Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Kabbala, Halakha and Kugel: The Case of the Two Handed Blessing


Kabbala, Halakha and Kugel:  The Case of the Two Handed Blessing*
          In parshat Vayehi, Yaakov simultaneously blesses his two grandchildren, Ephraim and Menashe by placing one hand upon each of their heads.  Today, there is a widespread custom of blessing one own’s children on Friday night (although some only do it on the eve of Yom Kippur).  This custom most likely originated with the Hasedi Ashkenaz in the 14th century but quickly spread to the rest of Europe, including France, Spain, and Italy.[1]  The exact details of the blessing, however, are subject to some variation. 
            The earliest sources mention only the priestly blessing and not Yaakov’s.[2] It was not until the 18th century, R. Yaakov Emden propose the specific usage of Yaakov’s blessing to his grandsons “God shall make you like Ephraim and Menashe.”   Likewise, even within those sources they are inconsistent as to whether both hands are to be used or only one.  Some provide that one hand should be used because it has 15 joints the same number of words as in the priestly blessing, while others urge two hands because they contain 60 bones which corresponds to the word “סמך” “somekh” “to lay hands” to be read as the letter “סמ״ך” “samach” and correspond to the numerical value of sixty rather than the literal translation equaling the number of letters in Birkat Kohanim. These sources disagree because of the symbolic nature of the hands vis-à-vis the blessing.
The anonymous book, Hemdat Yamim, states that one should only use the right hand to bless.  Likewise, R. Yitzhak Lampronti records that some refrain from using two hands to avoid “mixing hesed with din” corresponding to the right and left hands respectively.  But he rejects that and he used both hands.
R. Emden firmly rejects the idea of singlehanded blessings.  He explains that Moshe and others used two.  Yaakov was but an exception as he wanted to bless both of his grandsons simultaneously because he was already changing the order and wanted to minimize, as much as possible, the differences between the two.  Further blessing the younger before the older would be an unforgivable insult. Thus, this was a special case where he was compelled to use one hand.[3]    But in the late 19th century, a one handed blessing was suggested because of halakhic reasons.
            In 1779, R. Yehezkel Landau was born in Vilna.  In 1793 he married his cousin, the daughter of Tzvi Hirsch and Mushka Zalkind, Haye Sorah.[4]  Unexpectedly, an event surrounding Landau’s wedding would become a touchstone for birkat ha-banim. 
            R. Landau was among those who were privileged to study with the Gaon and received his particular form of learning that eschewed pilpul and focused on peshat.[5]  Additionally, R. Landau considered himself a talmid muvhak of and prayed in the same synagogue as R. Hayyim Volozhin.[6] That synagogue, the Parnes Kloyz, also claimed a number of other important members including R. Avraham Abele Poswoler, R. Landau’s brother-in-law.[7]  With the death of R. Abele in 1806 R. Landau took over the position as Rosh Av bet Din of Vilna.[8]  The position was first offered to R. Akiva Eiger but he turned it down.[9]  R. Landau held that position until his death in 1870.
            Until this point the discussion regarding whether to use two hands or one is limited to symbolic or kabalistic reasons.  But there are those who argue that there is a legal issue with using two hands and they attribute this view to the Gaon.  Determining the Gaon’s practices is a very difficult task, he did not write a book of customs and instead most of what we have is from second hand or third hand sources, many of which are contradictory or unsupportable.[10] 
            Close to one hundred years after the Gaon died, the siddur, Siddur ha-Gaon be-Nigleh u-Nistar, was published by Naftali Hertz, and for the first time it is recorded that the Gaon only used one hand for a blessing.  The source for this practice is unclear.  The “Nigleh” portion is generally taken from Ma’ashe Rav and Likutei Dinim meha-Gra, neither of which records this practice. 
