Monday, April 13, 2015

A single letter (and abbreviation sign)

Sometimes a single letter in a book has a story behind it.

Here is a passage from the seder vayyosha‘ of Meshullam bar Qalonymos, as it is printed in the 1832 Rödelheim Maḥzor (and followed in subsequent printings), for the seventh or eighth day of Pesaḥ:

As you can see, in the middle of the third line there is a little cursive letter ḥeth, with an abbreviation sign, indicating that the cantor (חזן) should begin reading here out loud.

If one examines the other sections of this composition, one will see that this printing does not have any explicit indication of where the cantor should begin. Rather, there is a long paragraph, and then a short paragraph, leading into the large letters indicating the first words of the next verse of the Song of the Sea. Presumably, the cantor is expected to begin out loud at the beginning of each short paragraph.

However, in this section, if the cantor begins at the beginning of the short paragraph, the following situation is likely to occur:

The people mumble the entire long paragraph, and the beginning of the short paragraph, but not the quote from the next verse, because they'll want to say the quote together with the cantor. Thus, they will say: נרדם ואבד שאון בוגדיך / ובני חסידיך: "The multitudes of those that betray Thee slumber and perish, / and [also] the children of Thy pious people." That is, both the Egyptians and the Israelites perish!

(The poem is meant to be understood thus: נרדם ואבד שאון בוגדיך. ובני חסידיך נחית בחסדך: "The multitudes of those that betray Thee slumber and perish. [But] Thou hast led, with Thy mercy, the children of Thy pious people.)

This situation bothered R' Ḥayyim Mordecai Margolies, in the late 18th century, so he wrote, in his famous commentary Sha‘aré Teshuva on Shulḥan ‘Arukh Oraḥ Ḥayyim §490:

ויש ליזהר בפייט השירה באחרון של פסח בחרוז נרדם ואבד כו' רגילין ההמון להפסיק בתיבת חסידך ולהמתין בתיבת נחית בחסדך עד שיגמור החזן כמנהגם בשאר החרוזים ומשנה הוא כי כאן צריך לו' בדבור אחד כל החרוז דהיינו גם תיבות נחית בחסדך המקושר למעלה אל ובני זרע חסידיך כמובן:

One should be careful, in the piyyut of the Song of the Sea on the last day of Pesaḥ, in the stanza beginning "nirdam ve-’avad". For the masses are accustomed to stop after the word ḥasidekha, and wait until the cantor finishes, as they do in the other sections. But this is a mistake, for here one needs to say the whole sentence together, that is, one must include the words "Thou hast led with Thy mercy" [from the next verse of the Song of the Sea], which refers to the previous words, "the children of Thy pious people", of course.

R' Wolf Heidenheim, the editor of the Rödelheim Maḥzor, seems to have decided to solve this problem in an aggressive way: He indicated that the cantor should pick up several lines before the end, already at the words שדי המשלם לשונאיו. This way, the people will see the indication ח' before those words, and stop there, and expect the cantor to pick up there; so nobody will stop after the words נרדם ואבד. And thus, Heidenheim marks the cantor's beginning in this section of the composition, alone out of all the twenty sections (and it is in a different place from the implied place for the cantor's beginning in all the other sections).

A single letter. A story.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Medieval Tu Be-Av Poem

Perhaps it's a bit late, since Tu Be-Av is now over, but it's still worth my while to post this.

Here's a poem for Tu Be'Av by Avraham ben Khalfun, published by Israel Davidson in an article in ציונים : קובץ לזכרונו של י. נ. שמחוני ז''ל (Berlin, 1928-1929). Davidson says that this poet is "not earlier than the Spanish period" (i.e. no earlier than 950), and "not later than 1473". Maybe Egypt, maybe Yemen, maybe elsewhere. Clearly in an Islamic region.

I don't quite understand the context for the poem -- it's clearly not a Yotzer, Qerova, Ma'ariv, or any of the major genres which are inserted into berakhoth. Perhaps it is a table-song? Or a secular poem? I don't know....

