Class 3 - Liturgy of festivals and yamim nora'im



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Hallel, Torah service, musaf amidah, birkat kohanim

Hallel - someone who's a professor of Heb Lit at Hebrew Union, book on psalms of the liturgy; great overview on the liturgical context for psalms used in the liturgy, and commentary on the psalms. Rather than being an academic commentary, there's a liturgical context. Lovely section about the psalms of Hallel. Miriyam Glazer, Psalms of the Jewish Liturgy: A Guide to their Beauty, Power, and Meaning – A New Translation & Commentary in Honor of David L. Lieber, 2008: Aviv Press see: Psalms of the Jewish Liturgy

There's definitely some uncertainty, to put it mildly, about how exactly this set of psalms came to be called Hallel. Subsequently, the way in which they were used ritually.

A couple of personal responses for a moment: what's your relationship to Hallel?

- love Hallel; favorite part of the service. singing and dancing! born on Sukkot, so is birthday song. I like the melodies.

- I want to go where you go!

(cf: "I want to have what she's having!")

What else?

- it comes on celebratory occasions; hence the energy referenced above. It embodies the energy of celebration, like an oneg. High energy.

A little bit of that high energy comes from the fact that it comes in celebratory occasions. A flip way of saying that would be: you don't say it every day. It's not as rare as birthdays, things that come but once a year. Things that come once a year have a certain specialness, but you don't quite get used to it, in the way you do with things that come a few times a year. In saying that it comes a few times a year -- it's rarer than Shabbos, more common than Rosh Chodesh. There are times when it's daily; when?

- Chanukah

- Sukkot and Pesach

And a few additional times as well.

- as someone who was raised secularly, because of the higher level of rareness I had accessibility issues at first

What benefit perhaps arises via coming to it later?

- unfamiliar with Hallel; the rhythmic component of the language struck me right away

- is it really the content of these particular psalms, or is it just that we know that these are set aside on celebratory occasions and we imbue them with meaning for that reason? the melodies create a particular feeling or meaning!

There's very little - you can look over Hoffman's notes in the Canonization book; when he starts to talk about relatively abstruse details, it's a good clue, and other lit on the psalms speaks similarly. There are hints scattered around the psalms that there were rituals in t he Temple which involved the psalms. There's a well-founded idea that the shire ha-maalot recited on Shabbos between mincha and maariv were related to the procession of the Levites with full band and electric guitars going up the steps of the Temple. Looking at the texts of this shirei ha-maalot, thinking of them as specifically related to the Temple, is interesting. Many of them speak specifically of Jerusalem. The House of God. There is discernible textual relationship between the ritual context which we're uncovering historically and the texts of the psalms.

There's no such parallel for the psalms we know as Hallel. There are Talmudic traditions that say these psalms were part of the Temple ritual; but the fact that the Talmud says something doesn't mean it was true. That just means that, for its own reasons, the Talmud wants to say so! Of course, that the Talmud says sthg, doesn't mean that it's not true. Depending on the extent to which textual archaeology in the Talmud might be able to discern, through manuscripts and so on, that a particular claim in the Talmud can be dated early into the Talmudic period, that might make it a little more authoritative. So there's no reason not to assume that these psalms reflect some early ritual -- but we don't know what it was. Were they recited daily? The tradition that the Talmud and tannitic sources have? No historian can make an accurate claim for how Hallel worked.

The Talmud already has a paradigm which is that Hallel is associated w/ a special day. We know that Hallel is not simply associated with what we now call mikrai kodesh; why is that?

- we read it on Chanukah

- regalim; also rosh chodesh, though that's minhag and not halakha


- Hallel creates a time for gathering with friends -- we gather and jam, swapping melodies, feeling deeply through the textures of the text and elements of the spiritual journey


Because we don't recite Hallel on R"H and Y"K, we know that it's not restricted to times we call mikra kodesh. In the circle of calendar dates available in the gemara what was the problematic, what's the big question mark about Hallel? In terms of whether we do or don't -- why don't we say Hallel on Purim? You can't say it's only for d'oraita occasions because we say it on Chanukah. Sifrei ha-Maccabim aren't even in the Tanakh! So Chanukah has a flimsier derivation than Purim, which is established forever in the megillah. So why do we say Hallel on Chanukah and not Purim?