            R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein, however, records a story about that Gaon that is related to the prohibition of a non-kohen reciting the priestly blessings in the synagogue.  In Epstein’s commentary on the Torah, Torah Temimah, he posits a novel ruling that not only is a non-kohen prohibited from blessing the congregation but is prohibited from ever using two hands – like the priests – to bless anyone.  According to Epstein, such a practice would violate a biblical commandment. But he wanted to address as to why he is the first to raise this issue and rather than concede that he is the source of this innovative ruling he records a story from “a trustworthy source” that “when the Gaon of Vilna blessed R. Yehezkel Landau the Moreh Tzedek of Vilna at his huppa, the Gaon only placed one hand on R. Landau’s head during the blessing.  Those present asked the Gaon to explain his practice and he replied that only the priests in the temple can use two hands.”[11]  Thus, R. Epstein is able to “toleh atsmo be-ilan gadol” (one should hang themselves on a big tree).
            Indeed, R. Epstein’s version of the Gaon’s position is still accepted today. Two siddurim that were recently published based upon the Gaon’s practices both record that it was his opinion that one must only use one hand because “only the priests in the temple were permitted to use two hands.”  Both cite R. Epstein as their source.[12] 
            That R. Landua received the Gaon’s blessing is attested to on his epithet.
 “חן הוצק בשפתיך כי גברה עליך ברכת אליהו גאון ישראל.”
“Grace was placed upon his lips because he was overtaken by the blessing of Eliyahu Gaon of Israel.”[13]  Nonetheless, the exact details of that blessing are not as clear.  Indeed, the details of R. Epstein’s version that was transmitted by a “trustworthy source” seem somewhat suspect. First, R. Landau would not have been referred to as a מו״ץ because he oversaw the entire bet din system in Vilna and controlled all of the moreh tzedeks.  Hence R. Landau was referred to as Rosh Av Bet Din “Ravad” or ראב״ד.[14]  Second, the Gaon was not known for getting out much.  He no longer studied at all in what was known as the Gaon’s kloyz that was located in the Great Synagogue Courtyard (shulhoyf) but studied in the same house he lived in, a location known as the Slutzki building.[15]  While R. Landau was well-regarded none of the other histories of Vilna that discuss R. Landau and mention the he studied with the Gaon or the Gaon’s blessing also include the Gaon’s attendance at the wedding.[16]  Finally, the Gaon’s commentary to Shulchan Orakh does not mention any issue with a non-kohen using two hands, nor does it appear in any of the books collecting the Gaon’s customs.[17] 
While admittedly none of the above issues are dispostive, there is a far better reason to discount R. Epstein’s version because there is a more reliable alternative version of the story that R. Epstein records, and according to this version, there is nothing to suggest that the Gaon deliberately avoided using two hands nor that there is any reason to do so.  Indeed, stories that are attributed to the Gaon are notoriously unreliable. Already with the first “biography” of the Gaon, R. Dovid Luria cautioned that “the greatness of my teacher, Rabbenu ha-Gadol z’l [ha-Gaon] is such that there are many stories and legends attesting to that greatness there are as many variations, embellishments and deficiencies in every story.”  In this instance, however, we have the benefit of hearing the story directly from the protagonist, R. Landau.
R. Ben-Tzion Alfes
Ben-Tzion Alfes was born in Vilna in 1851 and when he was a young boy spent time in the Gaon’s Kloyz and met R. Landau.  Alfes records in his autobiography that “R. Landau recalled that the Shabbat after he was married, his father-in-law brought him to the Gaon to receive a blessing.  When he arrived the Gaon was in the middle of his lunch meal, eating kugel.[18]  R. Landau was wearing the new fur hat he received for his wedding and when the Gaon went to place his hands on R. Landau’s head, he turned away so that the Gaon wouldn’t dirty the fur hat with his greasy hands.  The Gaon ended up just putting one hand on the hat and blessed R. Landau.  R. Landau lived very long, over ninety and never required eyeglasses, and for the rest of his life he was disappointed regarding his small mindedness of valuing the hat more than the hands of the Gaon.”[19] 
כשהייתי בן עשר דרנו בחדר אצל אחד שהיה לו סבא זקן שהיה מכיר את הגאון רבנו אליהו מווילנא זצ"ל, ונהניתי מאד בשעה שאבי ז"ל ישב אצלו לשמוע ספורים מהגר"א, וכאשר אחרי נשואי קבעתי מקומי ללמוד ולהתפלל בקלויז הגר"א, הכרתי שם זקן אחד שהיה חתן הגאון ר' אברהם (בעל מעלות התורה) אחי הגר"א, וכן הכרתי את הגאון ר' יחזקאל לנדא אב"ד דווילנא שכאשר נעשה חתן הביא אותו מחותנו בשבת לפני הגר"א שיברך אותו, והגר"א ז"ל ישב בסעודה שניה של שבת ואכל את הקוגל, והחתן היה מלובש בשטריימיל ורצה הגאון להניח ידיו על ראש החתן לברכו ונסוג החתן לאחוריו שלא ישמין הגאון את השטריימיל בידיו השמנות מהפשטידא, והניח הגר"א ידו אחת על השטריימיל וברכו, והאריך ימים ולמד עד יומו האחרון בלי משקפים, והצטער רבי יחזקאל לנדא כל ימיו, על קטנות המוח שלו שהוקיר את השטריימיל יותר מידיו של הגר"א