The poem lists all the various events which the Gemara (Bavli, end of Ta`anith) says took place on the Fifteenth of Av.

הִתְבַּשְּׂרוּ בְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כִּי נִיחַם יְיָ צִיּוֹן

אַזְכִּיר חֲסָדֶיךָ מַלְכִּי לְנֶגֶד כָּל נִבְרָאֶיךָ
וּדְבַר גְּבוּרוֹת יְחַו חִכִּי אֲשֶׁר פְּעַלְתֶּם לִירֵאֶיךָ
בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בְּאָב כִּי נִמְלְצוּ לְחִכִּי פְלָאֶיךָ
וְאֶכְתְּבֵימוֹ עַל גִּלָּיוֹן וְאָשִׁיר בָּם עֲלֵי הִגָּיוֹן

הִתְבַּשְּׂרוּ בְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כִּי נִיחַם יְיָ צִיּוֹן

בְּיוֹם זֶה נֶעְצַר מִקֶּדֶם נֶגֶף מִמֵּיתֵי מִדְבָּר
וּבִנְיָמִין צָעִיר רוֹדֵם לְשִׁבְטֵי יָהּ בּוֹ הִתְחַבָּר
וְרָצָה בָהֶם צוּר פּוֹדָם אַחֲרֵי בָמוֹ הִתְעַבָּר
כִּי טִיהֲרוּ לֵבָב וְרַעְיוֹן וְרָחֲצוּ כַפָּם בְּנִקָּיוֹן

הִתְבַּשְּׂרוּ בְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כִּי נִיחַם יְיָ צִיּוֹן

רוֹן פָּצְחוּ שְׁבָטִים בְּיוֹם זֶה וְיֶשַׁע וְעוֹז הִתְאַזָּרוּ
כִּי בוֹ לָבוֹא זֶה בָזֶה וּלְהִתְחַבֵּר הֻותָּרוּ
וַהֲרוּגִים בְּיַד צָר נִבְזֶה בְּבֵית-תֵּר הַיּוֹם נִקְבָּרוּ
כִּי לֹא יַעֲשֶׂה כִּלָּיוֹן צוּר וְיָחוֹס עַל דַּל וְאֶבְיוֹן

הִתְבַּשְּׂרוּ בְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כִּי נִיחַם יְיָ צִיּוֹן

הַיּוֹם בִּיטֵּל בֶּן אֵלָה שׁוֹמְרֵי אוֹרַח תַּהֲלוּכָה
שָׂם יְרָבְעָם עַל מְסִלָּה לְהַשְׁמִיד חַג מֵעִיר בְּרוּכָה
וּבוֹ פָסְקוּ שָׂרֵי סְגוּלָּה לִכְרוֹת עֵצִים לְמַעֲרָכָה
כִּי מָצְאוּ בַשֶּׁמֶשׁ רִפְיוֹן וְחֻומָּהּ נִסְתַּר בְּתוֹךְ חֶבְיוֹן

הִתְבַּשְּׂרוּ בְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כִּי נִיחַם יְיָ צִיּוֹן

מָתַי יְחֻודַּשׁ הוֹד בּוֹלֶה לְבֵן בַּגּוֹלָה זָנוּחַ
וּמָתַי יְנוּחַם לֵב חוֹלֶה וּמֵעוֹל אוֹיְבַי אָנוּחַ
מְהֵרָה מְשִׁיחִי יִגָּלֶה וְנָחָה עָלָיו הָרוּחַ
וְיִקְרָא לַאֲסִירַי פִּדְיוֹן קוּמוּ וְנַעֲלֶה צִיּוֹן

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

American Orthodox Wedding Rituals (AOWR)

It is interesting that the non-Jewish world, and the non-Orthodox world, and now the Orthodox world have this whole thing with engagement rings and wedding rings. Engagement rings are always in one direction: The bridegroom buys a very expensive item, with real economic value, for the bride -- and receives nothing in exchange.

