Yigdal: A Case Study in Modern Customology
by Dan Rabinowitz
by Dan Rabinowitz
Another blog recently raised the question about the origin of saying Yigdal at the end of services on Friday night. Specifically, they wanted to demonstrate that this custom is not a “modern” or “Young Israel” custom and instead was very old. Although in practice today, this view is perhaps the prevalent custom with most yeshivot and similar minyanim not reciting this and Young Israel and those similar do. In an attempt to refute this postion, the Hertz siddur was marshaled. Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz records that in 1722 in England they said Yigdal Friday night, thus, according to that post, demonstrating the Yigdal custom is old (or at least from 1722).
While the above provides a basic introduction, this topic, and that of Yigdal in general, deserves greater explication.
First, to establish when people said Yigdal on Friday night, a check of early siddurim is necessary. Today this can be done online via the JNUL’s digital project which has numerous early siddurim. The earliest I have located which contains Yigdal is in the 1486 edition of the siddur. From then on, in just about every subsequent edition of the siddur, Yigdal appears at the end of Friday night prayers. This is the case irrespective of the nusach. These early siddurim then show that, at least from the late 15th century on, the almost universal custom was to say Yigdal Friday night. [This is not to say the recitation Friday night is the only custom, in fact there are others, but merely to point out the custom of reciting Yigdal on Friday night has a clear precedent.]
We now must turn to see if there are other issues with the recitation of Yigdal which would label it as “modern.” Admittedly in this search we are somewhat handicapped in that we don’t know what would qualify as a “modern” or as some refer to it “Young Israel” custom, thus, we are forced to utilized gross generalizations, which unfortunately may not be the exact definition of “modern.” Perhaps, as the study of Hebrew grammar has been referred to by some as “modern” it is an emphasis upon grammar which makes Yigdal “modern.” This, however, is not borne out by the commentaries. To the contrary, many grammarians disapprove, on grammatical grounds, of Yigdal. For example, R. Yitzhak Satanow, in both his earlier work on prayer – Iggeret l’Bet Teffilah – and his later and more comprehensive work – V’etar Yitzhak decries the grammar in Yigdal. He notes that Yigdal, among other Hebrew poems, uses incorrect grammar to satisfy the meter of the poem. R. Shelomoh Zalman Hanau also makes the same point. So it would appear there is not an overemphasis on grammar, rather the opposite is the case, it actually presents some grammatical problems.
R. Jacob Emden disapproves of Yigdal because it makes it seem that there are only thirteen requirements to Judaism, while in fact there are many, many others. While this may be an issue with Yigdal it is equally a problem with reciting the Ani Ma'amin prayer which many do at the end of the daily prayers. Additionally, this does not speak to the specific question at hand – reciting Yigdal on Friday night, and not, as these authorities would have it, never. Even though many do not say Yigdal Friday night, and in some siddurim today it does not appear there, many still include it as part of the morning prayers. Again, it appears this would not be the issue with the Friday night recitation.
Now, we must turn to the authorship of Yigdal. For many years it was an open question who actually authored Yigdal. As there is no clear acrostic it was difficult to prove conclusively who was the author. Some said since it is based upon Maimonides’s formulation of the Thirteen Principles of Faith he must also be the author. Others said it was R. Yehiel b. Barukh. They argued his name appears in the last verse of Yigdal – יחי אל and "ברוך" עדי עד. The first option, the Maimonidian authorship, is somewhat problematic for two reasons. First, although Maimonides did formulate Thirteen Principles that does not mean he then wrote every single thing about them which followed. In fact Yigdal is not the only poem to use the Rambam’s principles – there are about ninety-one poems which utilize the Rambam’s principles. Second, at first glance it appears that one of the principles is actually missing from Yigdal. The principle that does not appear is limiting pray to God and no other. But, this has been solved by noting there is in all likelihood a very small error in the text of Yigdal. Two very similar letters – the Resh and the Daled – have been switched. Instead of יורה למכותו it should read יודה למלכותו. Meaning, thank or praise his (God's) kingdom and "God's" kingdom alone.
In the 19th century, R. Samuel David Luzzatto (“Shadal”) claimed to have discovered the real author of Yigdal. He did so based upon two manuscripts he called attention to. These state that ר' דניאל בן יהודה הדיין was סדר Yigdal. Thus, we now have explict evidence of who was the author – we have an author's byline as it was.
Although this would have appeared to settle the issue, it did not. Soon after, Shadal’s thesis was challenged and instead another person was claimed to be the true author of Yigdal – Immanuel b. Isaac of Rome. The basis for this assertion was Immanuel has a similar poem to Yigdal which actually contains the word Yigdal and then continues to go through the Thirteen Principles of Faith. Additionally, Immanuel’s name can be found in Yigdal – לעמו אל.
But what to do with the manuscript Shadal found which explicitly states it was not Immanuel but instead Daniel b. Yehudah? According to those who espouse Immanuel as the author, they note the word is not חיבר – authored- but instead סדר – which typically means edited.
Now if in fact Immanuel did author Yigdal it would be somewhat understandable why some may take issue with Yigdal. The Yigdal corollary appears in Immanuel’s Machberet, which also contains some risqué poems. This was offensive to some and R. Yosef Karo actually mentions this book by name, a somewhat unusual occurrence in his Shulhan Arukh, and says one should not read it on the Shabbat.
Nevertheless, it appears the consensus on the authorship of Yigdal follows Shadal and declines to read סדר as edited. So we are left with a rather innocuous author of Yigdal. So, on its face it seems there is nothing which leads to the conclusion that Yigdal is a “modern” custom. Instead, in all likelihood the reason that some do not say Yigdal is not due it modernity but rather due to a modern concern. This concern is that of the 16th century Kabbalist, R. Isaac Luria, ("Ari"). The Ari states that certain poems were written without the necessary kabbalistic intent and therefore they should not be recited – Yigdal is one of them. Thus, it would seem that this modern concern is why some have stopped saying Yigdal on Friday night.
Sources: As mentioned above, one can see the siddurim which include Yigdal Friday night at the David and Fela Shapell Family Digitization Project at the Jewish National and University Library; Iggeret l’Bet Teffilah (Berlin, 1772): 7b-8a; Y. Satanow, V’etar Yitzhak (Vienna, 1815): 9; Landshuth, Amudei Avodah (Berlin 1857): 101; D. Oppenheim, “Ha’arot ve-Heherot ‘al Shir Yigdal v’Yud Gimel Ikkarim,” in HaMaggid 11:21 (29th May 1867): Immanuel of Rome, Machbarot, Steinschneider ed. (Lemberg, 1870): 39, end of the fourth section; Samuel David Luzzatto, Mevo l’Machzor Beni Roma, p. 44; Reifmann, Michtavim, in HaKarmel, Shana Bet, 103-04, 165-66; Hartwig Hirschfeld, "Immanuel of Rome and Other Poets on the Jewish Creed," Jewish Quarterly Review (n.s.) 5:4 (April, 1915): 529-542; idem., “The Author of the Yigdal Hymn,” Jewish Quarterly Review (n.s.) 11:1 (July, 1920): 86-88; Alexander Marx, “A List of Poems on the Articles of the Creed,” Jewish Quarterly Review (n.s.) 9:3-4 (January, 1919): 305-36; Jacob J. Schacter, Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Major Works (unpublished PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1988), 327; Marc B. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology, pp. 17-20.