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Ba’avur david is a setting of the latter part of the text (whose initial lines commence with the words uv’nuḥo yomar) that is recited or sung upon returning the Torah scrolls to the arc following the biblical readings in synagogue services. This passage derives from Psalms and Proverbs, and the final phrase, hashkivenu..., is taken from Lamentations 5:21.
This well-known virtuoso cantorial expression has attained the status of a cantorial “warhorse,” and it is one of the most familiar pieces in the American cantorial repertoire. Ironically, however, its origin and authorship remain uncertain. The melody for the last line (hashivenu...) is by Joseph Rumshinsky, one of the leading conductors and impresarios and one of the most well-known composers of the popular American Yiddish theater. Born in Vilna, where he sang in and directed synagogue choirs at a young age before going on to conduct the prestigious Hazomir Choral Society in Łódz, Poland, Rumshinsky immigrated to the United States in 1904 and eventually established himself as a powerful force on the Second Avenue Yiddish theater scene. His oeuvre comprises more than 100 Yiddish operettas and musical shows, which include some of the most enduring songs of that genre. Like some of the other prominent Yiddish theater composers, Rumshinsky also maintained his connection to synagogue music, and he composed a number of liturgical settings. His setting of the words hashivenu adonai elekha was not—insofar as we know—written for the text of ba’avur david. Rather, it is part of his unrelated published liturgical setting of the prayer sh’ma kolenu, for Yom Kippur, where those same words occur. This setting of ba’avur david, however, is intended for the conclusion of the Torah service on Sabbaths, Festivals, or High Holy Days. The musical material preceding the hashivenu section appears to be a pastiche of motifs that were gradually embellished and extended by various cantors. The composite piece was made especially popular through its recording by David Roitman, one of the cantorial giants of his era, who may also have been the first to adopt and include the Rumshinsky melody for the final (hashivenu) section. The entire piece is thus often attributed to Roitman and Rumshinsky jointly, although other cantors have also been cited as “composer” of the passages leading up to hashivenu—among them, Yehuda Leib Kilimnik. No published or printed “original” or otherwise authoritative version or edition exists.
Most early choral arrangements of ba’avur david have leaned toward pedestrian harmonization, deferring to cantorial interpolations and improvisations to build musical interest. This new arrangement by Simon Spiro, commissioned expressly for the Milken Archive, combines a variety of English, American, and eastern European choral timbres and idioms with a fresh harmonic approach and extended chord structures.