- there's a miracle involved; on Purim the name of Hashem is not mentioned

No. There are 2 answers. The main reason why not -- the truth is nobody knows! By the time you get to there being a debate in gemara, always remember that whatever the gemara comes up with as the conclusion isn't going to be the real reason. It's going to tell you what suited the theological renewal period, the paradigm, that the sages of the Talmud were putting in place. In tractate sukkah there was the existent minhag that Hallel wasn't recited on Purim. They say: because of the care with which megillat Esther is written and declaimed -- in a certain sense we have more accessible halakhic material about the megillah than anythin else! So they say the megillah is like the Hallel of Purim. But that's lame; if Purim deserves a Hallel, it's nice that it has a megillah, but why not read Hallel? The historical argument the Talmud brings is, in the case of Chanukah, even though the sages didn't like the Maccabees etc, they say: Chanukah was a true occasion of freedom. We went from being subjugate to being free. With Purim, it's nice that they didn't kill us off; but at the beginning we were exiles and subjugate, and at the end, the same was still true. So the only thing Purim celebrates is that things didn't get worse, not that they got better. The Talmud makes the case that Hallel should be reserved for when things distinctly get better.

Pesach was a real celebration of freedom.

- which would support saying Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut but not Thanksgiving?

We'll get to that. But here, I want to say, here is a placeholder for our 3/25 discussion -- huge makhloket! about whether or not to say Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut.

- Artscroll says -- Pesachim 117a, says Moshe and Israel recited it after Yam Suf, Joshua etc, and the last thing on the list is that Mordechai and Esther said it after the defeat of Haman. I know that's midrash but thought it was interesting.

- Yafa noted earlier: it's not halakha to recite Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, but we still say asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav

What did you mean by that?

- I'm reading in the Metsudah siddur: "The reading of Hallel on Rosh Hodesh is not rabbinically ordained but is a minhag which began with the Jews of Babylon and has been accepted by all; omit half of psalm 115 because it's a shortened service

The Talmudic period involved a bipartite hierarchy for Hallel. Complete Hallel, associated with the bracha "ligmor et ha-Hallel," and what bracha do we say now?

- likroa et ha hallel

The brachas we recite do not any more preserve the distinction of what kind of Hallel we're going to do. That Metsudah note is delving into the diff between minhag and halakha; but that which is accepted as the custom of Israel, din hu -- it is accepted as halakha.

Different shuls have different customs re: haftarah, e.g. What do they say in Rhine, in France, in Greece...? No one attempted to make it uniform. OTOH the practice of reciting hallal on Rosh Hodesh is sufficiently old and universal that it becomes -- the canonization process in the 6th-10th centuries absorbed that recitation of Halle on Rosh Hodesh to the extent that it is prefaced by the bracha. It's seen as a mitzvah. In contemporary terms, reciting Hallel on Rosh Hodesh is no more/less halakhic than reciting it on Chanukah or Pesach.

We are looking at, what does it mean to ordain the recitation of Hallel? What does it mean on understanding of halakhic process to preface the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut by saying the bracha "v'tzivanu"? To invoke the authority to take a canonizing bracha and to attach it to a contemporary innovation?

One other thing. Two verbs: ligmor / to finish (and if you look up the Talmudic sources on Hallel you'll see the Talmud makes a clear distinction between ligmor and likro, which usually means what we call half-Hallel. And I hope it's clear, it's only a few short sections which are omitted; it's not actually only half. There's one other Hebrew verb used in relation to Hallel. What is it? It's lashir. There's one occasion in the year when we say lashir et ha-Hallel. Anybody care to guess when that is?

- seder night?

Yes. What is it that makes Hallel a liturgical unit?

