Jewish Hymns for the Sabbath Day.

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Yom Zeh Mechubad

Yom Zeh Mechubad (This day is honored) urges Jews to observe the Sabbath for God will provide those who do with everything they need to enjoy the day--the ceremonial wine for Kiddush; two loaves of hallah; meat and fish, rich foods, sweet drinks, and "all appetizing things"; and even proper clothes to wear.

It is based on the Talmudic statement promising that all Sabbath expenses would be restored: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, said unto Israel: 'My children, borrow on My account and celebrate the holiness of the day and trust in Me, and I will repay'" (Betz. 15b). The refrain to the six stanzas is a reminder that "This day is honored more than all other days, because on it the Eternal rested.

Tzur Mishelo

Tzur Mishelo (literally, "Rock from whose store [we have eaten]"), is an anonymous hymn that introduces the Birkat hamazon on the Sabbath. The refrain recalls the invitation to the Grace after meals, while the four stanzas summarize the contents of that prayer-praising God for providing food, giving thanks for the "good land" bequeathed to Israel, and asking God to have mercy on the Jewish people and restore the Temple and the kingdom of David.

By the 16th century, the singing of zemirot at Sabbath meals had become a widespread custom. In addition, special zemirot were sung in honor of the departing Sabbath Queen as the day grew to a close. These table hymns, whose melodies were usually borrowed from folk songs, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, have remained popular to this day. Many Jewish families sit around the dinner table for hours joyfully singing them.

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Ronald L. Eisenberg

Ronald L. Eisenberg, a radiologist and non-practicing attorney, is the author of numerous books, including The Jewish World in Stamps.