May 10, 2011

The History of Hatikva

Perhaps you know this already, but I did not until recently and I found it interesting and Yom Ha'Atzmaut worthy.

I recently heard that when Israel was choosing a national anthem, the two finalists being considered were Hatikva, which was eventually selected as Israel's national anthem, and Shir HaMaalot - yeah, that one, the one we all sing by bentching with Yossele Rosenblatt's tune. I just heard that Hatikva beat out Shir HaMaalot by just one vote to be selected as the national anthem.

Being that I had never heard this interesting story before, I decided to research it and see what really happened. Research today means a comprehensive Google search, and I bring to you the results of what actually happened.

I will begin first with quoting sections of the Wikipedia entry on the history of Hatikva.


Hatikvah (Hebrew: הַתִּקְוָה‎‎, Hatiq'vah, lit. The Hope) is the national anthem of Israel. The anthem was written by Naphtali Herz Imber, a secular Galician Jew from Zolochiv (today in Lviv Oblast), who moved to the Land of Israel in the early 1880s.
The anthem's theme revolves around the nearly 2000-year-old hope of the Jewish people to be a free and sovereign people in the Land of Israel, a national dream that would eventually be realized with the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

The text of Hatikvah was written by the Galician Jewish poet Naphtali Herz Imber in Zolochiv in 1878 as a nine-stanza poem named Tikvateynu (lit. "Our Hope"). In this poem Imber puts into words his thoughts and feelings in the wake of the establishment of Petah Tikva, one of the first Jewish settlements in Ottoman Palestine. Published in Imber's first book, Barkai (lit. "Morning Star"), the poem was subsequently adopted as the anthem of Hovevei Zion and later of the Zionist Movement at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. The text was later revised by the settlers of Rishon LeZion, subsequently undergoing a number of other changes.
The melody, from a common European folk tune, La Mantovana, was arranged by Samuel Cohen, an immigrant from Bessarabia.
The British Mandate government briefly banned its public performance in 1919, in response to an increase in Arab anti-Zionist political activity.
Adoption as national anthem
When the State of Israel was established in 1948, Hatikvah was unofficially proclaimed the national anthem. However, it did not officially become the national anthem until November 2004, when it was sanctioned by the Knesset in an amendment to the Flag and Coat-of-Arms Law (now renamed the Flag, Coat-of-Arms, and National Anthem Law).
In its modern rendering, the official text of the anthem incorporates only the first stanza and refrain of the original poem. The predominant theme in the remaining stanzas is the establishment of a sovereign and free nation in the Land of Israel, a hope largely seen as fulfilled with the founding of the State of Israel.

Religious objections to Hatikvah
Some observant Jews object to Hatikvah on the grounds that the anthem is too secular and lacks sufficient religious emphasis, such as not mentioning God or the Torah. Some Hareidim have mocked the song by switching the word "חופשי" (free, alluding to a secular Jew being free of mitzvot) with the word "קודשי" (holy), thus reading the line: "To be a holy nation", referring to the verse in Shemos 19:10 "וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹש" (you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation). (Some religious Zionists also replace the word "חופשי" for the word "קודשי" but do so quietly and without intent to mock.) Others have gone even further by appending the words "תשחקו בכדור" (play ball) at the end of the song, to mimic the USA's practice of yelling "play ball" at Major League Baseball games following the singing of its national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner".
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook objected to the secular thrust of Hatikvah and wrote an alternative anthem titled “HaEmunah” ("The Faith") in the hope that it would replace Hatikvah as the Israeli national anthem. Rav Kook did not object to the singing of Hatikvah (and in fact has endorsed it) as he had great respect for secular Jews, indicating that even in their work it was possible to see a level of kedushah (holiness).

Objections by non-Jewish Israelis
Some Arab Israelis object to Hatikvah due to its explicit allusions to Judaism. In particular, the text’s reference to the yearnings of “a Jewish soul” is often cited as preventing non-Jews from personally identifying with the anthem. Notably, Ghaleb Majadale, who in January 2007 became the first Muslim to be appointed as a minister in the Israeli cabinet, sparked a controversy when he publicly refused to sing the anthem, stating that the song was written for Jews only.
From time to time proposals have been made to change the national anthem or to modify the text in order to make it more acceptable to non-Jewish Israelis; however, no such proposals have succeeded in gaining broad support.

Now, as to the competition between Hatikva and SHir HaMaalot, it turns out that Hatikva was never officially accepted as the official national anthem until 2004. Hatikvah was voted over Shir Hama'alot as the anthem in the World Zionist Congress in 1933, after 36 years when both were popular and sung separately or together, at different venues. Prior to that, there were numerous votes held over the years and there was never a conclusive decision, as both songs were equally popular and supported. Therefore, they were also sung in many Jewish circles, together. In Israel it was adopted as the Israel National Anthem de facto - but not de jure until November 2004.

I don't know if in that final vote in 1933 Hatikva beat out Shir HaMaalot by only one vote, considering the popularity of Shir HaMaalot it is entirely possible, but it seems that Hatikva never really beat out the competition and only became adopted after many years because of the prominence it took over the years.

I wonder had Shir HaMaalot become the national anthem, would people segue into bentching immediately after singing it (such as the way people cheer "play ball" after hatikva)?


  1. Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook continued to say that Shir Hamaalot should be the national anthem. His father's Shir HaEmunah lives on, as we (bnei and yotzaei hayeshivah) sing it during Sukkot. You can find it Rav Kook's siddur, and in his collected poems.

    Happy Yom HaAtzmaut! L'geulah sh'laimah!

  2. I have heard (with no sources) that the reason many say "tehilat hashem" after shir hama'alot was to not sound as Zionist. When I first heard it, I didn't completely understand, as I didn't know that shir hama'alot was an unofficial anthem of the nascent Zionist movement. It does make sense, however, and it is entirely possible that we would all say "tehilat hashem" if it became the national anthem (to break between it and benching).


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