Then (except in certain sectors of the Orthodox world), afterwards, the two parties perform a ceremony, in which each gives the other a ring, which is much less expensive than the engagement ring.

Thus, the engagement-ring thing is really a sort of a קנין -- the husband buys the wife with a 20K diamond ring. On the other hand, the wedding-ring thing is just a ceremony.

This is parallel to the halakhic Jewish way, in which Qiddushin (a קנין) is followed by Nissu'in (some kind of ritual).

But it's interesting, because the Orthodox Jews of today's America have grafted the WESTERN nissu'in onto the JEWISH qiddushin, by doing the wedding-ring ritual at the moment of the qiddushin

Isn't that interesting?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New book

Kabbalat HaAri - Yosef Avivi

Kabbalat HaAri is an entirely new work which after decades of research appeared for the first time in Kislev 5768 (12-08). R. Yosef Avivi one of the foremost authorities on Kabbala in the world has documented for the first time which all of the writings of the ARI and his students, their origins, their relationship andhow they were edited and printed. An entirely new theory to explain the system of thought of the ARI is presented.The Sefer appears in 3 volumes comprising 1568 pages (weighing almost 5 kilo) and includes 40 facsimile pages from manuscripts. It is available for a limited period through VirtualGeula for 350 shekels which is significantly less than the price in bookstores.

I think they mean "Kislev 5769". It seems that the book just came out. I was looking at it at the YU library — very interesting and well researched, and beautifully printed.

I was just now reading the section about what the Ari preferred from the Ashkenazic liturgy (viz. piyyutim on Yomim Nôro'im, 3 Regolim, and Purim), and what he preferred from the Sephardic liturgy (daily viddui in Shaharit and Minha, and more mizmorim).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

La Traviata

When Alfredo first sings the "Di quell'amor", in "Un di, felice" ( , p 40 ff.), at the syllable "cro-" (of "croce") he reaches the high "mi" note of the scale, which, in this case, is a high A, because we are in the key of F major. The same is true (albeit one octave higher) when Violetta repeats the tune (and words) as part of "A fors' è lui".

Later on, Alfredo sings the same "Amor, amor è palpito" tune from the balcony, in the middle of "Sempre Libera" (p. 66), which is in the key of A-flat major. In order to reach the "mi" note of the scale on "cro-" (of "croce"), the tenor would need to sing a high C. Either Verdi did not want to impose this on the tenor, or he had some other (artistic?) reason to not write in the high C (perhaps to diminish Alfredo's rôle here, since he's only on the sidelines), so he wrote in an G, which always sounds terribly unsatisfying to me.

But that's the whole point -- the tension between whether the tenor will sing the G or the high C! Most tenors should do the G, because most of them would sound bad on the high C. But there's an implicit high C there, because, of course, it's the same tune from before, which reached the "mi" note every time it was merely in the key of F.

And thus, one waits there to hear whether the tenor will or will not sing the higher note, and there's a time-period of tension, and then disappointment if he sings the G, but orgasmic release-of-tension if he sings the high C.

When I was growing up, we had a recording of Maria Callas and Alfredo Krauss, in which he does sing the high C. I looked on Youtube, and found no other recordings with the high C, but I did find the Callas/Krauss one:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Very Cute Piyyut for Shabbath Hanukka

(This poem is published in Anthology of Hebrew Poetry in Greece, Anatolia and the Balkans. Leon J. Weinberger. Cincinnati, 1975.)

Weinberger writes: Fourteenth century poets from Greece, Anatolia, and the Balkans include [ . . . ] Solomon Sharbit ha-Zahab from Ephesus who wrote works on grammar [ . . . ] . His ten surviving liturgical works were included mostly in the Maḥzor Roumania as well as in the rituals of Korfu and Kaffa. In his Mi Kamocha for the Sabbath that falls on Hanukka he describes in jesting form a lively debate between the Sabbath and Hanukka each of which claims priority in Jewish law and tradition.

