One of the pleasures of having come to Basel was, that I was suddenly confronted with what seemed to me rather strange liturgical minhaggim, as up until then I had assumed that my tradition was of course the standard; a common human fallacy. One of the things I discovered, is that, while every synagogue I could remember visiting up until then, included Psalm 30 (מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית) in the morning liturgy, to be recited before Baruch SheAmar, in Basel, it was ignored.
My first indication that this Psalm’s inclusion in the liturgy deserved some scrutiny came even before I encountered Minhag Basel, from hearing about R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s personal minhag of reciting said Psalm only after Barukh SheAmar, for in his opinion it was only within the framework of Pessuqei deZimra that one could begin to recite Psalms in the morning liturgy. (However, he had no objection to the liturgical recitation of Psalms after Pessuqei deZimra.) However, that was a chiddush of R’ Soloveitchik; it never was an established minhag.
So how come that it is recited in most communities, while many Yeckishe communities skip it?
As it turns out, the real question is: Why it is said everywhere else? For upon investigation, we discover that it is absent from older siddurim.
The Jewish National University Library, at Hebrew U., publishes an online archive of digitized rare books, available here. That archive has a section with prayer books, dating from the very earliest printing presses, in the 15th century.
It is not found in the older Ashkenazi siddurim, as can be seen here (some of the siddurim can only be viewed with the free DjVU document viewer – download it here):
- Prague, 5279 (1518/19), pagespread 10
- Krakow, 5357 (1596/97); folio 27
- Hanau (?), 5376 (1615/16), pagespread 11
- Henu; 5388 (1627/28); folio 41
- Frankfurt am Main, 5451 (1690/91), pagespread 10
- Berlin, 5473 (1712/13), pagespreads 20-21 (look at how this siddur adds Yigdal between Rabbi Yishma’el Omer and Barukh SheAmar!)
- The siddur of the SheLaH (Rabbi Yesha’yahu haLevi Horowitz); Amsterdam, 1717; on folios 103 and 104
Reportedly, it is only in the 16th or 17th centuries that this psalm was gradually incorporated into Ashkenazi siddurim. In fact, the earliest example I found on line is the Siddur Raavan; Ostraha, 5577 (1816/17); folios 34b-35a, from no earlier than the 19th century! All other examples I found were printed even later.
So where hence did this Psalm wander into our prayer books?
R’ Prof. Issachar Jacobson (Netiv Bina, vol. I, pg. 186) cites Avraham Berliner (professor of Jewish history and literature in R’ Esriel Hildesheimer’s rabbinical seminary) approvingly, claiming that its inclusion was a publisher’s error; it was originally recited there in the Sefardi rite only during ‘Hanuka. Whoever included it – erroneously – into an Ashkenazi siddur, forgot to point out that it was meant only for ‘Hanuka! According to Berliner, some siddurim contain a further error, in that they skip the title verse of the Psalm and begin with Aromimekha (“I will exalt Thee”).
Abe Katz (author of the excellent series of Beurei haTefilla newsletters) cites Rav Munk to the same effect.
Likewise, R’ Avraham Landau (Tzelota deAvraham, pg. 147) remarks that it is neither found in Rav ‘Amram Gaon’s siddur, nor in the halakhic codices Tur and Shul’han ‘Arukh, not even in the Sefardi siddurim! (but that is incorrect, as we shall soon see –AF) However, for R’ Landau, the inclusion was not an error; it was intentional, following the teachings of the Ari, R’ Isaac Luria, as expounded upon by his disciple R’ ‘Hayim Vital (Peri ‘Etz ‘Hayim, Sha’ar haMizmorim, ch.4).
Do we Have a Conclusion?
So the case is open and shut, right? The inclusion of Ps. 30 in the Ashkenazi prayerbook dates from the 17th century (as documented by Berliner), and despite Berliner’s claim (which had been accepted by R’ Jacobson and R’ Munk), we can trace the reason for its inclusion to a teaching by the Ari. Right?
There are two issues with this theory. First of all, despite all the above most learned commentators to the contrary, it can be demonstrated that the inclusion of Ps. 30 in the daily Sefardi liturgy antedates the Ari. A Sefardi siddur, printed in Lisbon in 1489/90, already includes Ps. 30 after Hodu (pagespread 30), and – despite earlier protestations by Berliner – leaves out the title verse:
The thing is, assuming that the dating of the siddur is correct (the title page is missing and there is no introductory section, with approbations or essays, so I do not know based on what they managed to date the volume), it was printed some 35 years before the Ari was even born!
