New Book Announcement: A critical edition of R' El‘azar HaKalir's Piyyutim of Rosh Hashanah, by Shulamit Elizur and Michael Rand
By Eliezer Brodt
רבי אלעזר בירבי קליר, פיוטים לראש השנה, ביארה והוסיפה מבוא, שלומית אליצור, התקין מכתבי היד מיכאל רנד, האיגוד העולמי למדעי היהדות, ירושלים תשע"ד, [מקורות לחקר תרבות ישראל, כרך יח], 718 עמודים.
I am very happy to announce the publication of an important work out just in time for Rosh Hashonah, a critical edition of all of R' El‘azar HaKalir's Piyyutim for Rosh Hashonah, by Shulamit Elizur and Michael Rand.
The importance of studying the Piutim before Yom Tov has been noted by many for example:
R' Moshe Hakohen, nephew of the Rosh, writes in his work, Sefer Hamaskil:
מה טוב ומה נעים לעיין תמיד דבר בעתו בכל שבוע ושבוע בפירוש חומש ומחזור וסליחות ויוצרות ופיוטים וקינות ופרקי אבות ודברות והושענות וזכרנו ואגדת פסח ומערבים וגדול וקטן... [ספר חסידים, עמ' עא].
[For an exact explanation of this passage and for general information about this work see the special article of Rabbi M. Honig in Yerushaseinu 1 (2007) pp. 196-240 especially p. 229].
A similar idea is found in the Mahril:
וכל אדם יחזור וילמוד התפלה והקרובץ מקודם להיות שגורים בפיו בר"ה בשעת התפלה [מהרי"ל עמ' רעב].
The Taz writes:
ראה דבתפלה שצריך להבין בפי' הדברים בפרט בפיוטים שחמור פירוש' אם לא בנתינת דעה רבה עליהם ודאי צריך להסדיר תחלה ולא מהני לו ספר בזה וזה פשוט [ט"ז, סי' ק ס"ק א].
In regard to the Piyutim by the Kalir, it's worth quoting the Arizal, as mentioned by the Magen Avrohom:
האר"י ז"ל לא היה אומר פיוטים ופזמונים אלא מה שסדרו הראשונים כגון הקלירי שנתקנו ע"ד האמת, (הכוונות( [סי' סח הקדמה].
Different aspects related to the Kalir have been dealt with here on the Seforim Blog; see Dan Rabinowitz's article here which includes a bibliography about him. In addition to this, see Marc Shapiro's article here and my article here, note 73.
The Kalir as described by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
I would just like to quote one special passage of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik about the greatness of the Kalir. This passage is from the Koren Mesorat Harav Kinot (pp. 386-388) which is based on Rabb Jacob Schacter's transcripts of the Rav's Tisha B'Av sessions:
At this point, it would be useful to make some general observations about Rabbi Elazar Hakalir and the style of his piyutim, his religious poetry. The piyutim of Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, including his kinot, serve two purposes. The first is limmud, learning. Every sentence of the piyut quotes m'aamarei Hazal, teachings of the sages. The second purpose is tokhaha, rubuking the people for their misdeeds and instructing them in the proper way to act. These piyutim deal with reproach, repentance, petition and acknowledgment of God’s justice. The shali'ah Tzibbur was not merely a hazan, a cantor, but was one of the great scholars of the generation who was the principal mokhiah, moral critic of the people…
Rabbi Elazar HaKalir was a master of the Hebrew language and very creative in his use of Hebrew. If not for him, modern Hebrew could not have come into existence. Before HaKalir, the Hebrew language was very rigid. For example, the noun and verbs were fixed in their form. It was difficult to transform a verb into a noun or a noun into a verb, a simple matter in other languages…
But HaKalir made a critical contribution to the development of the Hebrew language by endowing the language with flexibility, thereby paving the way for the development of modern Hebrew. There were other early paytanim, composers of piyut, such as Yose ben Yose, but they were not as radical in their literary style as HaKalir. HaKalir was the father of the paytanim, and he dared to do more than any other paytan.
As noted above, Rabbi Elazar haKalir’s piyutim served two purposes: limmud, study and tokhaha, rebuke. As for the element of study, one of the dimensions of HaKalir’s piyutim is that they are compilations of the statements of the sages. Most of us, who are expert in neither Hebrew nor aggadot Hazal, find HaKalir’s corpus of piyutim boring. But it is not boring at all; it is like a gold mine. His piyutim for Yom Tov explain the essence of the Yom Tov. The midrashim concerning Sukkot are replete with information about the sukka, etrog and lulav, and all the explanations in the Midrash, all the ta’amei sukka, the reasons for the sukka, all of the ma’amarei Hazal, are brought together in the HaKalir’s piyutim for the first day of Sukkot. Similarly, his piyutim for Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur include all the homiletical literature concerning the statement in the Midrash, “On Rosh HaShana, Sarah, Rachel and Hanna, were remembered” (Bereshit Raba 73:1). If one were to study carefully and thoroughly the piyutim of Rabbi Elazar HaKalir for Rosh HaSahana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Pesah, one would find many applicable halakot and the entire pertinent Midrash, including many midrashim that are unknown to us from any other source.