(A "Mi Kamokha" is a piyyut inserted in the berakha after קראית שמע, before the verse מי כמכה. Minhag Roumania has not existed for the past few centuries; sadly, the Jews of Romania, Greece, and the Balkans [and their descendants] have adopted the Sepharadic rite instead of the old Maḥzor Roumania. --G.W.)

מִי כָמוֹךָ שַׁבָּת וַחֲנוּכָּה נִגְּשׁוּ וַיְרִיבוּן לְפָנָי / זֶה יֹאמַר לַיְיָ אָנִי וְזֶה יִקְרָא בְאָזְנָי
מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָאֵלֶּה הַיּוֹם נֶגֶד נְכוֹנָי / עָשִׁיר וְרָשׁ נִפְגָּשׁוּ עוֹשֶׂה כֻלָּם יְיָ.

אָמַר שַׁבָּת לַחֲנוּכָּה: לִי מִשְׁפַּט הַבְּכוֹרָה / וּמִי אַתְּ וּמִי מִשְׁפַּחְתֵּךְ הַצְּעִירָה
כִּי בִי שָׁבַת אֵ-ל גָּדוֹל וְנוֹרָא / מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא

אָמְרָה חֲנוּכָּה לַשַּׁבָּת: מַה תִּתְנַפֵּל עָלַי וְתִתְגּוֹלֵל / כִּי שְׁמוֹנָה יָמִים גּוֹמְרִין לִי הַלִֵּל
וְאַתְּ בְּיוֹם אֶחָד בְּלֹא זֶה, וּמַה תְּמַלֵּל? / שׁוֹמֵר מַה-מִלַּיְלָה שׁוֹמֵר מַה-מִלֵּיל.

אָמַר שַׁבָּת לַחֲנוּכָּה: מוּסָפִי יוֹרֶה עָלַי דִּין עֲלִיָּה / עוֹלַת שַׁבַּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ עַל עוֹלַת הַתָּמִיד עֲשׂוּיָה
וּמַה תִּתְהַלֵּל עָלַי בְּעַד הַלְלוּיָ-הּ? וְאַתְּ מִמּוּסָף עֵרוֹם וְעֶרְיָה.

אָמְרָה חֲנוּכָּה לַשַּׁבָּת: זִיו נֵרוֹתַי מַדְלִיקִין תְּחִלָּה וְנֵרוֹתֶיךָ אַחֲרֵיהֶם / וְזִכְרִי בְּבִרְכַּת הָאָרֶץ וְזִכְרְךָ בְּבִרְכַּת רַחֵם
וְכָל עִנְיָינֶיךָ וּדְבָרֶיךָ הֲלֹא הֵם / אַחֲרוֹנָה יִסְעוּ לְדִגְלֵיהֶם.

אָמַר שַׁבָּת לַחֲנוּכָּה: הִנֵּה אֲנִי תָדִיר כְּאֵשֶׁת נְעוּרִים תְּמִימָה / קְרוּאָה לְשִׁבְעַת יָמִים כִּכְבוּדָּה בַּת מֶלֶךְ פְּנִימָה
וְאַתְּ כְּפִלֶגֶשׁ בַּלֵּילוֹת בְּאֵימָה / לְמוֹעֲדָהּ מִיָּמִים יָמִימָה.

אָמְרָה חֲנוּכָּה לַשַּׁבָּת: בְּנֵרְךָ מִסְתַּכְּלִין וּמִשְׁתַּמְּשִׁין / וַאֲנִי כִּגְבֶרֶת עַל אֲנָשִׁים וְנָשִׁים
וְשִׁירְךָ לְשָׁרִים וּלְשִׁירַי יוֹרְשִׁים / יְהִי הַמִּקְדָּשׁ קֹדֶשׁ קֳדָשִׁים.

אָמַר שַׁבָּת לַחֲנוּכָּה: אֲנִי הַגֶּבֶר הַמְשׁוּבָּח וְהַמְהוּלָּל / וְאַתְּ כְּאִשָּׁה הֵעֵזָה פָנֶיהָ וְתִשְׁלוֹל שָׁלָל
וַהֲרֵי אָמְרוּ חַכְמֵי הַיּוֹפִי וְהַמִּכְלָל / אֵין מִשְׁתַּמְּשִׁין בְּאִשָּׁה כְלָל.

