A Shabbat Song

An Iraqi melody to Kah Ribon, on oud and other instruments.

Music is a vital Jewish spiritual practice. The importance of music, lyric, and melody to Judaism and particularly to Breslov Chassidus can’t be overestimated. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov encourages us to sing, dance, and connect to our deepest spiritual self through song, for through song we become happy, and happiness is a great mitzvah.

Sing many songs at the Shabbos table. Pay no attention to any obstacles. Others at the table may show little desire to sing, but you should still do your part. Make a determined effort to sing happily. Lead the Shabbos table with happiness, because the main thing is the joy of Shabbat.

—Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Kah Ribon is a zemer, one of the zemiros (songs) we sing on Shabbos. Zemer* means song. Zemer also means “to prune”. Pruning involves cutting away excess matter to strengthen the core, the roots.

A zemer strengthens us, our attachment to our Source. This suggests the life-giving force of Shabbos.

A melody or song requires a deliberate choice of notes and a leaving behind of others, a cutting away, or pruning. The notes remaining, those we sing, form a melody, or pattern of sound. Holy Shabbos songs, zemiros, form patterns which invigorate our neshama’s, (soul’s), connection to the Source of All.

There are many holy melodies to Kah Ribon:

Shlomo Katz’s reggae-jazz, interpretation of the Breslov niggun (holy melody) for Kah Ribon.

Another interpretation of a Breslov niggun for Kah Ribon.

Kah Ribon from an originalist’s heart.

Lyrics for Kah Ribon (English):

God, Master of this world, and all worlds. You are the King of Kings. You perform mighty and amazing deeds. It is a pleasure to speak to You or Your great and wonderful deeds.

I will present praises to You morning and night, holy Lord, Who has created all souls, holy angels, human beings, beast of the field and birds of the sky.

Your deeds are huge and tremendous, humbling the proud and lifting up the meek. Even if a person would live a thousand years, he couldn’t recount your deeds.

God, possessing glory and greatness, redeem Your flock from the lions’ mouths. Bring your people out of exile, Your nation whom You have chosen above all others.

Return to Your Temple, to the Holy of Holies, the place where every spirit and soul rejoices. We will sing songs and praises to You in Yerushalayim, city of immense beauty.

*There are other Hebrew words for song with different connotations.

3 thoughts on “A Shabbat Song

  1. David Menachem seen here is actually an Iraqi Jew of Kurdish origin (mizrahi), and not remotely sephardic/judeo-espagnol, and most of the piyyut and zemirot he has performed are in aramaic or hebrew, as this one is! We sefaradim have a take on Kah Ribon in ladino, but I don’t think it’s known among Iraqi mizrahim.
    David is a wonderful performer though. Shabbat shalom!

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    1. @animalizard
      Thank you for your comment, which is, of course, correct. I didn’t mean to offend. It’s true that many Jews of various countries who are sometimes categorized as Sephardi are actually not of Sephardic origin (including a relative of mine by marriage), but very often perhaps (?) because Mizrahi Jews daven Sephardic nusach and in Israel generally followed the Sephardi chief rabbi, it has become common, if imprecise, usage.

      As for piece, Kah Ribon is one of the most popular Shabbos zemiros. It is sung in Aramaic at Mizrahi, Ashkenaz, and Sephardic Shabbos tables. It was composed (in Aramaic) by Rabbi Yisrael in the 16th century. He was a student of the Arizal in Tsfas, who later became a Rabbi in Gaza.

      P.S. See updated version…

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