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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Parshat Shekolim’

Q & A: Yotzrot (Part II)

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Question: I read The Jewish Press’s Luach of February 17 with much interest. You write, “We daven Shacharis as usual.” I find it difficult to understand why you don’t mention reciting the special yotzrot for Parshat Shekolim. Are yotzrot a relic of history? I’m a senior citizen who remembers saying yotzrot as a child. But now, they seem to have disappeared from Orthodox synagogues.

Milton M. Adler
Cherry Hill, NJ

Answer: Yotzrot (often referred to generically as piyutim) have disappeared from many, but not all, congregations. Rabbi Yosef Grossman (in Otzar Erchei HaYahadut, ot peh, 377) defines piyutim as prayers, poetic refrains, or sanctified songs written by venerable authors (beginning with geonim in Babylonia) and added as optional additions to the liturgy for special occasions. Many of these authors served as shluchei tzibbur themselves and were capable of effecting a unique spiritual arousal on the part of the congregation. Piyutim include words of rebuke, reproof, and lamentations and yearning regarding the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. We continue our answer with more information from Rabbi Grossman’s work.

* * * * *

One of the earliest (and most famous) paytanim is Yosi b. Yosi, whose compositions have found their way into the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers. Also well known are the compositions of Yanai and his disciple Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir, who is considered one of the “fathers” of Jewish liturgical poets.

In the Middle Ages, liturgical poetry reached the height of its development in both Sefarad – Spain, North Africa, and the oriental lands – and Ashkenaz – Germany, France, and other European lands. Among the liturgical composers in Spain were Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol, Rabbi Moshe ibn Ezra, known as “Ha’Salach,” and Rabbi Yehudah Ha’Levi. Famous liturgical composers in Ashkenazic lands included Rabbenu Gershom Me’or Ha’golah, Rashi, and Rabbenu Tam.

Yemen also possessed many composers, the greatest of which was Rabbi Shalom Shabazzi. Yet, for the most part, piyutim were generally more accepted (and included in the liturgy) in Ashkenazic lands than in the Sefardic lands.

With the passing of time, more compositions were added from the works of such able composers as Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (the author of “Lecha Dodi”) and Rabbi Yisrael Nidgara (the author of “Kah Ribon Alam V’almaya”).

Piyutim are at times referred to by more specific names. As delineated by Rabbi Grossman at the conclusion of his discussion in Otzar Erchei HaYahadus, they are:

Yotzrotpiyutim accompanying the blessing of “yotzer or” in birkat Kriat Shema.

These are added to the liturgy during the Days of Awe and on specific Shabbatot.

Ofanim – piyutim recited before “ha’ofanim v’chayot ha’kodesh,” also found in birkat Kriat Shema of Shacharit.

Zulatotpiyutim recited before ezrat avoteinu after Kriat Shema.

Geulotpiyutim recited right before the blessing ga’al yisrael.

Avodahpiyutim accompanying the Avodah service of Yom Kippur.

Ma’aravitpiyutim especially composed to accompany the Ma’ariv service of festivals.

Havdalotpiyutim for Motza’ei Shabbat (traditionally sung at Melave Malka).

Hoshanotpiyutim sung throughout the course of Sukkot and climaxing in the Hoshanot ceremony of Hoshana Rabbah.

Selichotpiyutim in the form of confessionals that are recited on public fasts, throughout the month of Elul, and during Aseret Yemei Teshuva.

Kinot – lamentations recited on Tisha B’Av.

Numerous factors contributed to the widespread decline in the recitation of these piyutim. One factor is the comprehensibility of the piyutim. Prose, no matter how beautiful, is often hard to understand. Furthermore, often Aramaic words found their way into the compositions. (To their credit, ArtScroll and other publishers of siddurim and machzorim often offer excellent English language translations of piyutim, thus affording people the opportunity to enjoy their beauty.)

I think one of the most obvious reasons for their omission nowadays is their length. The olam ha’yeshivot – the yeshiva world – for example, does not recite them because their roshei yeshivot believe them to be rather lengthy. Yeshivot generally daven at a slower pace and reciting piyutim would greatly lengthen the services and cut into study time.

Regular synagogues also likely omit them for the same reason. Many people do not wish to remain in shul past midday. This sentiment is based upon the following: The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) notes that one verse (Deuteronomy 16:8) states, “atzeret laShem Elokecha – an assembly to the L-rd” while another one (Numbers 29:35) states, “atzeret tiyeh lachem – an assembly for you.” Which is it: an assembly to the L-rd or to us? The Gemara replies that the day is both – “chetzyo lachem v’chetzyo laShem – half for [us] and half for the L-rd.” Even though the verses concern the end of Pesach and Shemini Atzeret, R. Yehoshua applies this rule to all festivals. In our time, many people extend this rule to Shabbat as well.

Q & A: On Yotzrot (Part I)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Question: I read The Jewish Press’s Luach of February 17 with much interest. You write, “We daven Shacharis as usual.” I find it difficult to understand why you don’t mention reciting the special yotzrot for Parshat Shekolim. Are yotzrot a relic of history? I’m a senior citizen who remembers saying yotzrot as a child. But now, they seem to have disappeared from Orthodox synagogues.

Milton M. Adler,
Cherry Hill, NJ

Answer: You are very keen in noting my omission and quite correct in your observation. Indeed, yotzrot seem to have disappeared from the synagogue liturgy in many congregations nowadays. Later on we will address why they seem to have fallen by the wayside. Please be aware, though, that in many Ashkenazic synagogues, especially chassidic ones, the practice of reciting yotzrot is very much alive.

The term yotzrot refers to a grouping of special prayers that all fall under the same heading, and are also referred to as piyutim. Rabbi Yosef Grossman discusses this topic at length in his masterful work “Otzar Erchei Ha’Yahadut” ot peh, 377). He writes: “Piyut – these are prayers, poetic refrains, or sanctified songs that entered the liturgy of our special machzorim for festivals and special occasions, for the Days of Awe, as well as those solemn fast days that mark our national tragedies.”

The authors of these prayers were gedolei Yisrael, some of whom hail to the period of the geonim in Babylonia. Many of these authors led their congregation in prayer and were able to captivate and stir the hearts of Jews in a unique fashion. They were especially able to strengthen and uplift the spirit of the nation mired in its lengthy and difficult exile during times of distress and tragedy. These heartfelt compositions ably lifted our people’s souls and raised their spirits, renewing hope.

The compositions were based mainly on the words of our sages as found in the Talmud and Midrashim, and contain words of rebuke, reproof, lamentations, and yearning regarding the destruction of our Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. For the most part, these all reach their crescendo with words of comfort and hope for the future redemption and salvation.

Many of these piyutim were composed in rhyming verse following the pattern of the Hebrew alphabet. They were gathered, and certain prayers took root. Recital remained voluntary and non-binding. In fact, some of the geonim opposed reciting piyutim. One will not find any of them, for example, in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (the very oldest siddur we posses). Nevertheless, the majority of the geonim did not try to separate the people from these beloved piyutim.

Indeed, some of these piyutim are so stirring due to their style and diction that they were ultimately considered worthy in the eyes of the geonim. Therefore, over time, their recital became sanctified, and more were written as well. We actually find many piyutim in the siddur of Rabbenu Sa’adiah Gaon and the Machzor Vitry (and many other works as well).

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-yotzrot-part-i/2012/02/29/

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