אֲנִי עָנִיתִי: שׁוּבוּ לָכֶם מִן הַמְּרִיבָה / כִּי הַיּוֹם חֻבַּרְתֶּם בְּחִיבָּה
שׁוּבוּ נָא אַל תְּהִי עַוְלָה וְשוּבוּ עוֹד צִדְקִי בָהּ / הִשְׁבַּעְתִּי אֶתְכֶם אַל נָא תְהִי מְרִיבָה
מַה תָּעִירוּ וּמַה תְּעוֹרְרוּ אֶת הָאַהֲבָה.

שַׁבָּת רִאשׁוֹן בְּמוֹעֲדִים יִכְלוּ טַעֲנוֹתֶיךָ / יָפְיָפִיתָ מִבְּנֵי אָדָם הוּצַק חֵן בְּשִׂפְתוֹתֶיךָ
אַךְ גּוֹאֵל אַתָּה וְאֵין לִגְאוֹל זוּלָתֶךָ / וּפָרַשְׂתָּ כְנָפֶיךָ עַל אֲמָתֶךָ.

הַמְּשׁוּבֶּצֶת זָהָב הַיּוֹשֶׁבֶת בִּגְבוּלוֹ / הִנֵּה מַלְאָךְ יָבֹא לַָךְ צַדִּיק וְנוֹשַׁע הוּא וְחֵילוֹ
וַיִּתְאַו הַמֶּלֶךְ יוֹפְיֵךְ וְהַטִּי אָזְנֵךְ לְקוֹלוֹ / כִּי הוּא אֲדוֹנַיִךְ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִי לוֹ.

אֱ-לֹהַי מִמְּכוֹן שִׁבְתְּךָ הוֹפִיעָה / וַהֲשִׁיבֵנוּ וְהָאֵר פָּנֶיךָ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה
כִּי אַתָּה תַּשְׁקִיט וּמִי יַרְשִׁיעַ / וּמִבַּלְעָדֶיךָ אֵין לָנוּ גּוֹאֵל וּמוֹשִׁיעַ.

Weinberger writes: In this poem he [the paytan] also satirizes what was probably a form of Platonic love in his day as may be seen from the following:

"אמר שבת לחנוכה: 'אני הגבר המשובח והמהולל / ואת כאשה העזה פניה ותשלל שלל
והרי אמרו חכמי היופי והמכלל: אין משתמשין באשה כלל.' "

note 65: Cf. I Davidson, Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry, (New York, 1924-33), Shin 317. See below poem #34. There is a double entendre in the use of the word ’isha which means both “woman” and “fire”. Used in the former sense it is a polemic against the sexless love of the Platonist; in the latter sense it refers to the Rabbinic prohibition against making use of the light from the Chanukka candles.


Hillel I. Newman. "Sandak and Godparent in Midrash and Medieval Practice. JQR (Jewish Quarterly Review), Winter 2007. pp. 1-28 (+four pages of appendix).

Basically, he argues that the Jewish institution of sandak is derived from a similar Christian institution: not compater* (co-parent, who has a social link to the parents), but patrinus (godfather, who has a social link to the child).The problem is that the Greek word for compater is anadokhos, whereas the Greek word for patrinus is synteknos.

Why, then, should the Jewish compater be called "sandak" (or, in many manuscripts, sandiknus, seemingly from synteknos)? Newman argues that it is based on a misinterpration of a passage from Midrash Tehillim, which says that one uses one's knees to make a sandikos for an infant who is being circumcised. Newman argues that the original meaning of this passage is "to make a box [sandyx] for the infant.*

*(The common distinction in modern practice between sandak and Yiddish קוואַטער is a late development; see A.N.Z. Roth, "Millim be-milah", Yeda‘ ‘Am 13 (1968), 52-53.)