According to R. Landau it was his own fault that the Gaon only used one hand and it had nothing to do with symbolism, kabbala and certainly not because of a halakhic concern.  It came down to kugel and fur hats.[20] 


* A different version of this article previously appeared in Or HaMizrach in Hebrew. Dan Rabinowitz, “Birkat ha-Banim be-Sheti Yadim:  Mesoret ha-Gra be-Nedon,” Or HaMizrach 51, 3-4 (2006), 181-85.  Additionally, Professor Daniel Sperber modified and added additional materials to it for Bar Ilan’s Shabbat Torah pamphlet.  Daniel Sperber, “Al Birkat ha-Banim,” Daf Shevoei (University Bar Ilan) Parshat Vehi, 2008, no. 735.
[1] See Yecheil Godlhaver, Be’er Sheva, in Bunim Yoel Tevesig, Minhagei ha-Kehilot (Jerusalem:  Le’or, 2005), 186-89.  See also, Shmuel Ashkenazi, Alpa Beta Kadmeta (Jerusalem, 2010), 207-09.
[2] R. Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowich Toemim, however, incorrectly asserts that the priestly blessing was not part of the blessing of the children.  Instead, he suggests that since the inception of the custom on Yaakov’s blessing was used.  Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowich Teomim, Shu”t Ma’aneh Eliyahu (Jerusalem:  Yeshiva Har Etzion, 2003), no. 122, 349.
[3] Hemdat Yamim, (Venice, 1812), Helek Shabbat, chapter 7, 48; Yitzhak Lamporti, Pahad Yitzhak  ha-Shalem (Jerusalem, 1998), ma'arekhet ha"Bet," 52; Yaakov Emden, Siddur Ya'avetz (Jerusalem, 1992), 564-65. See Goldhaver who provides many of these sources and the additions of Eliezer Brodt in Yerushatanu 2 (2008), 205-206 (Eliezer also kindly provided additional sources for this post).  For an example of a death bed blessing see Michel Hakohen Brever, Zikhronot Av u-Beno (Jerusalem:  Mossad Harav Kook, 1966) 122
[4] The Zalkinds would later establish a kloyz, with a women’s section, that was alternatively referred to by Reb Herschel Zalkinds Kloyz and perhaps more notably by his wife’s name:  Mushke Leybele Zalkinds kloyz.  The kloyz is no longer extant but was located in Vilna’s Old Jewish quarter on what is today Šv. Mikalojaus Street.   Synagogues in Lithuania, N-Z: A Catalogue, eds. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, Sergey Kravtsov, Vladimir Levin, et.al. (Vilnius:  Vilnius Academy of Arts Press, 2012) 312.
[5] Shmuel Yosef Fuenn, Kenest Yisrael:  Zikhronot le-Toldot Gedolei Yisrael ha-No’adim le-shem be-Torotum, be-Hokhatum, ube-Ma’asehem (Warsaw, 1886), 517.
[6] Hillel Noach Steinschneider, Ir Vilna (Vilna, 1900), 32. 
[7] For a biography of R. Abele, see Ir Vilna, 19-29.  His third wife, Fagie, was R. Landau’s sister. For more about the Kloyz see Cohen-Mushlin, Synagogues in Lithuania N-Z, 308 and for more details on the building and the Parnes see Aelita Ambrulevičiūtė, Houses that Talk:  Sketches of Vokiečiu Street in the Nineteenth Century (Vilnius:  Auko Žuvys, 2015), 91-95.
[8] Ir Vilna, 32. 
[9] Ir Vilna, 30-31.
[10] See the comments of R. David Luria, “the greatness of my teacher, Rabbenu ha-Gadol z’l [ha-Gaon] is such that there are many stories and legends attesting to that there are as many variations, embellishments and deficiencies in every story.”  R. David Luria, “Letter from ha-Gaon ha-Rav RD”L,” in Yeshua Heschel Levin, Aliyot Eliyahu (Vilna, 1857), 4.
[11] Barukh Halevi Epstein, Torah Temimah: Bamidbar 6:33.  
[12] Siddur Aliyot Eliyahu (Machon Ma’dani Asher, 1999); Siddur Ezer Eliyahu (Jerusalem: Kerem Eliyahu, 1998).
[13] Ir Vilna, 35.
[14] See Ir Vilna, 102.
[15] For more on this building and the history of it and the Gaon’s kloyz see Shlomo Zalman Havlin, “ ‘Ha-Kloyz’ shel ha-Gaon me-Vilna Zts”l, Helek shel ‘Pinkas ha-Kloyz,’” in Yeshurun 6 (1999), 678-85; Dan Rabinowitz, The Lost Library:  The Legacy of Vilna’s Strashun Library in the Aftermath of the Holocaust (Waltham:  Brandeis University Press, 2018), 55-58.
[16] See, e.g. Ir Vilna, 32; Keneset Yisrael, 517-18.
[17] Even the siddur that does provide that the Gaon’s custom was to use just one hand there is no mention that the practice was because of potentially violating a biblical commandment. 
[18] Kugel was among the customary foods eaten on Shabbat across Europe.  Herman Pollack, Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands (1648-1806):  Studies in Aspects of Daily Life (Cambridge:  M.I.T. Press, 1971), 112, 275n39.  
Hasidic thought imbued kugel with special powers and it occupied a lofty place in its rituals. See Allan Nadler, "Holy Kugel:  The Sanctification of Ashkenazic Ethnic Foods in Hasidism," in Food and Judaism:  A Special Issue of Studies in Jewish Civilization 15 (Lincoln:  University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 193-214 (my thanks to Shaul Stampfer for calling this source to my attention).  See also Joan Nathan, "Kugel Unraveled," New York Times Sept. 28, 2005, F1.
Kugel was one of the foods that originated in Germany and spread to eastern Europe and both Jews and non-Jews ate it.  See Pollack, Jewish Folkways, 112. Other traditional foods include fish, cholent, tsimes, farfl, kneydlekh, kikhelekh, lokshn and kasha. For fish see Moshe Hallamish, Ha-Kabbalah be-Tefilah be-Halakha, u-be-Minhag (Ramat Gan:  Bar-Ilan University Press, 2000), 486-506; for the others see Pollack, Jewish Folkways, 100-112.
[19] Ben Tzion Alfes, Ma’ashe Alfas:  Tolodah u-Zikhronot (Jerusalem, 1941), 9-10.
[20] Today if one wants to combine the two, there is a recipe for striemel kugel here

