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    A Christian hymn & the Yigdal tune – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it true that there is a Christian hymn that uses the Friday night Yigdal tune?

    Myer Lyon's Yigdal tune

    A. The melody that Ashkenazi congregations use for Yigdal on Friday nights derives from the 17th century if not earlier. A Wesleyan minister, Thomas Olivers, heard it at the Great Synagogue in London one evening in 1770 and used the tune for his hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise”, ascribing it to “Leoni”.

    Leoni was Myer Lyon, a chazan or chorister at the Great Synagogue (in those days western-style choirs had not entered synagogue worship and the singers were not “choristers” but vocal assistants to the chazan). Lyon, who died in Jamaica about 1800, was a well-known opera singer and managed an opera house in Dublin.

    An Anglo-Jewish musicologist, Bertram Benas, wrote that Olivers’ hymn “rhythmically fits the Yigdal theme with exactitude”, and adds, “A melody with a certain wistful beauty, it has a characteristic Jewish ring”.

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