Friday, 1 September 2017

Psalm 30 (Mizmor Shir Chanukat)- Why did it enter the Daily Shacharit?

From RRW

Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                      When Did Mizmor Shir Chanukat Ha-Bayit  Enter the Daily Shacharit?

     We are all used to reciting this prayer (=Psalm 30) around the time of Baruch She-amar. The recital of Baruch She-amar in daily shacharit is a long-established practice.  But when did Psalm 30 enter the daily shacharit?
    If one looks at the classic Geonic sources: Siddur of R. Saadiah Gaon and Seder R. Amram Gaon, Psalm 30 is not found in their daily shacharit. Nor is it found in the daily shacharit of the classic Ashkenazic and Sefardic sources thereafter: Mahzor Vitry, Rambam, Tur, and Abudarham.
     Many years ago, I began to investigate this issue. It turns out that what is written in many of the standard siddur commentaries (e.g., A. Berliner, I. Jacobson, E. Munk, ArtScroll) is wildly speculative and not correct. I could go through all the wrong ideas but I will spare you.
     Eventually, I found some sources that did seem to do proper research and address the issue adequately. The best discussion was in a 19th century work: Tzelota De-Avraham. Based on this, I gave a lecture with the following explanation. The daily recital of Psalm 30 is mentioned by R. Hayyim Vital (1542-1620), the principal disciple of the ARI (R. Isaac Luria.) The discussion is found in R. Vital’s work Etz Ha-Hayyim. R. Vital explains how Psalm 30 (without the first line, but starting with aromimkhah) fits into the kabbalistic view of Pesukei De-Zimrah in his time. For example, both the first and third sentences of the body of Psalm 30 (aromimkhah, and Hashem he’elita min sheol nafshi) deal with the theme of “raising up.” Without going into detail, the theme of “raising up” was an important one to the ARI and to R. Vital in general, and was appropriate to this part of the davening in particular.
      So I thought I was done with the issue of how Psalm 30 entered the daily shacharit. I believed it was first introduced into the daily shacharit by the ARI. I also found many siddurim that included a brief note stating that the daily recital of Psalm 30 was first introduced by the ARI.
      But it turns out that I was wrong. The second part of my story begins with a Rabbi Ari Folger, now chief Rabbi of Vienna, who walked into a shacharit minyan in Basel, Switzerland and was surprised that Psalm 30 was not recited. This got him interested in the issue. He researched the issue very thoroughly and posted about it in 2009.  He found the recital of Psalm 30 in daily shacharit in a siddur printed at the end of the 15th century in Lisbon, Portugal. This pre-dated the birth of the Ari. (I later discovered that the scholar Moshe Chalamish also found some early references to the daily recital of Psalm 30 in the Sefardic world. See his Chikrei Kabbalah U-Tefillah, p. 73. The earliest reference he found was from the 13th century.)
      Rabbi Folger explained that when R. Vital was writing his comments on the daily recital of Psalm 30 in shacharit, he was merely commenting on a siddur from 1524 that followed the Sefardic tradition. He was not necessarily recording a custom of the ARI of reciting it nor was he explicitly advocating that the followers of the ARI in Vital’s times change their custom and add Psalm 30 to their daily liturgy. He was just explaining why Psalm 30, found in the daily shacharit in some Sefardic traditions, would fit with the kabbalistic ideas of the Ari.
        Eventually, based on the comments of R. Vital, Psalm 30 did make it into the liturgy of nusach Ha-Ari for daily shacharit, but it seems to have been a slow process. Rabbi Folger notes that the Siddur Ha-Shelah was published in 1717 and this mainstream kabbalistic siddur did not yet include the recital of Psalm 30 in shacharit. Of course, it is possible that some kabbalists were reciting it orally from the time of R. Vital. Also, perhaps it did make it into some kabbalistic siddurim in R. Vital’s lifetime or shortly thereafter, but we do not have evidence for this yet. But its omission as late as 1717 in the Siddur Ha-Shelah is significant.
           Once it made it into the kabbalistic liturgy of daily shacharit, it later spread to the Ashkenazic liturgy of daily shacharit.  But at present, our first source for its appearance in daily shacharit in an Ashkenazic siddur is only in the year 1788.
         To sum up, Psalm 30 began to make its way into some Sefardic liturgies in the 13th through the 15th centuries for some unknown reason. (Perhaps the reason was based on kabbalistic ideas but these would be pre-expulsion kabbalistic ideas, ideas that preceded the ARI.) Based on R. Vital’s comments, it eventually made its way into the liturgy of the kabbalists who followed nusach Ha-ARI. From there it made its way into some, but not all, Ashkenazic communities. For example, the German Jewish community never adopted it. (It is not found in I. Baer, Siddur Avodat  Yisrael.) Also, the Vilna Gaon was against its inclusion.
          It is significant that the earliest Sefardic and kabbalistic sources that record the daily recital of Psalm 30 do not include the title line. Their recital started with aromimkhah.  Many of the conjectures offered to explain Psalm 30’s inclusion into the daily shacharit had focused on the title line: mizmor shir chanukat ha-bayit… and postulated some explanation related to the beit ha-mikdash. But the omission of the first line shows that the reason for its original inclusion in the daily liturgy, when we eventually determine it, will relate instead to the body of the Psalm. 
        Two remaining points: I have only been discussing the recital of Psalm 30 daily. Its recital on Chanukah has earlier sources.  Finally, the recital of Psalm 30 in the daily shacharit is also recorded in the Yemenite tradition. The sources that I have seen have not discussed in detail how old this Yemenite tradition is. It may be as old as the Sefardic tradition or even older.
        There is an interesting issue with regard to the text of this Psalm. In most editions of the Tanakh today, verse 9 reads: eilekha YHVH ekra, ve-el ADNY etchanan.  The rest of this chapter has YHVH 9 times.   But when we look at some editions of the siddur, particularly ones following  nusach Ha-ARI, they print YHVH  in both parts of verse 9, making a total of ten YHVH in the chapter. R. Vital had said that the chapter included YHVH ten times. Presumably, in his time there was such a Tanakh text, even though it apparently was not the majority one. One can even find some texts of Tanakh today that have YKHK in both parts of verse 9. For example this is what is printed in the standard one volume Mikraot Gedolot in which the Neviim and Ketuvim are printed together.
                   A separate issue involving this Psalm is the relation between the title line mizmor shir chanukat ha-bayit le-David and the body of the Psalm, which has nothing to do with any Temple or dedication.  I will discuss this in a future column.
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy. He can be reached at He makes sure to recite Psalm 30 daily, despite the mysterious origin of the practice (or perhaps because of it!).

1 comment:

Micha Berger said...

Spelling nit: R' Folger spells his name "Arie".