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Seforim Blog 2.0: How You Can Help

The Seforim Blog is now in its bar-mitzvah year and over the past thirteen years has grown exponentially.  There are currently over 2,000 email subscribers and an estimated 16,000+ hits a month from all over the world and nearly 7 million hits over the lifetime of the site.  The site has published nearly 950 articles from over 100 different authors.  Articles from the site have been cited in traditional Torah works, academic journals and books and have even formed the basis of entire works. 

This period of growth, however, has come with some costs - both monetary and for the readers.  The site is currently very unwieldly lacking a unified homepage with articles listed chronologically, making it difficult to quickly locate relevant articles.  Additionally, the site hosts numerous related articles, for example, customs relating to Chanukah or haggadot, yet those are not easily located or displayed.  Similarly, articles by author are difficult to find and require going through pages of single articles to locate the specific article of interest. Furthermore, for the past few years, we have hired someone to prepare and post articles. We have eschewed commercializing the site and that cost has been borne by the editors and a handful of generous donors.

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PIYYUT ON THE SURVIVAL OF THE JEWS OF BRECLAV (LUNDENBURG) ON JANUARY 23, 1698

PIYYUT ON THE SURVIVAL OF THE JEWS OF BRECLAV (LUNDENBURG)[1] ON JANUARY 23, 1698

By David Roth[2]

I found a printed pamphlet in the National Library of Israel[3] entitled סליחות מה שאומרים כאן ק"ק לונדענבורג בי"א טבת בכל שנה והמאורע יבואר בתוך הסליחות …, translated as “the selihoth prayers that are recited here [in] the community of Lundenberg (Břeclav), on the 11th of Teveth every year, and the event [commemorated] will be told in the selihoth”.  The pamphlet was published in 5655 [1894-1895], almost two hundred years after the event took place, meaning that the practice of commemorating this date lasted for quite a long time, very possibly until the outbreak of World War II.[4]

What happened to the Jewish community of Lundenburg?

In the חטאנו piyyut contained in this pamphlet, we have a description of the events of 11 Teveth 5458, corresponding to January 23, 1698.[5]  On that day, the dome of the Synagogue collapsed, and the members of the community were almost killed, but they were miraculously saved.  As such, the community established for itself and future generations to fast half a day, and to celebrate the other half of the day, a construct commonly referred to as a “Purim”.  Note that this is the day after a public fast day, so by establishing this fast, the community accepted upon itself to fast half a day immediately after fasting a full day, something that is fairly unusual.  While the practice of establishing local fasts and Purim celebrations is well documented[6] and was practiced in many communities, this particular holiday celebrated in this community is not so well known.

About the order of the selihoth:

The order of the selihoth in the pamphlet is as follows:  

  • The pamphlet begins with an instruction that the chazzan repeats the Amidah until מחל לנו מלכנו כי פשענו and then begins the selihoth, something that was common to all selihoth for fast days.  
  • It then contains a selihoth service, including the full text of the piyyut איה קנאתך וגבורתך, the pizmon יי יי א-ל רחום וחנון, and the akeidah [7]אם אפס רבע הקן, with the thirteen attributes of mercy (י"ג מדות הרחמים) before and after each piyyut.  
  • The service then continues with זכור רחמיך, until חטאנו צורינו, at which point the חטאנו piyyut, described at length below, is recited.
  • After the חטאנו, the service continues with זכור לנו ברית אבות[8], שמע קולינו,and וידוי until הרחמים והסליחות, with an instruction to continue ואל יעכב, meaning that at this point the chazzan finishes his repetition of the Amidah.