Secondly, we saw above that the SheLaH’s siddur does not include it, despite the fact that the SheLaH was one of the major teachers of Lurianic Kabbala and who incorporated many such ideas in his own siddur, and despite the fact that it was published in 1717, when, according to Berliner, Ps. 30 was already appearing in Ashkenazi siddurim for several decades.
The reason for Ps. 30’s inclusion in the siddur may be kabbalistic, but if the above is correct, it surely predates the Ari’s teachings. According to R’ Dr. Seth Mandel (presently of OU fame), in a personal e-mail exchange, it was also included in old Yemenite siddurim, further confirming that its inclusion in the Levantine rites is ancient. Furthermore, while the Ari may have expounded upon that Psalm, it may have been in order to explain the Sefardi rite, without necessitating its inclusion for Kabbalistically correct prayer, as indicated by Ps. 30’s absence from the SheLaH’s siddur.
In other words, its inclusion in Ashkenazi siddurim may have been Kabbalistically motivated, and it may be still be argued that that was erroneous. However, its recitation was likely not mistakenly taken over from ‘Hanuka, as we will see in the next section.
The ‘Hanuka Connection
As we saw above, Berliner claimed that the inclusion of Ps. 30 mistakenly came from the ‘Hauka liturgy. Indeed, in many communities, including Yeckishe, Ps. 30 is recited during ‘Hanuka, but usually at the conclusion of the service. The source for this custom is at least clear cut. The minor Talmudic tractate Sofrim teaches (18:2-3):
|(Halacha 2) Why was it said that we should recite psalms for each and every month? As Rabbi Shim’on ben Laqish, of whom Rabbi Yo’hanan inquired: May we recite [the Levite’s sacrificial] hymns without [when we cannot offer] libations? He said to him: Let’s deduce it from that [teaching]: “In both [the day of the destruction of the First and Second Temples], the Levites stood on the podium and said: (Ps. 94:23) “And He hath brought upon them [the enemies] their own iniquity.” … therefore the people have the custom of reciting the sacrificial hymns in their proper times [despite the absence of sacrifices]. … For whoever recites a verse at its proper time, it is considered it as if he built a new altar [for the Temple] and brought upon it an offering.
(Halacha 3) On ‘Hanuka [we recite] (Ps. 30) “I will exalt Thee, Eternal.”
The second ellipsis above is where the text discusses the Shir shel Yom, the daily psalm, which was recited by the Levites at the Temple service, and is recited nowadays at the conclusion of the morning prayer service. In its continuation, the text discusses psalms recited on a variety of special occasions, as they were in the Temple. Thus, it is clear that Ps. 30 is the daily psalm for ‘Hanuka, to be recited after the morning service, unlike what we were discussing, which is its inclusion before Narukh sheAmar, i.e. a the beginning of the service.
Why is This Day Different From All Other Days
Berliner, however, claimed that in Sefardi siddurim, there was a note indicating that Ps. 30 is only recited on ‘Hanuka, what was that about?
As can be seen in this Sefardi Siddur from Tzfat, 5592 (1831/32), there is indeed a note at the beginning of Ps. 30 regarding ‘Hanuka: the title verse “Mizmor Shir ‘Hanukat haBayit leDavid” is only recited on ‘Hanuka, however, the note clearly does not apply to the entire psalm, for the rest of the psalm, starting with ארוממך (“I will exalt Thee”) is always recited!
The Lurianic-Kabbalistic Meaning of Ps. 30
Abe Katz of beureihatefilla.com translated and summarized R’Avraham Landau’s summary of the Kabalistic significance of the recitation of Ps. 30 before Barukh sheAmar:
[I]t was based on the Kabbalsitic idea that the Psalm מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד provides the transition between the עולם העשיה and עולם היצירה. Kabbalists will understand what that means.
He also offers another, novel, speculative interpretation, which you may find by clicking on the above link to his essay.
[NOTE: This paragraph was updated on 2009-07-31 at 14:45 GMT+1]
It seems high time to at least pay lip service to original Minhag Ashkenaz, as still practised in Basel. Siddurim that include Ps. 30 before Barukh sheAmar should note that its inclusion is recent, may have been in error, but for Kabbalistic reasons, and that its inclusion was not accepted by all communities. All that, without claiming that it waved over from ‘Hanuka.