Adon Olam (Hebrew: אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם; “Eternal Lord” or “Sovereign of the Universe”) is a strictly metrical hymn in the Jewish liturgy written in lines of eight syllables; more precisely, each line is composed of two segments of one yated and 2 tenu’ot, which indeed makes 8 syllables. It has been a regular part of the daily and Shabbat(Sabbath) liturgy since the 15th century.
According to the custom of the Sephardim and in British synagogues generally, it is congregationally sung at the close of 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 (tuneless) reading in the chamber of the dying, and in some congregations it is recited (subdued and tuneless) in the synagogue as a means of reporting a death in the community. It is likewise recited or chanted at the commencement of the daily early morning prayer, that its utterance may help to attune the mind of the worshiper to reverential awe. When it is sung at the end of the service, the congregation sits while singing it, as a demonstration that they are not eager to leave the house of prayer but were willing to stay and continue praying (by starting again at the beginning of the day’s prayers).
There are varying texts in the Sephardic version; in some traditions 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, in others it has 15 lines, in yet others it has 16 lines. 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.
Its authorship and origin are uncertain. It is often attributed, as least tentatively, to Solomon ibn Gabirol(1021–1058), who is known for his Hebrew poetry, but there is no solid evidence apart from the quality of this hymn and the language appears to be older. It has also been attributed to Rav Hai Gaon (939-1038) and even to the Talmudic sage Yohanan ben Zakkai. Although its diction indicates antiquity, it did not become part of the morning liturgy until the 15th century.
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”. 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 Sabbath service and sung together with Yigdal (Leopold Zunz, “Ritus“, p. 80). In the Sephardic liturgy it has 12 strophes; in theGerman, 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.” There is a tradition of reciting it each night at bedtime, and also on the deathbed. 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. The most common tune is attributed to the Russian cantor, Eliezar Mordecai Gerovitsch.
This song is sung to many different tunes, and can be sung to virtually any due to its meter. Many synagogues like to use “seasonal” tunes, for instance, Shabbat before Hanukkah, they might do it to Maoz Tzur. In Hebrew schools and Jewish summer camps, the Adon Olam hymn is sometimes set, for fun, to secular tunes like “Yankee Doodle“. In 1976, Uzi Hitman created a more upbeat tune for the 8th Annual Hasidic Song Festival. This version has become a favorite worldwide sung outside traditional liturgical settings.
|Eternal master, who reigned supreme,||Adon ‘olam, ‘asher malakh,||אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ|
|Before all of creation was drawn;||b’terem kol yetzir niv’ra||בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא|
|When it was finished according to his will,||L’et na’asa v’ḥeftso kol,||לְעֵת נַעֲשָׂה בְחֶפְצוֹ כֹּל|
|Then “King” his name was proclaimed to be||Azai melekh sh’mo nikra||אֲזַי מֶלֶךְ שְׁמוֹ נִקְרָא|
|When this our world shall be no more,||V’aḥarey kikh’lot hakol||וְאַחֲרֵי כִּכְלוֹת הַכֹּל|
|In majesty he still shall reign,||L’vado y’imlokh nora||לְבַדּוֹ יִמְלוֹךְ נוֹרָא|
|And he was, and he is,||V’hu hayah v’hu hoveh||וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הֹוֶה|
|And he will be in glory.||V’hu yih’yeh b’tif’arah||וְהוּא יִהְיֶה בְּתִפְאָרָה|
|Alone is he, there is no second,||V’hu ‘eḥad v’eyn sheyni||וְהוּא אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי|
|Without division or ally;||L’ham’shil lo l’haḥbirah||לְהַמְשִׁילֹ לוֹ לְהַחְבִּירָה|
|Without beginning, without end,||B’li reyshiyt b’li taḥ’liyt||בְּלִי רֵאשִׁית בְּלִי תַכְלִית|
|To him is the power and sovereignty||V’lo ha’oz v’hamis’rah||וְלוֹ הָעֹז וְהַמִּשְׂרָה|
|He is my God, my living redeemer||V’hu ‘Eli v’ḥay go’ali||וְהוּא אֵלִי וְחַי גּוֹאֲלִי|
|Rock of my affliction in time of trouble||v’tsur ḥevli b’eit tsarah||וְצוּר חֶבְלִי בְּעֵת צָרָה|
|He is my banner and refuge||V’hu nisi ‘umanos li||וְהוּא נִסִּי וּמָנוֹס לִי|
|Filling my cup the day I call||m’nat kosi b’yom ‘ekra||מְנָת כּוֹסִי בְּיוֹם אֶקְרָא|
|Into his hand I commit my spirit||B’yado af’kid ruḥi||בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי|
|When I sleep, and I awake||b’et ‘ishan v’a’ira||בְּעֵת אִישָׁן וְאָעִירָה|
|And with my spirit, my body||v’im ruḥi g’viyati||וְעִם רוּחִי גְוִיָּתִי|
|The Lord is with me, I will not fear||Adonai li v’lo ‘ira||אֲדֹנָי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא|
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 7.
- Ziegler, Aharon, Halachic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik, Jewish Press (Brooklyn weekly) 31 Jan 2003, and 24 July 1998.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 8; 10 lines in the Koren Sefard siddur page 14; 12 lines in the De Sola Pool,Spanish & Portuguese Book of Prayer, page 232; 15 lines in the Koren Mizrahi siddur page 6, and the Orot Sephardic Daily Siddur page 12, and Orot Sephardic Shabbat Siddur page 244. Silverman considers the Ashkenazic version, which is the shortest, as the probable original version. Silverman, Morris, Further Comments on the Text of the Siddur, Journal of Jewish Music & Liturgy, vol. 13 (1991-1992) page 34.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 7; Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur (1978, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ’g) page 27; Silverman, Morris, Further Comments on the Text of the Siddur, Journal of Jewish Music & Liturgy, vol. 13 (1991-1992) page 34.
- Abrahams, Israel, Companion to the Authorised Daily Prayer Book (2nd ed. 1922, London) page viii.
- Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 8.
Bibliography of the Jewish Encyclopedia
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. ()
- Text, translation, transliteration, recordings from The Zemirot Database.
- some midis of various versions
- Recordings of Adon Olam spoken in different speeds
- “Adon Olom: Past-Present-Future” a song about the prayer and its significance.
- Aaron Minsky plays his published cello variations on Adon Olam
- Traditional Sephardic Singing of Adon Olam
- Standard Book of Jewish Verse (NY 1917, now public domain) several English translations of Adon Olam, pages 390-396.; also, “English Versions of Adon Olam” by Cecil Roth, in his Essay and Portraits in Anglo-Jewish History (1962, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ’n Society) pages 295-302 and originally in the Jewish Monthly, May 1948.
- אדון עולם (Adon Olam), עוזי חיטמן ועודד בן-חור , השיר והמילים