In addition to the pamphlet already mentioned, in אוצר השירה והפיוט (index of piyyutim), Davidson makes reference to this piyyut (number 8498א), and he refers to an article where this piyyut was previously published – אוצר הספרות ח"ב, עמ' 112.  The article – entitled מקורות לקורות בני ישראל by דוד קויפמאנן, was published in תרמ"ח (1888), before the other pamphlet of the selihoth described above, meaning that it must have been based on an earlier printing or manuscript of this piyyut.  In the article, the earlier piyyutim (meaning everything prior to the chatanu) are not printed in full, but rather the service is summarized as follows:

והם הסליחות שאומרים בי"א בטבת
איה קנאתך וגבורתך, סימן ו
פזמון י"ג מדות יי יי א-ל, [סימן] פה
עקידה מצום גדליה: אם אפס, [סימן] מט
זכור: עד אל רשעו ואל חטאתו
ואחרי כך סליחה זו:
[טקסט השלם של החטאנו]

And for a rough translation of the service summary:

Ayei kinathecha u-gevorothekha – number 6
Pizmon – 13 attributes – [number] 85
Akeidah for the Fast of Gedaliah – im afes – number 49
Zekhor until el rish'o ve-el hatatho, and afterwards he says this: [the full text of the chatanu piyyut].

Based on this, we can infer that the selihoth service was originally distributed to members of the community as an insert to put in their selihoth book for yamim noraim.  Furthermore, the numbers listed in this description for the first three selihoth show that this community recited selihoth according to the Bohemian rite, one of the forms of the Eastern Ashkenazic rite.

Noteworthy observations:

The presence of one selihah, a pizmon, an akeidah, and a chatanu is in and of itself something very unusual, as usually a selihot service would have more than one selihah, and the presence of an akeidah would imply a longer selihot service since this type of piyyut is not always present in a selihot service.[9]

There are several unusual things that must be noted about this chatanu piyyut.  As discussed earlier, this community recited selihoth according to the Bohemian rite, one of the Eastern Ashkenazic selihoth rites. The existence of a חטאנו piyyut in an Eastern Ashkenazic selihoth rite is, in and of itself, a phenomenon that is worth noting.  While Western European rites recite a חטאנו piyyut at almost all occasions that they recite selihoth, חטאנו piyyutim in Eastern European rites, at least in print, rarely recite chatanu piyyutim.[10] It is surprising that somebody who is, most likely, not extremely familiar with this type of piyyut would see it fit to write one for this occasion.

Additionally, the structure of the piyyut is extremely bizarre.  In general, chatanu piyyutim repeat the phrase חטאנו צורנו סלח לנו יוצרנו after every two stanzas; in this piyyut, there is an instruction to recite this phrase after every stanza.  Furthermore, in most חטאנו piyyutim, there is שרשור (anadiplosis), meaning that the last word of each stanza is identical to the first word of the next stanza; this poetic phenomenon does not exist in our piyyut.  This leads me to believe that our poet either wrote this as a chatanu without fully understanding the structure of a chatanu, or it is possible that he wrote it as a different type of piyyut and somebody else inserted it in this place and added the refrain of חטאנו צורנו after each stanza.

The piyyut is signed “אני אלעזר הלוי אב"ד בקהלתינו ל"ב חזק ואמץ, I am Elazar the Levite, Rabbi our community L.B. (=Lundenburg), be strong and courageous.”  Although special emphasis is not given to all of the letters, the letters אבד, which in the context of our piyyut means "was lost" but can also serve as the abbreviation for אב בית דין, “Rabbi of the community”, are written as א"ב"ד, making clear that it is supposed to be part of the acrostic.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find any additional information about this Rabbi, although he was presumably the Rabbi of Břeclav/Lundenburg at the time of this event or slightly afterwards, and the אוצר הספרות article says that he was the rabbi at the time of the event although doesn't cite a source for that claim.

Text and translation of Piyyut:

Below, I have typed up the text of the פיוט.  The אוצר הספרות version of the piyyut is unvocalized; the version in the pamphlet is vocalized, but the vocalization is at times problematic and contains obvious errors. As such, I have used the pamphlet as my base text, but corrected obvious problems to the vocalization.  I have also added notes on where I think there may be an alternative reading, and noted any major (anything other than מלא/חסר) variants in the other text of the piyyut I have available to me.  I have also added references to idioms from Tanakh and Rabbinic sources, and provided an approximate translation.