- psalms 113-118?

That's the collection of psalms. But what makes it a discernible unit? We could say, say those psalms on holidays over the course of the day. What makes Hallel an identifiable unit?

- bracha at the beginning and end

And, ritually, you don't interrupt. If you think about every context in which Hallel is recited, except one, it holds good; Hallel isn't interrupted for anything. Except?

- the meal at the Pesach seder

There's an interesting homiletic commentary - the meal of seder has to be with the ruach and kavanah as the singing of Hallel. Otherwise the meal has a destructively interruptive effect, and instead it's meant to be a part of Hallel.

Let's look for a moment at the psalms of Hallel themselves. Why might these psalms have been selected for this purpose?

- high level of praise in these psalms

- they're about being elevated from being in a position of oppressed, to being delivered; there's a progression, a transition

- the first one mentions avdut, being raised from the dust; the second one mentions going out of Egypt. So there's a progression of our history. Artscroll points out, the psalms contain 5 fundamentals of our faith: exodus, parting the see, giving of Torah, tchiat meitim, and coming of moshiach

When you're looking at Artscroll you're looking at classic reconstructionism, e.g. people are looking at given texts and saying "how can we interpret them?"

- focus on God's transcendent and miraculous capacity; gives a barren women children, turns rock into pools of water; God is not like the idols, God is in heaven and does whatever God wants! so there are specific incidents of deliverance, but it's the middah of being beyond natural order of things

- flow of adrenaline, danger and rescue, directed upward in praise

Let me suggest the following. Is there a discernible journey through these psalms or not? Psalm 113, it's worth looking at 111-112 to think why davka start here. It's worth looking (another time) at psalm 119, why stop here. (If we'd included it, our liturgy would have been even longer!)

- but it's a whole different section

Yes. I was being facetious about the end, but not about the beginning. Within the unit that we have, here's what I've picked up -- my own thoughts a little influenced by my own Bible teacher, Jonathan Maganet. There's a lot of repetition of the word halleluyah, the verb l'hallel. There's a lot of play with the verbs of praise. To acknowledge, to praise. And l'varech -- y'varech et beit Yisrael, beit Aharon, etc. The thing that resonates for me the most throughout the recitation of psalms: the constant transition from individual to communal. Much of our liturgy, with the exception of a few paragraphs of birchot hashachar, is in the plural. THe fact that the psalms of hallel go into first-person language is, to my mind, creating a rare dialectic in the liturgical structure between individual reflection and rumination and communal praise.

This goes into dark places. If you read "The Dark Night of the Soul" by St. John of the Cross, he makes use of the psalms quite extensively. "I found myself in distress and despair" -- this little set of psalms goes from the deep, dark places to "zeh hayom asah adonai, nagila v'nismecha bo." For the individual this goes from the dark places to the high ones.

Though there are plurals -- va'anachnu nevarech yah -- the end of Hallel is all first-person. This is the first, I think, of early liturgical efforts to bring individual expression into a communal structure.

Interesting piece of intertextuality. I hear a bridge between what is at the end of the first piece of Hallel to "even ma'asu habonim." There's a thematic journey. What is in classical structure, the most despised building block of society? A barren woman. Being the greatest outsider, brought to the highest high. It uses a Temple metaphor -- "that which was despised by the builders," comes to be the greatest thing.

A word on the musical journey. There are enormous musical variants. Ashkenazim and sefardim have different traditions; Levandovsky; widespread choral traditions; variants for different chagim. "Ana hashem hoshia na," many use melodies connected w/ whatever festival is being celebrated -- using Maoz Tzur for that, e.g., and a community that has more musical sophistication can play with that in enormous ways. A note in passing: look at the last section. We'll look at it in more detail when we speak about Sukkot. But why is there a dot in the nun following hoshia, that there is not in the nun following hatzlicha? Post an answer to the wiki, I will donate $18 to the charity of your choice.


Talking briefly about the Torah service.

The only item that's unique for the Torah service on yom tov is what?