It is quite possible that during the time of Roman and Byzantine rule in the land of Israel, the ruling authorities prohibited shiurim and afternoon lectures by Torah scholars and sent officers to the synagogues on Yom Tov afternoon to prevent the people from studying. Consequently, the rabbis introduced the study of Torah into the prayer service via piyutim, a subterfuge that eluded the authorities. The piyutim were deliberately written in a fashion that would make them difficult to understand, lest the officers recognize their true function and forbid their recitation. As previously noted, we do not know with certainty when Rabbi Elazar HaKalir lived. According to Tosafot (Hagiga 13a, s.v. veraglei hahayot), he was the tanna, Rabbi Elazar HaGadol, who lived in the second century, but according to other Rishonim, he was either an amora, or one of the early liturgical poets, from the sixth or seventh century. But his piyutim could certainly have served the purpose of integrating Torah study into the prayers in a way that would not have been obvious to the non-Jewish authorities.
Description of the work:
What follows is a description of this new work [sent around from the publishers of the book]
Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment, has been embellished with numerous fascinating liturgical poems (piyyutim). This book is devoted to the compositions that were written for Rosh Hashana by the illustrious poet R. El‘azar berabbi Qillir, who was active in the Land of Israel at the beginning of the seventh century. The piyyutim for Rosh Hashana are many and varied, and they adorn all of the special prayers for the festival. A number of these piyyutim are known and recited to this day in Ashkenazi congregations, while others are published here for the first time. Even those piyyutim that are known from the festival prayer books (mahzorim) are presented here in a new light. The present edition is primarily based not on European mahzorim, but on earlier fragments from the Cairo Genizah; on the basis of such early sources the editors have succeeded in adding new, original material to the known compositions—there is not one famous composition to which heretofore unpublished material has not been added, in some cases throwing new light on the entire work. Even in such cases, therefore, we are not merely offering old wine in new wineskins, but presenting a new blend that confers on the poetic compositions novel aspects, not previously brought to light.
This edition has been prepared on the basis of close to 400 manuscripts, and all of the variant readings have been given in the margins. An extensive commentary aids the reader in understanding the difficult idiom of the payyetan, identifying the many scriptural and midrashic sources that are woven into the piyyutim, and following the development of their themes. A general introduction treats various questions connected to the poems, from their attribution to the author and the reconstruction of the component parts of each composition, to the literary shaping of the material. In his piyyutim, R. El‘azar berabbi Qillir treats Rosh Hashana in all of its aspects: the Day of Judgment, the blowing of the shofar; the malkhiyot, zikhronot, and shofarot verses; the merit of the Fathers; and more. A number of compositions are specially intended for when Rosh Hashana falls on the Sabbath. Qillir’s unique method in the shaping of each of these themes is also clarified in the introduction. The complex web of interrelations between the piyyutim and their literary sources is elucidated as well; thus it has become clear, for example, that one of the piyyutim edited here for the first time throws new light on the famous poem, U-netane toqef qedushat ha-yom.
“O King, Remember [the ram] caught [by its] horn!” These few words from one of the piyyutim published in the book reveal the genius of the great payyetan. Here, R. El‘azar berabbi Qillir has succeeded in encapsulating in four words the three great themes that lie at the heart of the benedictions that are unique to Rosh Hashana—kingship, remembrance and the ram’s horn (shofar)—all in the form of a prayer that beseeches God to remember for our sakes, on the Day of Judgment, the Binding of Isaac, symbolized by the ram whose horns are caught in the thicket. And if in four words the payyetan has managed to encapsulate such far-flung meanings, one can only imagine the riches contained in this enormous collection of R. El‘azarʼs writings for the Day of Judgment, which we now have before us.
About the authors:
Prof. Shulamit Elizur has been teaching since 1980 in the section for Medieval poetry and piyyut in the Department of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has published more than ten books and scores of articles, predominantly in the field of Genizah piyyut, but also devoted to Spanish Hebrew poetry and the development of various liturgical rites. A series of her books is devoted to the Late Eastern period of piyyut, and comprises an attempt to characterize the linguistic and literary developments attested during this phase on the basis of the production of critical editions of a number of its outstanding representatives. The present work is part of another series of her books devoted to the great Classical poets, among them R. El‘azar berabbi Qillir and R. Pinhas ha-Kohen.
Dr. Michael Rand specializes in Hebrew philology and piyyut. Since 2013, he has been Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Rand acquired expertise with Genizah manuscripts over the course of a number of years of work in the section for piyyut and Medieval poetry of the Historical Hebrew Dictionary Project of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. He has devoted an extensive study to the grammar of the piyyutim of R. El‘azar berabbi Qillir; together with Jonathan Vardi, he has recently completed a soon-to-appear reconstruction of a copy of the Diwan of R. Shmuel ha-Nagid, the leaves of which are now scattered across various Genizah collections. He has also written many articles, among which are a number in which he has edited parts of the Qillirian corpus. In the present work, Dr. Rand is responsible for the paleographical aspects of the research: reading the manuscript sources, grouping them together (where relevant) and reconstructing thereby the larger units (quires, books) to which they belong, producing the apparatus of variant readings, and describing the manuscripts.
For a Table of Contents or more information about purchasing this work, feel free to contact me at Eliezerbrodt@gmail.com. Copies of this work will be arriving at Biegeleisen shortly.