Text in Hebrew:

חָטָאנוּ צוּרֵנוּ סְלַח לָנוּ יוֹצְרֵנוּ

  אֶ֯ת יי נוֹדֶה בְּפִינוּ וּבְתוֹךְ רַבִּים נְהֲלְּלֶנּוּ
  אֲמִתְּךָ וְחַסְדְּךָ תָּמִיד יִצְּרוּנוּ
  יֵאָמְנוּ צִדְקוֹתֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ מִבְטָחֵינוּ
  מַה נְּדַבֵּר וּמַה נִּצְטַדָּק[11] אֶל אֱ-לוֹהֵינוּ חטאנו

5  נִ֯כְלַמְנוּ בַּעֲווֹנֵינוּ בּוֹשְׁנוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂינוּ
  וְנָהִינוּ נָא אַל תִּזְכָּר לָנוּ אֶת עֲווֹנוֹתֵינוּ
  לְקִרְיַת נָוְךָ נַהֲלֵינוּ
  בְּךָ תוֹחַלְתֵּינוּ וְאַתָּה יי מְחוֹלֲלֵינוּ חטאנו

  י֯וֹם זֶה קָבַעְנוּ לָנוּ לְצוֹם וְלִזְעָקָה
10 חֲצִי לַיי וַחֲצִי לָכֶם[12] לְחַלְּקָה
   לְהוֹדוֹת וּלְהַלֵּל עַל הַנִּיסִים[13] שֶׁעָשָׂה לָנוּ לְתָמְכָהּ וּלְחָזְקָהּ
   לְבַל הָיָה[14] לָנוּ לְמִכְשׁוֹל וּלְפוּקָה חטאנו

   אֶ֯ל֯ בֵּית מִקְדָּשֵׁינוּ מְעַט[15] לְהִתְפַּלֵּל מִנְחָה הָלַכְנוּ בְּאוֹרַח יְשָׁרָה
   דָּפַקְנוּ דַּלְתוֹת הַבַּיִת יָבֹא אֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ בְּיִרְאָה וּבְמִצְוַת בָּרָה
15 פִּתְאוֹם הָיִינוּ נִלְכָּדִים ח"ו בִּמְצוּדָה רָעָה[16] זוּ תּוֹרָה וְזוּ שְׂכָרָהּ[17]?!
   בְּי"א בְּטֵבֵת שְׁנַת חָתָ"ן תּוֹרָה

חָטָאנוּ צוּרֵנוּ סְלַח לָנוּ יוֹצְרֵנוּ[18]

   עֵ֯זֶ֯ר וּתְרוּפָה הָיָה לְכוּלָּנוּ
   לוּלֵי יי עֶזְרָתָה לָּנוּ
   כִּמְעַט כִּסְדוֹם הָיִינוּ וְלַעֲמוֹרָה דָּמִינוּ
20 יְהִי חַסְדְּךָ יי עָלֵינוּ[19] חטאנו

   הַ֯לְ֯וִ֯יִּ֯ם וְאַהֲרוֹנִים, וְכָל הָעֵדָה רוּבָּם כְּכוּלָּם הָיִּינוּ עוֹמְדִים לִפְנֵי הַר הַבַּיִת לַעֲרוֹךְ
תַּחֲנוּנִים
   וּבְיַד צִיר נֶאֱמָן[20] הַמִפְתֵּחוֹת לִפְתּוֹחַ בּוֹנִים[21]
   וּבְפָתְחוֹ הַדְּבִיר עָמְדוּ כָּל הָעָם לִכְנוֹס לִפְנַי וְלִפְנִים[22]
   כִּי לְכָל דָבָר שֶׁבִּקְדוּשָּׁה[23] הֵמָּה רִאשׁוֹנִים חטאנו

25 אָ֯בַ֯ד֯ הָיָה כִּמְעַט תִּקְוָתֵינוּ וּמִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל[24] וּמֵהוֹנוֹ כָּל אֶחָד יוּפְרָשׁ
   כִּי בְּזוּ הָרֶגַע נָפְלָה הַכִּיפָּה מִבֵּית יי וּכְמוֹ טִיט הַיּוֹצֵר הָיִינוּ רְמָס
   לֹא נִשְׁאַר מִשֹּׂנְאֵינוּ[25] שָׂרִיד וּפָלִיט רַק צָרָה וְצַלְמָוֶת יִירָשׁ
   וְאַתָּה יי בִּזְכוּת נָשֵׁינוּ וְטַפֵּינוּ הִצִּיל אוֹתָנוּ וְשָׁפַךְ חֲמָתוֹ עַל עֵצִים וַאֲבָנִים[26] וְהָיוּ לְמִרְמָס
חטאנו

   בִּ֯קְ֯הִ֯לָּ֯תֵ֯י֯נ֯וּ֯ הַקְּדוֹשָׁה קִבַּלְנוּ עָלֵינוּ וְעַל זַרְעֵינוּ
30 לִגְזוֹר תַּעֲנִית[27] בְּזֶה הַיּוֹם בְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה עַד בִּיאַת מְשִׁיחֵנוּ
   קְרָאנוּךָ בֶּאֱמֶת מְהֵרָה חוּשָׁה לְעֶזְרָתֵינוּ וּלְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ[28]
   פָּנֶיךָ אַל תַּסְתִּיר אֵלֶיךָ בְּשַׁוְעֵינוּ חטאנו