- 13 attributes

Where does this derive from?

- From Exodus

The text, yes. But where does the custom of reciting the text originate? The liturgical use of the text derives from the HHD.

- read somewhere that it was a kabbalistic innovation, from Tzvat

This one is later. To the best of my knowledge, following Reuven Hammer's notes, it was a 17th century kabbalistic text, Sha'arei Tefilah, that is the earliest notation for this custom. So this is a big modern chidush. Why would a m'kubal have been looking for something to insert here?

- it was originally intended only for Elul, I read, and in time was extended to HHD and eventually to regalim.

Why was it extended? The connection of this text with Elul and HHD?

- teshuvah

- So whatever the reason why this is added here, is the reason why we have mipnei chata'einu in the musaf amidah! They're both about teshuvah, about coming to a place of return.

- masekhet Rosh Hashanah 17b - talking about when Moshe is at that moment before God, has asked for forgiveness; "Moshe is given a divine covenant that the 13 middot will never be turned back unanswered."

We know that the 13 middot, as we have them, are an extraordinary perversion of the pshat of the Torah. That might be strong language, but they're a midrashic restructuring. Why?

- the text says lo y'nakeh, but we say v'nakeh -- we turn it around, period.

This is a great piece of liturgical midrash that entirely reverses a classical text. We'll look at more of what that means. There's an ancient Talmudic association of this text with forgiveness.

The 13 middot is not based on Biblical pshat; the Biblical text keeps going! But someone, in constructing a ritual of selichot, pulled this text out of its original context in sefer Shmot and made it the anchor of the liturgy of selichot, which we'll get to when we speak about R"H.

The challenge in making this a mirror of mipnei chata'inu is that this arrived in the liturgy so much later. If it were the wish of the original canonizers of the liturgy to have a paralle to mipnei chataeinu which would introduce the Torah reading, this would be of greater antiquity. The connection you see is well-founded but my question to you is, why did it have the resonance that it did in the 17th century to overflow from Elul and HHD onto the chagim? But not further; it didn't have enough koakh to flow into Shabbos.

- had something to do with the Sabbatean movement and the great embarrassment of that

So then why only the 3 regalim? why not every Shabbos?

- Doesn't really fit with Shabbos

- we are all in need of forgiveness; after everyone jumping on the wrong bandwagon especially

I'm not persuaded. It may be that this is parallel to what's recited from Zohar on Shabbos.

- 3 regalim are pilgrimage festivals when people went to Temple and enacted sacrifices, which were about trying to rectify -- making guilt-offerings etc. So the liturgical connection with an act requesting forgiveness makes sense to me for regalim and not for Shabbos, but I don't know why we didn't think of it until 17th century!

- last week we talked about kiddush, v'ratza vanu, being fully who we are; that's why the 13 attributes don't seem to me to really fit in Shabbos

I think that Zohar passage is beautifully apt for Shabbat, and this one makes an interesting contrast.

- seems supplicatory

- at the gut level there's a connection between this and saying yizkor on the 3 regalim


Moving on to Musaf. Notorious text mipnei chata'einu.

(Artscroll, p. 678; Koren machzor for regalim, p. 150)

- the place where your name is proclaimed

Suggests that it's the place where we go to proclaim your name. But when you see "alav," what are the referents of that word

- on it/ in it

What is it, that's on it or in it? It goes to an idea you find in Dvarim: that God's name somehow rests on the bayit hagadol v'kadosh.

t'gadel kvodo - the vav at the end signifies "his" or "its." Whose? the sanctuary's.

Dvarim 16:16 - "3x a year all your males should appear before God" etc

Can you discern a theological journey through these 5 paragraphs? mipnei chataeinu, y'hi ratzon, avinu malkeinu (then list of sacrifices), then eloheinu v'elohei avoteinu, then v'sham na'aleh. Can you see a theological journey?

On account of what were we exiled?

- sins

Which ones?

- sinat chinam, avodah zarah...

