The text of the Shabbat zemer דרור יקרא has a line based on Isaiah 63:1-3 (מי זה בא מאדום חמוץ בגדים מבצרה וכו') which usually reads:

דרוך פורה בתוך בצרה, וגם בבל אשר גברה

However, I also have seen the following variant in a Sephardic siddur:

דרוך פורה בתוך בצרה, וגם אדום אשר גברה

My theory behind this was as follows: בצרה alludes to Christianity (being the capital of Edom), and בבל to Islam. Perhaps the text in some Islamic countries was altered in order as a form of self-censorship. Is this historically accurate, and if not, is there evidence for what the original version of this line was and why it changed?

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    You seem to be guessing the Sephardic version was censored and the Ashkenazic original. I'd guess the opposite, since the author was Sephardic.
    – msh210
    Dec 8 '13 at 21:23
  • @msh210 That's a good point. I saw a blog post somewhere that said the same thing, but I'd like a reliable source for it.
    – user3318
    Dec 8 '13 at 21:39
  • I always thought Basra was Basra in Iraq, but Basra in Edom makes makes a lot more sense! Thanks! Dec 8 '13 at 21:44
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    @Malper you should edit the source into the question Dec 8 '13 at 21:49
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    Nice, but I meant the one that agrees with your hypothesis Dec 8 '13 at 21:55

Great question! The answer, unfortunately, is not quite clear to me yet.

Dunash ben Labrat (the author of this piyyut, 10th century Moroccan educated in Baghdad) is using the Biblical text of Isaiah 63:1-3, which speaks of Botzra and Edom.

Mahzor Vitri (11th century French liturgical manuscript) has Edom (and this is also the version on piyut.org). Elizer Weisfish suggests that Edom is the original version, but points out that in rabbinic literature Edom and Bavel are sometimes interchangeable terms for 'the enemies of Israel' in general.

However, R. David Yitzhaqi, in Tzefunot 6, points out that in the metre of Andalusi Hebrew poetry, Edom is a short-long foot (because of the hataf-segol), where the metre in this line calls for a long-long foot (like Ba-vel). In lay terms, Edom doesn't actually fit the metre of the poem but Bavel does, so it seems that Bavel is the original version. In my opinion, semantically Bavel also makes sense because of the 'vegam' ["and also"] connecting the two halves, which makes more sense if the first half is Edom/Botzrah, and the second half is Bavel. Unless Dunash is punning on the name of Basra, in Iraq, in which case saying "Botzra (i.e. Babylonia) and also Edom" makes more sense.

Whoever wrote this here noted that Iraqi Jews sing "Edom" and not "Bavel", and the version on the Iraqi Beit Knesset Eliyahu website also has "Edom".

So the short answer is, without going to the library, I can't seem to find a definitive answer. It seems probable (certainly possible!) to me that Bavel was the original version, as you said, and it was changed in some places to Edom. However, the opposite is also possible! The fact remains that there are variant versions, and the preference of one over the other likely has to do with censorship of some sort, whether it's Edom replacing Bavel or vice versa.

  • R. David Yitzchaki says the opposite, that the original must be Edom because both Machzor Vitri and Sephardic sources have that text, and that Edom was censored. He also explains how the meter works.
    – wfb
    Dec 8 '13 at 23:04
  • Well, yes, I read it, so I know. He does eventually say that he thinks that Edom is original, even though it doesn't fit the metre. I'm not convinced. Dec 8 '13 at 23:18
  • So, your answer is that you've seen arguments for one, but you can't access a library so you don't know if the arguments hold up? That doesn't seem like a very useful answer.
    – Seth J
    Dec 9 '13 at 0:33
  • Fair point, @SethJ. I'm not sure how useful this is either except adding a few more sources/arguments to the mix... I don't know if there is a conclusive answer here. Dec 9 '13 at 0:55
  • I personally found this answer very useful. I do think that it could be improved by editing in the other arguments that R' Yitzhaki mentions.
    – user3318
    Dec 9 '13 at 0:57

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