   לֵ֯ב֯ חָכָם יַשְׂכִּיל פִּיו וְעַל שְׂפָתָיו יוֹסִיף לָקְחָה
   אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֹתָנוּ מִמָּוֶת לְחַיִּים מַעֲרָכָה מוּל מַעֲרָכָה[29],[30]
35 כְּבִימֵי הָמָן עָמַד לָּנוּ הַצָּלָה וְהַרְוָחָה
   עַל כֵּן קָבַעְנוּ אַחַר חֲצוֹת הַיּוֹם לְמִשְׁתֶּה וּלְשִׂמְחָה וְלִיתֵּן הוֹדָיָה וּשְׁבָחָה חטאנו

   חִ֯זְ֯ק֯וּ וְ֯אֲ֯מְ֯צ֯וּ[31] לְבַבְכֶם אֶל יי אֱ-לוֹהֵינוּ
   שְמַע יי קוֹל תַּחֲנוּנֵינוּ
   בְּשַׁוְעֵינוּ אֵלֶיךָ נוֹרָאוֹת בְּצֶדֶק תַּעֲנֵינוּ
40 הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יי אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה וּכְקֶדֶם חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ[32] חטאנו

   רְצֵה נִדְבַת שְׂפָתֵינוּ בְּשִׁלּוּם פָּרִים
   סְלַח וּמְחַל לְכָל קְהַל הֲמוֹנִים
   וְאַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ בָּאֵשׁ וּבַמַּיִם[33] הַזֵּדוֹנִים
   כִּי שֹׁמֵעַ אֶל אֶבְיוֹנִים חטאנו

45 חַסְדֵּי הַקַּדְמוֹנִים זְכוֹר וּמִלְפָנֶיךָ רֵיקָם אַל תְּשִׁיבֵינוּ
   לְמַעַנְךָ עֲשֵׂה חִישׁ וּפְדֵנוּ
   יָשׁוּב נָא אַפְּךָ וּתְנַחֲמֵנוּ
   וְסָלַחְתָּ לַעֲו‍ֹנֵנוּ וּלְחַטָּאתֵנוּ[34]

חָטָאנוּ צוּרֵנוּ סְלַח לָנוּ יוֹצְרֵנוּ


Translation of Piyyut:

            We have sinned, our Creator, forgive us, our Maker.

   We will thank G-d our mouths and praise Him publicly.
   Your mercy and truth have always preserved me
   We rely on your righteous ways
   What should we say and how can we justify ourselves to G-d

(We have sinned …)

5   We have perished with our sins, and we are embarrassed by our actions
    And we cried out to G-d not to remember our sins
    To Your chosen place, you should guide us
    We rely on You, for You are our creator

(We have sinned …)

    This day we established for fasting and prayer
10 To be divided half for G-d and half for you [to enjoy]
    To praise and give thanks for the miracles He did to support us
    So that we shouldn't stumble

(We have sinned …)

    To our Synagogue we went to pray Mincha, we went in a direct route
    We were about to go inside with fear and trembling
15 Suddenly we were, Heaven forbid, trapped in a bad trap. Is this Torah and its
         reward?!
    On the 11th of Teveth the year of Chatan Torah [5458 – 1698]

(We have sinned …)

    Help and healing was given to all of us
    Were it not for G-d we would have been in trouble
    We were almost overturned like Sodom and Gomorrah
20 G-d's mercy should be upon us

(We have sinned …)

    The Levites and Kohanim and all of the people we were standing in front of the
         synagogue to pray
     And with the hands of the reliable shepherd the keys were held
     And when they opened the Synagogue everyone stood up to go inside.
     They were first for all holy matters.

(We have sinned …)
 
25 We almost lost hope and at this time everyone will be separated from his wealth
    The roof of the Synagogue collapsed and we were trampled
    And nobody would have survived
    And You G-d, in the merit of our wives and children, saved us and let out Your
         anger on wood and stones and they were trampled.

(We have sinned …)

    In our community, we accepted upon ourselves
30 To accept a fast day every year on this day until the coming of Messiah
    We called to You to listen to our prayers
    And to save us and listen to our prayers

(We have sinned …)

    The smart ones will thank G-d who saved us from death to life
    In battle after battle[35]
35 Like in the days of Haman he brought about a salvation
    Therefore, in the afternoon we established a feast to give praise and thanks.

(We have sinned …)

    Strong and courageously pray to G-d
    G-d should listen to our prayers
    When we pray to You, you should answer us
40 G-d should return to us and we will return, and like old He will return things to
         the way they used to be

(We have sinned …)

    Accept the saying of our mouths as if we brought sacrifices
    Grant forgiveness to all of the people of the multitudes
    And do not bring us to the destructive fire and waters
    For He hears the pleas of the needy

(We have sinned …)

45 The good deeds of the forefathers remember and do not return our prayers
         unanswered
    For your own sake do, listen, and redeem us
    You should return from your wrath and comfort us
    And forgive us for our sins.

