The origins of “Hatikvah” far predate its use as the Israeli national anthem, in use since soon after its founding as the first Jewish state in modern history. The music is based on a folk song of unknown origin, but appears several times in European folk songs and religious music. The arrangement by Shmuel Cohen from 1888 is probably based on a Romanian folk song he heard during his childhood in Romania, most likely “Carul cu boi” (“The Ox Driven Cart”). The melody also somewhat resembles Smetana’s symphonic poem “Ma Vlast”, which in turn was based on a Swedish version of the Romanian song. The melody is unique in that it is in a minor key, rare among national anthems; however the lyrics (that speak of a “hope”) are of a more uplifting nature.
The lyrics of the anthem were taken from the first verse and chorus from Naftali Herez Imber’s 1878 poem “Tikavatenu” (Our Hope), which had nine stanzas. At the first Zionist congress of 1897, it was adopted as the anthem of Zionism. The lyrics (primarily of the chorus) underwent a few changes between that time and the creation of the Jewish state of Israel some 50 years later, primarily a change where the song once spoke of a hope to return Zion, it now speaks of a hope to live as a free nation there.
There has been criticisms of the anthem both from Jews who feel the anthem is too secular, and from non-Jews who feel the anthem focusses too much on the Jewish population.
Special thanks to: Naftali Guttman, Justin Mansfield, Adrian Vexler, and Rob Soslow for some of this information.