Karev Yom: And it Happened at Midnight

Below in 1980 on national Israeli TV, a woman leading a seder, surrounded by family singing the piyut Karev Yom. The woman below is actress Hanna Rovina , winner of the Israel prize in 1956, singing the song in call and respone fashion.

The song has many versions, each showing a different flavor of Jewish music. Here is another version of Karev Yom sung by Yaffa Yarkoni. from her album Sabra. Yarkoni received the Israel prize in 1998 and died at age 86 at the beginning of this year. Instead of call and response she uses a driving beat and decorative melisma typical of Israeli Sephardic cantorial style.

There are also versions where the instruments take on a central role: here is a klezmer version with double base, clarinet, accordian, violin and drums sung by Evyatar Banai. The sound is sweeter and softer. And here, a middle eastren music setting with ud and gesang by Ensemble Majimaz.

The song, Karev Yom, expresses Jewish hope and longing for final redemption: a day where there is no day or night.

Draw near the day which is neither day nor night;
Exalted One, proclaim that Yours are day and night;
Set guards over Your city all day and night;
Brighten as day the darkness of the night;
And it came to pass at midnight! (translation by Josh Kulp )

The words are taken from the last verse of a piyut (liturgical poem ) found at the end of Ashkenazi haggadot, “And it Happened at Midnight”. The poem is a reworking of Bemidbar Rabba 20 which lists a series of events that all, according to tradition, happened at midnight. Each line excepting the last stanza (Karev Yom) begins with a different letter of the alphabet in order. Each event is focused on either returning from exile or alleviating the sufferings of exile. They are described in order starting with Abraham and ending with the final redemption.

  • Abraham’s victory over the kings that kidnapped his nephew Lot (Genesis 14)
  • Jacob’s return to his homeland which involved two midnight miracles: Laban’s dream and Jacob’s wrestling with an angel (Genesis 31:24, 32)
  • Israel’s escape from Egypt ( Exodus 11:4, 12:29 )
  • The tribes victory over Sisera, thanks to the generalship of Devorah and the clever thinking of Yael. Devorah defeated Sisera’s armies forcing Sisera to flee. He fled into the tents of his supposed ally Heber the Kenite, where his wife Yael stabbed him with a tent peg (Judges 4-5)
  • King Hezekiah’s victory over the Assyrian armies. The Assyrians had conquored the north of Israel and had surrounded Jerusalem. They sent Ravshaka, an Israelite, to demoralize them by saying that their God was a wsh and would not help them. Miraculously one night a significant portion of the camp was dead. 2 King 18 (fall 2 King 19:35)
  • The story of Daniel set during the Babylonian captivity. The poem names three events that happened at midnight: the rescue from the lions, Daniel’s visions and the death of Belshazzar.
  • The story of Esther also set during the Babylonian captivity. Haman decreed pograms against the Jews at midnight and the king read through the chronicles one night because he couldn’t sleep. While reading he discovered that Mordachai whom Haman wanted to kill, had in fact saved the kings life.
  • The end of times when Isaiah’s prophesy of redemption and in-gathering will be fulfilled (Isaiah 21:10-12)

The full Hebrew words are available here.

Categories: To Be a Jew | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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