(We have sinned …)

[1] Lundenburg is the German and Yiddish name for the city, but the Czech name is Břeclav.  See, for example, here, accessed 19 October 2017.
[2] I would like to thank my Mother, Avraham Fraenkel, and Gabriel Wasserman for their invaluable comments and suggestions for this article.
[3] See here, accessed 19 October 2017.
[4] Nevertheless, I did not find any mention of this holiday in the ledger of the Hevreh Kadisha (Burial Society) of this community (Budapest - Orszagos Rabbinkepzo Intezet Konyvtara K 47), a microfilm of which is found in the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (47032).  This is not extremely surprising since this ledger only begins with 5522 (1762), some sixty-five years after the occurrence of the miracle, but the community was certainly still commemorating these events during this time period, so it would not have been surprising if I would have found something about this holiday in the manuscript.
[5] 11 Teveth 5458 corresponds to January 23, 1698 on the Gregorian calendar.  At this point, many countries in Europe were still using the Julian calendar, according to which this Hebrew date would have corresponded to January 13, 1698.
[6] See, for example, חיי אדם, כלל קמה, סי' מא.  See also Zunz, Ritus, pages 127-130 (131-133 in Hebrew edition) for a list of many such local holidays.
[7] The fact that the akeidah piyyut appears after the pizmon is an indication that this community recited selihot according to an Eastern Ashkenazic rite, as Western Ashkenazic rites (as well as the Lithuanian Eastern rite) always recite an akeidah before the pizmon.
[8] The presence of שמע קולינו is also an indication that this community recited סליחות according to one of the versions of the Eastern Ashkenazic rite, as שמע קולינו is not found in the selihoth of Western Ashkenazic rites.
[9] Akeidah piyyutim are generally not recited at all on fast days, or on the days of selihot up until Erev Rosh Hashanah.
[10] Chatanu piyyutim are recited in the Eastern Ashkeanzic rite at all of the prayers of Yom Kippur.  In addition, the piyyut of א-ל נא רפא is recited in Eastern Ashkenazic communities on fast days, especially the Fast of Esther or if children are ill within the community.  Aside from these, I am not aware of any chatanu piyyutim in any printed Eastern Ashkenazic rite.
[11] בראשית מד:טז.
[12] ע"פ פסחים סח ע"ב ועוד.
[13] ע"פ פסחים קטז ע"ב.
[14] במהדורת אוצר הספרות: יהיה.
[15] ע"פ יחזקאל יא:טז.
[16] ע"פ קהלת ט:יב (ובפס' כתוב מצודה רעה עם חולם, אבל בקונטרס הסליחות מנוקד עם שורוק).
[17] מסכת שמחות ח:יב.
[18] משום מה, אחרי מחרוזת זו, 'חטאנו' מודפס בשלימות במהדורת תרנ"ה, וכך העתקתי פה.
[19] תהלים לג:כב.
[20] משלי כה:יג.
[21] כך כתוב, אבל אולי צ"ל לפתוח כֵּוָנִים, ובמובן המשנה תמיד ג:ו שפותח כֵּיוָן היינו לפתוח ישר = directly.
[22] ברכות ז ע"א ועוד.
[23] מו"ק כח ע"ב ועוד.
[24] במהדורת אוצר הספרות במקום "ומבני ישראל": ומבי'.
[25] ע"פ שמות יד:כח.
[26] ע"פ איכה רבתי פרשה ד, סי' יא.
[27] ע"פ משנה תענית טו ע"ב ועוד.
[28] במהדורת אוצר הספרות: חושה להושיענו (ולא גרסינן לעזרתינו).
[29] ע"פ שמואל א יז:כא. הפייטן מדמה את המות והחיים לקרב שעומד כמו בין שני אויבים, והקב"ה הציל אותם בנצחון החיים.
[30] החרוז 'מערכה' לא מתאים לחרוז 'לקחה' 'והרוחה' 'ושבחה'.  ואם כן אולי זה לא סוף שורה, ובמקום חיתוך זה צריכים לחתוך את שורה 36 ב-'למשתה ולשמחה', אבל אם כן הסימטריה של אורך השורות לא הגיונית, וצ"ע.
[31] הניקוד פה יכול להיות וְאֲמְצוּ או וְאִמְצוּ.  ובמקור מנוקד וְאַמְצוּ.
[32] ע"פ איכה ה:כא.
[33] ע"פ תהלים סו:יב.
[34] שמות לד:ט.
[35] The poet is metaphorically comparing life and death to two enemies standing at battle, and G-d saves them and makes life win.

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