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What are some examples of a traditional Jewish song that bears a strong similarity to a non-Jewish melody?

(I am wording this question carefully to exclude recent Jewish take-offs of secular music; and to avoid unproductive discussion about which version came first.)

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Does singing dror Yikra to the tune of the beach boys count as "recent Jewish take-offs" or "traditional Jewish song"? – avi Jul 9 '11 at 20:43
@avi - "recent Jewish take-offs" for sure. I haven't heard that one, so it can't be too traditional. :) – Dave Jul 10 '11 at 2:32
I'm sure you have heard it. Listen to the song Sloop John b. It's normally sung as Seudat Shlishit. zemirotdatabase.org/view_song.php?id=53#rec – avi Jul 11 '11 at 6:17
@avi - Nope, never heard Dror Yikra sung to that tune. I guess we live in different parts of town... :) – Dave Jul 11 '11 at 17:52
A rabbi of mine told me the following in the name of Rabbi Nachman from Breslov: Only on shabbat do gentile melodies become holy. Mah she'ein ken regarding Jewish songs that are holy the entire week all seven days including shabbat. – Adam Mosheh Apr 17 '12 at 18:54

10 Answers 10

Two popular Chabad Chassidic niggunim were both adapted from French songs:

  • "Napoleon's March," taken from the marching tune used by the French army during their invasion of Russia in 1812. (R' Shneur Zalman is said to have heard the tune and said that it represents the ultimate victory of "our" - the Russian - side, as indeed occurred.)

  • "Ha'aderes Veha'emunah," set in 1973 by some French chassidim to the tune of La Marseillaise. (Interestingly, a few months later the French government formally altered the tune - their national anthem - somewhat. In a talk of his in 1991, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l observed that evidently, on a spiritual level, they realized that the original tune no longer "belonged" to them.)

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Any links to these? – Dave Aug 4 '10 at 13:30

A few examples that come to mind are:

1) Maoz Tzur, which is said to be an adaptation from an old German folk-song

2) The Kaliver niggun Sol A Kokosh Mar, which was taken from a shepherd's song

3) The Purim song "Mishenichnas Adar," taken from "Pick a Bale of Cotton."

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Well, the traditional Ashkenazic "Maoz Tzur" would be a great candidate since it is in perfect cadence and key with "Deck the Halls". The problem is that Maoz Tzur (the Ashkenazic tune) is actually a knock-off of a German folk tune! See here and here. As per the wiki article it actually was chosen by Luther sr"y for one of his hymns. What is still amazing is the similarity between Maoz Tzur, being of German origin and Deck the Halls, being of Welsh origin.

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Man, Dave you jumped me while I was working on the source links! – Yahu Aug 4 '10 at 4:13
Well, I did have a bit of a head start :) – Dave Aug 4 '10 at 4:25

Hatikva is based on an old Italian folk tune "La Mantovana"

And of course the wedding favorites of "Asher bara sasson v'simcha":"I come from a land down under" and "yiddin": "Ghengis Khan"

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The Syrian and Jerusalem sephardic traditions for chazzanut are based heavily on arab songs. One can look in many Sephardic song books and see the name of the arabic song that the melody comes from.

R' Ovadia Yosef defends this practice in a teshuva in Yechave Da'at vol 2 #5, and says "על ערבים בתוכה תלינו כנרותינו" -- on the Arabs within it, we hung our lyres (i.e. our musical tradition).

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One tune of Psalm 150 is based on Allahu by Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn

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1) See here, where apparently Kah Ribon is meant to be sung to the tune of some Arab Melody entitled "Ya Rabi Shalim Sha'ilmi.

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El Galil is really Ya Galmil from Farid Al Atrash.

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Can you link to the Arab version? (Youtube, perhaps.) – Baal Shemot Tovot Apr 17 '12 at 22:59
done...........15 character rule – Hacham Gabriel Apr 17 '12 at 23:03
thanks! I'll listen to it as soon as I can. My friends and I always argue about how a certain part is sung (בזכותו עמד עולם...) cant wait to hear how he does it. – Baal Shemot Tovot Apr 17 '12 at 23:05
sure it is! And I was right!! This is so awesome thank you so so much! – Baal Shemot Tovot Apr 18 '12 at 2:08
@vram no prob. My bad, it is in there. I just haven't heard the song in a while. – Hacham Gabriel Apr 18 '12 at 2:20

A great resource for traditional Jewish music (with lots of information on history, influences): http://www.jewish-music.huji.ac.il/

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I can't access that link – follick Dec 30 '11 at 2:37
@follick: Fixed. – Chanoch Apr 17 '12 at 23:05

Mi Armiya Admora - A communist march adapted by R' Ben Tzion Shemtov

Lyuba Brtsi Lyuba - a Cossack song sung by the mashpia R' Mendel Futerfas.

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Any links to these? – Dave Jul 10 '11 at 2:34
Thanks, I added the links into your answer. – Dave Jul 11 '11 at 17:46

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