Naphtali Herz Imber's "Hatikvah"

Resource Kit by
Mikhl Yashinsky

Module Content

Introduction

Introduction

"Hatikvah" (Hebrew for "The Hope") is the national anthem of Israel, and is often considered a worldwide anthem of the Jewish people. Israeli scholar of Hebrew song Eliyahu Hacohen has summed up the song’s importance thus: "For the first time after thousands of years the entire Jewish people [has] shared one Hebrew song that is not Biblical, from the siddur or the mahzor. 'Hatikvah' set in motion the wheels of Zionism more than a thousand speeches by leaders and emissaries."

Penned in 1878 by poet Naphtali Herz Imber (born 1856, Zlotshov, Austro-Hungarian Galicia, now Ukraine), "Hatikvah" was first published as "Tikvoseynu" ("Our Hope") in 1886. Though the sung anthem consists of one verse and the chorus, the original poem contained nine verses, each speaking of the Jews’ hope to be restored as a free people to the land of their Israelite forefathers. The poem was published while Imber was living in Ottoman-era Palestine, and it soon began to be sung in the Jewish colonies there. Its musical setting is most commonly attributed to Samuel Cohen, a Romanian-born member of a farming community there, though the original provenance of the tune is much debated. Some argue that it originated in a Moldavian folk song (quoted by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana in his symphonic poem "Vltava"), while others trace it back much earlier, or claim it as a pan-European “wandering melody.”

The song would soon achieve popularity throughout the yishuv (the pre-statehood Jewish community in Palestine). It was also quickly taken up by Zionist organizers the world over and it was declared the official anthem of the movement at the eighteenth Zionist Congress in 1933. In 2004, the song was finally named the official anthem of the State of Israel, though it had enjoyed a de facto status as such for many years.

The ascent of "Hatikvah" as the anthem of the Zionist movement, and later, of the State of Israel, has not been without controversy. Some protests, like those of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, have focused on the poet Imber who died penniless of alcoholism and was considered a libertine by many of his time, not possessing the upright character consistent with a national poet. Others have focused on the possible non-Jewish origins of the tune and the irreligious quality of the words (God is not mentioned.) Still others have considered it "too Jewish," and unsuitable for a secular, democratic, multicultural state. These complications and contradictions are explored in this kit, which provides video, visual, and textual materials for exploring the song in its original context, the debates that have surrounded it, and the life of its eccentric creator.

Cover image: Silk insert from a pack of Nebo Cigarettes (New York, circa 1905-1910), showing the beginning words (in English translation) and notes of "Hatikvah."