Hoshana: Beseeching God

A unique aspect of the Sukkot service


This article is excerpted from The Enclyclopedia of Jewish Prayer. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. Copyright 1996 Jason Aronson, Inc.

In the Ashkenazic ritual, four verses, beginning with the words Hosha Na (“Save, we beseech Thee”), are each recited on Sukkot responsively by the Shaliach Tzibbur [prayer leader]and congregation.

The two say words that are derived from Psalms 118:25. Because of the manner of pronouncing the two words as one, the sages used the contracted form, Hoshana. However, it should be enunciated as two words. In the Sephardic tradition the two words are contracted. But the hataf patah [a vowel sound] is placed on the last letter of the word Hosha, which causes the word to on be read as Hosha’ana.

Each of the four verses opens and closes with Hosha Na. In between are the phrases, “For Your sake, our God [Elohaynu],” “For Your sake, our Creator [Bore’aynu],” “For Your sake, our Redeemer [Go’alaynu],” and “For Your sake, O Thou Who searchest us [Doreshaynu].”

In the Sephardic tradition the word Hosha’ana is it uttered twice at the beginning and again at the end of the special Piyyut [liturgical poem] that follows. The special Piyyut is introduced with the four expressions, lema’anekha Elohaynu, lema’anekha Bore’aynu, lema’anekha Go’alaynu, and lema’anekha Doreshaynu, similar to the Ashkenazic version. The four expressions in the Ashkenazic and Sephardic rituals follow an alphabetical scheme but only up to the letter dalet. Though there are versions where the text continues with the alphabet up to the letter resh; only four expressions were used. It is possible that the use of the four letters only was to make it correspond to the same number of letters in God’s Name (YKVK). In both traditions a piyyut with a complete alphabetical acrostic follows.

At the Hoshana service a Torah scroll is taken from the ark, which remains open during the entire recitation of the prayers. The Torah is brought to the Bimah (Taybah) so that the Shaliach Tzibbur and worshipers carrying the Four Species make a circuit of the synagogue around the Torah. The reason for holding the Torah on the Bimah is because the Torah brings redemption upon us as upon an altar. The circuit is begun immediately when saying the piyyut and is made to the north, west, south, and east. It is customary to add the words Hosha Na before each letter of the alpha bet, for example, Hosha Na lema’an Amitakh, Hosha Na lema’an Beritakh. The Sheli’ah Tzibbur and congregation recite each stich responsively, first the Shaliach Tzibbur and then the worshipers. Some say Hosha Na before and after, as, for example, Hosha Na lema’an Amitakh Hosha Na. On the Sabbath a circuit is not made because in the Holy Temple, too, there was no procession. However, the ark is opened but a Torah scroll is not taken to the reading desk.

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Cantor Macy Nulman is co-founder of the Cantorial Council of America and former director of the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University. He is the author of numerous books and articles an Jewish liturgy and music education.

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