- a long list including playing ball on Shabbos!

It's worth noting -- by 70 CE you could no longer speak of avodah zarah etc as reasons for the fall of the second Temple. Note that it's strong language. The change in the tense of the verb is very compelling -- that b/c of what happened, galinu (in the perfect, past tense) and the consquence is ein anachnu y'cholim, we can't do. Because of what happened in the past, we can't do what we should. The first paragraph is present and past.

The second para, y'hi ratzon; what's the first verb? She'tashuv. The verb hashiveinu, in Eikha: who are the participants in carrying out the actions of that verb?

- God; we ask God to return us

We and God are together bound up in the verb. It's not the unilateral act either on our part's or on God's But this theology of musaf is interesting; there's no hashivenu. The theology here is nothing about what we are meant to do. The idea that we're meant to wait for redemption is built into this; this is all about God coming back.

On what are we asking God to take action?

- the mikdash

It's saying "have mercy on us," but there's no request directed to us. The verb isn't tivneinu, build us up; it's build *it*. Why is it that we want to magnify the kavod of the mikdash?

The theology of musaf is a theology of the beit hamikdash. Regardless of what we feel about the theology of beis mikdash, I want us to understand what's the inner soul of these prayers which are related to the mikdash so we can think about where to transfer that particular spiritual process. What's interesting is that it's the mikdah in this section rather than bnei yisrael.

What are the things we hope for, for ourselves?

- to have our exiles be gathered together

To have exile reversed, but why? What's the whole purpose of life?

- to be able to make sacrifices again at the Temple

What is the core purpose? Is the mikdash a means to an end, or is it an end in itself? Hold that thought in mind.

The last little piece of musaf I want to look at it: move on a couple of pages to duchenen, e.g. birkat kohanim.


- it feels supernatural/mystical

- can be a little strange; what makes these men more capable of blessing me than anyone else would be?

- we don't have the tools to measure these vibrations

- but they're not blessing us; God blesses us through them; so it doesn't matter who they are

Look at Bamidbar 6:22. Can't avoid that those reciting these texts are being directed to carry out the act of blessing. The verb is t'varchu.

Notice the parallel with the earlier text about shimcha alav, your name is in it. Here: they will place My name on the children of Israel and I will bless them. So there is a dialectic. A bipolar source of blessing. The act that the children of Aaron are asked to carry out is an act of blessing.

Look at the liturgy. There's a very unique bracha. What usually coms after asher kidshanu?

- b'mitzvotav, but not here

This is the only place where that formula is played-with: "asher kidshanu bikdushat Aharon."

The shaliach tzibbur who is not a kohen prompts the kohanim word by word; read up on the history of that. I would like your reflections:

There are 4 widespread evolutions from birkat kohanim. The first is the perpetuation of the minhag as you find it in Orthodox communities -- 3 regalim and chutz l'aretz, as you see it on YouTube. The second is what is found in most trad siddurim but has been removed from almost every liberal and Reform liturgy, in repetition of amidah by sha"tz there's a recitation of the phrase barchenu b'vracha m'shaleshet, and the congregation says kein yehi ratzon. The third iteration is found now mostly in the Reform world though used to be on Conservative or some Orthodox shuls -- the rabbi or whoever has led a service at the very end, after announcements, after adon olam or yigdal, with or without theatrics, blesses the congregation with this blessing. And the fourth is partly found in a number of Renewal congregations but not only in Renewal, which is various attempts at re-presentations of the more traditional: instead of using kohanim, inviting everyone to take part; some suggest that the board should do it; all kinds of variations on who takes part. Tends to restructure or reconstruct who should be those who invite the blessing, but attempting to retain some of its traditional text and feel.

Look at whatever contemporary siddurim and machzorim you have and talk about those for a few moments. There will be a discussion place on the wiki for reflections on whether this is a ritual which has been unfortunately neglected, or appropriately neglected; whether it can/should be reclaimed and renewed. If any of us has not frequently encountered this, do you think that's good or not?