“Hinei ma tov”  is based on the words of Psalm 133:1, which is considered a Song of Ascent.  Songs of Ascent are typically themed around the unification of Jewish peoples in Zion.  What “Zion” precisely means for the psalmist in the post-exilic period may be describing a desire for the coming together of Israel and Judah as one land to be shared with all Jews. This antecedent is supported by the usage of words, with “brothers” as indicative of all persons belonging to a specified group, and the theological-ethical overtone of equal and shared land via the words “dwell together.” Psalm 133:1 particularly focuses on Israel’s unity during the biblical period of Israel split into two kingdoms.
2 Psa 133:1 New Jewish Publication Society of America Tanakh
3 Jewish Publication Society, The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd Edition, eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 1420.
The version that passed towards Inshallah expresses a wish for worship beyond Zion. 4 As the lyrical source is a psalm for the post-exilic period in Hebrew history and memory, 5 it was arranged by Charles Davidson for a hymnal reflecting the celebration of Shabbat. 6 This hymnal was published by a company founded by an emigrant during the historical period before the Second World War and Holocaust. 7 In the penumbrae of these tragedies echoing the waves of Jewish persecution, persons utilized music to celebrate their identity and history. By composition and publishing, the Reform movement within Judaism had another modality to express stories within collective and individual memories. The wake of a shockwave that continues to resound through the postmodern period in Western reckoning is reflected and refracted through the lenses that comprise Moshe Jacobson-Drozi’s “Hinei ma tov.”
5 See note 3 above.
6 “Hinnei Mah Tov,” Hymnary, accessed September 26, 2017, https://hymnary.org/hymn/SSGS1987/10.
7 See note 4 above.
Inshallah’s inclusion of the song may not be transmission of Zionist nor post-traumatic calls for a specific group’s reunion, yet it has found form in the worship setting as a celebratory communal piece. 8 The performance within Inshallah is equivalent to contemporary expression, with singers such as Paul Wilbur 9 employing the distinctive style arranged by Davidson. Inshallah draws upon Gather into One 10 for theoretical-practical synthesis in singing works by extra-Canadian musicians and contexts. The goal for Inshallah is to inform and bring together various persons, peoples, in four lenses: Transcultural, crosscultural, countercultural, and contextual approaches accompanied by critical intra/inter-analyses. 11
9 Paul Wilbur, Hinei Ma Tov (Behold How Good), audio, 3:01, February 21 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFyvXqeu6zQ.
10 C. Michael Hawn, Gather into One: Praying and Singing Globally. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B Eerdmas Publishing Co, 2003).
11 Lutheran World Federation, “Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture: Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities” (document, 1996).
“Hinei ma tov” is applicable to the four lenses as listed above. Briefly, Inshallah’s deployment in a transcultural frame depicts a sense of people coming together in a shared gathering space. Communion is a feature of human societies, few engage in purely solitary lifestyles. The song is crosscultural as it originates from the Hebrew people in BCE reckoning, renewed by ethnic, geographic, and religious-spiritual descendants in this Common Era. Countercultural, the song asks for sharing land as equals instead of assigning occupancy and/or ownership on merits beyond a poignant sense of communion against pressures for agentic dialogue and reactivity. The contextual aspects are revolutionary for globalization, and a response to fragmentation as social consequence.
For the Canadian-based Inshallah, emphasis on intercultural communicative practices is deemed worthy for continued conversation, sharing, and movement for reconciliatory justice. 12 Canada is held as a cultural mosaic, flourishing in multiculturalism. However, with oppression’s unearthing and discovery as increasing concern across the world over and Canada’s participation as nation and Commonwealth country, the multicultural organized society may no longer be sufficient for sharing land and peace. “Hinei ma tov,” in its passage throughout time and presence, is viable as a celebratory song for communion and community amidst these times as the psalmist’s words transcended the original setting. The setting of the words to music remains to carry forward, as the Holocaust has not ceased its aftermath and the world retains itself to cope with the post-trauma of many a sharing in exile, persecution, discrimination, and profound loss.
For myself, I often feel I am a stranger everywhere I wander. This deep, unsettled sense of personhood was relatable, though not equal, with a friend I continue to be in relationship past our shared crisis as roommates. We escaped together, in a nostalgic re-enactment of leaving a place called home in search of better and safer housing and community. She described her ancestry to me as White-Chinese-Jewish, and I had not assumed this myriad until I questioned how she could translate Hebrew script in an out-of-print text I obtained years before our meeting.
This was a moment of refreshment for me. Here was another person who felt out of place wherever she wandered. As she described how she learned “Hinei ma tov” in Hebrew School, it was reminiscent of waves rolling in the depth of memory and history. Throughout her teaching of the song and her relationship with the performing of it, I had a sense of community awaiting all who would come, a call and response as back and forth as the tides in the ocean as humanity.
September 28, 2017
Brettler, Marc Zvi. How to Read the Jewish Bible. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Hawn, C. Michael. Gather into One: Praying and Singing Globally. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B Eerdmas Publishing Co., 2003.
“Hinnei Mah Tov.” Hymnary. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://hymnary.org/hymn/SSGS1987/10.
Inshallah. Sing the Circle Wide: Songs of Faith from Around the World. Waterloo, Ontario: Kanata Centre, 2017.
Jewish Publication Society. The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd Edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Lutheran World Federation. “Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture: Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities.” Document, 1996.
Tischler, Judith. “A Brief History of Transcontinental Music Publications.” American Conference of Cantors. Last modified 2017. https://www.transcontinentalmusic.com/C-TMP-History-59.
Wilbur, Paul. “Hinei Ma Tov (Behold How Good).” Audio, 3:01. February 21 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFyvXqeu6zQ.