Jerusalem of Gold: Giant Ripoff

Ha’aretz reports that the melody for Naomi Shemer’s (Z”L) classic song “Jerusalem of Gold” (Yerushalyim shel Zahav) was lifted from a Basque folksong.

Shemer wrote that she had heard the Basque lullaby sung by a friend, Nehama Hendel, in the mid-1960s. “Apparently, at one of these meetings, Nehama sang the well-known Basque lullaby to me, and it went in one ear and out the other,” Shemer wrote.
“In the winter of 1967, when I was working on the writing of `Jerusalem of Gold,’ the song must have creeped into me unwittingly,” she wrote. “I also didn’t know that an invisible hand dictated changes in the original to me. … It turns out that someone protected me and provided me with my eight notes that grant me the rights to my version of the folk song. But all this was done, as I said, unwittingly.”

Well, Naomi, if it’s of any consolation, Stravinsky once said that great composers don’t borrow, they steal (and he was great!). Nothing can ever diminish the power your song had in Israel at the time of the 6 day war or its ability to help connect generations of young Jews to Jerusalem ever since.

22 thoughts on “Jerusalem of Gold: Giant Ripoff

  1. Nice. This is like when Ray Parker Jr. stole Huey Lewis’s “I need a new drug” to make the Ghostbuster’s theme.

  2. She didn’t make that up, herself, inspired only by God and victory???!! Well, I guess I can’t be a Zionist anymore. Just kidding, Naomi. You’re still awesome, your song is awesome, and wasn’t HaTikva lifted from some Eastern European tune?

  3. Fascinating, only slightly related tidbit, speaking of ripping off tunes: Go dig out that old Nintendo (you remember… the original… with the big grey box… the one you used to play tetris and duckhunt on…) Go to the second (I think, possibly third) level. It’s the underground one. Listen to the tune “doo doo, doo doo, doo doo.” It’s two notes, then two more one step down, then two more a half step up.
    Anyone who can guess where that’s ripped off from get’s a prize… Give up? It’s Miles Friggin’ Davis.

  4. Yerushalayim Shel Zahav couldn’t have been inspired by victory, it came out before the Six-Day War.
    As for the Nintendo thing, what game are we supposed to put in?

  5. Funny how a simple radio interview on the ride into work can spread more light on an exagerated and perhaps libelous Haaretz story.
    The song wasn’t stolen or ‘lifted’ either. There is half a melody used from the Basque song that only some time afterwards she realized and admits in a death bed confession.
    I wonder if Haaretz is a bit miffed since she was a known pro-eretz Israel supporter and patriot.

  6. The song was written before the war and yes, a verse was added afterwards too.
    HaTikva is a huuuuge ripoff (Smetana’s 3rd symphony I believe… ).
    Well what’s interesting about the article is that apparently she was a bit torn about the whole thing… like I said, I don’t think it diminishes its impact one iota.
    Anyway, of course a lot of music is lifted. Much of the shabbat zmirot and countless other examples of Jewish music has melodic roots in secular settings. But this is supposedly an example of Tikkun Olam: taking the profane and rededicating it to a holy cause.

  7. If people didn’t steal ideas from other people and modify them, eventually ideas would consist of nothing but random elements jumbled together.There is no such thing as pure 100% inspiration.
    Think of the new idea as the offspring of the original idea.

  8. (Ha’aretz, May 6) – Basque singer, Paco Ibanez… said on Thursday that he was saddened to hear of Shemer’s guilt feelings over basing the song on the Basque folk melody and not admitting it. “It is a shame. She had no reason to feel guilty,” he said Thursday. “True, I think she heard the song from me, but that’s life and that’s how I see it. It wasn’t even a secret. I spoke to friends about it and mentioned it in conversations with people. I didn’t speak to Naomi Shemer since then because I didn’t see her again, and it didn’t really matter to me. If I had seen her, I certainly would have mentioned it, but of course, without anger.”

  9. I can’t believe you meant your last comment about this song with a straight face.
    This song, while undeniably catchy & appealing was, in effect, the musical underpinning of the Greater Israel movement. Shemer herself was an ardent right-wing supporter of the settlement movement. I myself once heard her say on Israeli TV that all Israelis should worry about the Soviet Union attacking Israel because: “Israel is only 1,500 miles from Tel Aviv, you know.”
    This song is jingoistic drivel–the kind of false-noted nationalist sloganeering that drives people to ever greater paroxyms of jingoism.
    FEH, fooya!

  10. Seriously Richard?
    I know Shemer was a right winger, but as an artist I generally dislike it when people confuse my art with my politics (many artists feel that their art IS their politics… but I think this is a good example of art transcending politics)
    This song does talk about places like Jericho, etc in the W. Bank. But I think most people love it for its poetic encapsulation of Jewish attachment to Jerusalem– if you want to say we should give that up, fine, but I don’t think many Jews will agree with you.
    BTW I listened to Pello Joxepe (the Basque tune), it’s similar but different… definitely not a copyright issue.

  11. Thanks for the link, I listened… and it is no different than other “inspired by a folk song” tunes.
    Half the repertoire of Romantic-era classical music was written this way.
    Shemer definitely did some work of her own – the rhythm is changed subtly by the Hebrew lyric, and the soaring chorus is totally original, and perhaps the most moving part of the song.
    But why miss an opportunity to bash an artist associated with the Nationalist camp – especially before the fascist, outdated Independence Day celebrations, which celebrate the jackbooted Israeli colonial enterprise…

  12. From what I read, Naomi Shemer felt that the leftist establishment had it in for her. Maybe she was correct.
    In any case, this sort of thing happens all the time in music, especially folk music. Lines and motifs are borrowed all the time. The tune used in “Ha-Tikvah” was traced, in a wonderful article by Thomas O’Dwyer when he was still at the Jerusalem Post years ago, to an Italian folk song called “Fuggi, Fuggi.” The tune used in “The Star-Spangled Banner” was originally a drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heav’n.”
    So in my opinion Shemer can rest easy. Even the Basque singer says she did nothing wrong. So what’s the big deal?

  13. dude its done all the time
    Our country tiss of thee = God save the queen (britains national anthem)
    Star spangled banner = To Anacreon in Heaven (a british drinking song)
    even Hatikvah is taken from a segment of die moldau a classical piece which is itself taken from a romanian folksong
    folksongs are open pickens
    oh and download a midi of die moldau and listen to the whole thing, its no secret
    the now standard tune to the amidah was a german drinking song, it was introduced by reform and somehow spread
    and Shehu note shamayim (from aleinu) of reform/conservative and others influend is itsy bitsy spider followed by the farmer and the dell, try it ule see

  14. Sorry, I do not speak English but I can understand the written English.
    Sólo quería comentaros que mi madre me ha dormido a mi y a mis cuatro hermanos menores con esa melodía en innumerables ocasiones.
    Cuando escuché la melodía de ‘Yerushalyim shel Zahav’ en la película “La lista de Schindler” se me puso la carne de gallina. No cabe duda que es la misma, pero está arreglada de una manera tan maravillosa que ahora mismo es una de mis canciones más escuchadas.
    Perdón por escribir en español. No me he podido resistir.
    Jose Luis

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