Hitoreri" and not when reaching "Lo Tevoshi".

It is also suggested that the change of tune during the course of Lecha Dodi was simply in order to prompt those in the congregation who may have lost their place as to where the service was now holding.[2] It might just simply be that the custom of changing the tune specifically at "Lo Tevoshi" is related to the fact that it is the first and only stanza of Lecha Dodi to be worded in a negative manner ("lo").

There have been many other customs throughout the centuries regarding the manner of singing Lecha Dodi, as well. In some communities every stanza of Lecha Dodi was sung in a different tune and in others the tune was changed every two or three stanzas. It is even reported that the Cantor R' Aharon Ber of Berlin composed a different tune for singing Lecha Dodi for every Shabbat of the year! It is also interesting to note that it was primarily in the Polish and Galician Chassidic communities (Gur, Alexander, Belz, Sanz, Modzitz) where Lecha Dodi was even sung, while in many Ukrainian and Russian Chassidic communities (Chernobyl, Kassov, Karlin, Lubavitch) it was not sung at all. In Kretchniff it was sung to the tune of Akdamut.[3]

[1] Cited in Likrat Kalla p.147
[2] See also: http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/teruma/kle.html
[3] Likrat Kalla p.261

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