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Adon Olam

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Adon Olam (Hebrew: אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם‎; "Eternal Lord") is one of the few strictly metrical hymns in the Jewish liturgy, the nobility of the diction of which and the smoothness of whose versification have given it unusual importance. According to the custom of the Sephardim and in British synagogues generally, it is congregationally sung at the close of the Sabbath and festival morning services, and among the Ashkenazi Jews also it often takes the place of the hymn Yigdal at the close of the evening service on these occasions, while both hymns are almost universally chanted on the Eve of Atonement (Kol Nidre). Because of this solemn association, and on account of its opening and closing sentiments, the hymn has also been selected for reading in the chamber of the dying. It is likewise printed at the commencement of the daily morning prayer, that its utterance may help to attune the mind of the worshiper to reverential awe. In the Sephardic version the hymn comprises six stanzas of two verses each, but the fourth (which is but an amplification of the third) is omitted by the Ashkenazim. For so widespread and beloved a hymn, the traditional tunes are singularly few. Only four or five of them deserve to be called traditional. Of these the oldest appears to be a short melody of Spanish origin.

Of similar construction is a melody of northern origin associated by English Jews with the penitential season.

This melody is often sung antiphonally, between precentor and congregation, although it was obviously intended for congregational rendering only, like the Spanish tune given above it. The best known of the other traditional antiphonal settings exists in two or three forms, the oldest of which appears to be the one given below (C).

Every one of the synagogal composers of the 19th century has written several settings for "Adon 'Olam". Most of them—following the earlier practise of the continental synagogues during the modern period (see Choir) — have attempted more or less elaborately polyphonic compositions. But the absurdity of treating an essentially congregational hymn so as to render congregational singing of it impossible is latterly becoming recognized, and many tunes in true hymn form have been more recently composed. Special mention should be made of the setting written by Simon W. Waley (1827 - 1876) for the West London Synagogue, which has become a classic among the British Jews, having been long ago adopted from the "reform" into the "orthodox" congregations, of England and her colonies.

The Adon 'Olam is one of the most familiar hymns in the whole range of the Jewish liturgy, employed in the various rituals all over the world, though not always at the same period of the service or on the same occasions; thus in the Roman Maḥzor it is placed at the end of the Sabbath service and sung together with Yigdal (Leopold Zunz, "Ritus", p. 80). In the Sephardic liturgy it has 12 strophes; in the German, only 10. Baer, in his commentary on the "Prayer-book" (Rödelheim, 1868), says that the hymn seems to have been intended to be recited before retiring, as it closes with the words: "Into His hand I commit my spirit when I fall asleep, and I shall awake". It may be, however, that the beauty and grandeur of the hymn recommended its use in the liturgy, and that it was chanted indiscriminately at the beginning or the close of the service. The date and the name of the author are unknown.

This song is sung to many different tunes, and can be sung to virtually any. Many synagogues like to use "seasonal" tunes, for instance, the Shabbat before Hanukkah, they might do it to Maoz Tzur. In Hebrew schools (as at Associated Hebrew Schools), the Adon Olam hymn is sometimes set, for fun, to secular tunes like "Yankee Doodle Went to Town".

Probably the most famous tune of the song was composed by Israeli song-writer Uzi Hitman for the Hasidic festival in 1976, and has become widely used in synagogues around the world.


# English translation Transliteration Hebrew
1 Eternal Master, who reigned supreme, Adon 'olam, 'asher malakh, אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ
2 Before all of creation was drawn; b'terem kol y'tzir niv'ra בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא
3 When it was finished according to His will, L'eyt na'asa v'kheftso kol, לְעֵת נַעֲשָׂה בְחֶפְצוֹ כֹּל
4 Then the King's Name was proclaimed Azai melekh sh'mo nikra אֲזַי מֶלֶךְ שְׁמוֹ נִקְרָא
5 When this our world shall be no more, V'akharey kikh'lot hakol וְאַחֲרֵי כִּכְלוֹת הַכֹּל
6 In majesty He still shall reign, L'vado y'imlokh nora לְבַדּוֹ יִמְלוֹךְ נוֹרָא
7 And he was, and he is, V'hu hayah v'hu hoveh וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הֹוֶה
8 And he will be in glory. V'hu yih'yeh b'tif'arah וְהוּא יִהְיֶה בְּתִפְאָרָה
9 Alone is He, beyond compare, V'hu 'ekhad v'eyn sheyni וְהוּא אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי
10 Without division or ally; L'ham'shil lo l'hakhbirah לְהַמְשִׁילֹ לוֹ לְהַחְבִּירָה
11 Without beginning, without end, B'li reyshiyt b'li takh'liyt בְּלִי רֵאשִׁית בְּלִי תַכְלִית
12 to Him is the power and sovereignty V'lo ha'oz v'hamis'rah וְלוֹ הָעֹז וְהַמִּשְׂרָה
17 He is my God, my Living Redeemer V'hu 'Eyli v'khai go'ali וְהוּא אֵלִי וְחַי גּוֹאֲלִי
18 rock of my affliction in the enemy day v'tsur khevli b'yom tsarah וְצוּר חֶבְלִי בְּיוֹם צָרָה
19 He is my banner and refuge V'hu nisi 'umanos li וְהוּא נִסִּי וּמָנוֹס ִלִי
20 filling my cup the day I call m'nat kosi b'yom 'ekra מְנָת כּוֹסִי בְּיוֹם אֶקְרָא
23 Into His hand I commit my spirit B'yado af'kid rukhi בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי
24 when I sleep, and I wake b'eyt 'ishan v'a'ira בְּעֵת אִישָׁן וְאָעִירָה
25 and with my spirit, my body v'im rukhi g'viyati וְעִם רוּחִי גְוִיָּתִי
26 The Lord is with me, I will not fear Adonai li v'lo 'ira אֲדֹנָי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא


Bibliography of the Jewish Encyclopedia

  • Landshuth's note in Siddur Hegyon Leb, p.5, Königsberg, 1845
This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain. ([1])

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