Cuando el Rey Nimrod: A Ladino , Yossi Zucker

NimrodOne of the best ways to understand a people is through their folksongs, which reflect both their mundane reality and their overriding world-view. The notice of Abraham's birth in the book of Genesis is very brief: "When Terah had lived seventy years, he begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran" (Genesis 11:26). The Israelite folk imagination, however, could not leave the moment unelaborated, and a many midrashim, legends and traditions grew up around this pivotal event in the history of the Jewish people.

Many of these midrashim tell of the evil King Nimrod, a famed hunter and astrologer, who not only foretold the birth of Abraham but learned that Abraham would overthrow his idolatrous regime with a new faith in one God. In order to prevent this outcome (especially threatening since the king thought himself a god), Nimord sets out to destroy all newborn baby boys. Abraham is miraculously saved and goes on outsmart the King and survive a fiery furnace.

Cuando el Rey Nimrod is a Ladino[1] song that celebrates the birth of Abraham. It incorporates many elements taken from the Nimrod midrashim. This song is sung as a Shabbat z'mira (table song) and at circumcisions. The exact date of its origin is unknown but it probably dates from the 16th or 17th century. There are several extant versions; but one variation goes as follows:

When King Nimrod went into the fields
He looked at the heavens and at all the stars,
He saw a holy light above the Jewish quarter
That was a sign that Abraham our father was about to be born.

Immediately the midwives recommended
That every pregnant women tarry
Because if a son were born they would have to kill him.
(That told of the birth of Abraham our father.)

Terah's wife was pregnant.
Daily he asked her the question:
"Why is your face so pale"
Already she knew the good she had within her

At the end of nine months she was determined to give birth
She walked through the countryside and vineyards.
Her husband did not know she was gone.
She found a cave in which to give birth.

At that time the newborn spoke:
"Go out of the cave, mother.
I have already found someone who will remove me.
An angel from heaven will accompany me
Because I was created blessed from heaven.

After twenty days she went to visit him.
She saw in front of her a young man leaping,
Looking at the sky, aiming to understand,
In order to know the God of truth.
"Mother, my mother what are you looking for here?"
"I gave birth to a precious son here.

I came to look for him here.
If he is alive I will be consoled."
"Mother, my mother, what are you saying?
How could you leave your precious son?
After twenty days how do you visit him?
I am your precious son.
Look mother, God is one,
The creation of the heavens was one by one.
Tell Nimrod that he has lost his common sense
Because he does not want to believe in the True One.

King Nimrod did not manage to learn.
"Bring him here immediately,
Before they cause a rebellion
And encourage others to believe in the True One
And not in me."
They brought him in great humility.
He strongly grabbed Nimrod's throne.
"Tell me, evil one. Why do you think you are God.
Because you do not want to believe in the True One."

"Light a fiery furnace,
Throw him in immediately,
Protect yourself from him because he is sharp.
If God allows him to escape, then He is real."

He was thrown into the furnace
And he started to walk inside,
With the angels. As he strolled
The wood gave forth fruit.

Because of that we recognize the true God
Great merit has honorable Abraham —
Because of him we recognize the true God.

Great merit has the newborn master,
That fulfills the commandment of Abraham our father.
We wish to greet the newborn master.
We wish mazel tov to the newborn.
Because Elijah the prophet appeared
And we give praises to the True One.

We greet the godfather and the circumciser.
Because of his merit he will bring us the redeemer,
And comfort all Israel
And we give praises to the True One.[2]

megaphoneCuando el Rey Nimrod sung by the Zamir Chorale; Joshua Jacobson, conductor, Rebecca Gorlin, soloist.**

If you don't already have the Real Audio plug-in for your browser, you can download the free RealPlayer from Real Networks in order to hear the broadcast.

The first section of the song includes several motifs in common with the story of Moses' birth, especially that of the evil king who wants to kill all newborn males and the mother who makes extraordinary efforts to defy the king and save her son.

The miraculous survival of the future founder of the nation is also familiar in world folklore, as in the stories of Oedipus and Romulus. In addition, the baby Abraham's audience with Nimrod recalls the story of Daniel and three companions.[3]

The overall effect of these stories is to emphasize the overriding importance of Abraham and the monotheism that he promulgated. The use of motifs common in world folklore should not seen as simple "borrowing" of stories but rather of the Jewish people's participation in the universal culture of humankind.


* Cantor Yossi Zucker has a Master's Degree in Jewish Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is the editor-in-chief of Ortav Music Publications and Israel Brass Woodwinds Publications.

[1] Ladino (also called "Judeo-Espanol" or "Judezmo") is a form of medieval Spanish that is spoken by Sephardic Jews. In each country, Jews incorporated words from the local language into Ladino and the Ladino of the eastern Mediterranean region has more Hebrew influence.[back]

[2] Chants Sephardis, compiled by Leon Algazi, 1958 by World Sephardi Federation (published with cultural funds from the "Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany"), p. 37. [back]

[3] Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, Greenwich House, a division of Arlington House, 1983, pp. 138,142. [back]

Zamir symbol

** Recording excerpted from: Zamir Chorale of Boston, "Sepharad 92."

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