Author Archives: Cantor Macy Nulman

About Cantor Macy Nulman

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.

The Prayer for Rain: Sephardic Tradition

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

A prayer for rain, comprising several paragraphs, is recited by Sephardim on Shemini Atzeret. Some recite this section after lema’an shemo be’ahavah in the Shaliach Tzibbur’s [service leader’s]repetition of the Amidah [standing prayer], while others recite it prior to the recitation of Musaf [the additional service], immediately before the Torah scrolls are returned to the ark.

sephardic rain traditionsShifat revivim (“O Lord, pour down copious showers from Thy heavens”), ascribed to Solomon ibn Gabirol, is the first prayer said. The author’s first name, Shelomoh, is signed in the form of an acrostic at the beginning of the first lines in the poem and is followed by the wish HaZaK (“Be strong!”).

When Tikkun Hageshem is said prior to Musaf, the rabbi and hazzan [cantor]stand next to the scrolls of the Torah while reciting the prayer. The prayer that follows is Mechaseh shamayim (“O Thou Who coverest the heavens”). Its authorship is unknown. The sentence, “So open, we pray, Thy goodly treasury of rain, to revive all in whom a soul is breathed, as Thou makest the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” is repeated as a refrain five times.

The prayer following is Leshoni vonaneta ckhonaneta and is also said in tikkun ha-tal [the prayer for dew recited in the Spring]. It concludes with the first blessing of the Amidah, magen Avraham [shield of Abraham], when Tikkun Hageshem is said in the repetition of the Musaf Amidah.

The prayer service continues with Yisbe’un yedidckha (“Give to Thy beloved children plentifulness”), which includes the poem Ayl chai yiftach otzrot shamayim (“God of life, open Thy heavenly treasures”). Written in an alphabetical acrostic form in which biblical phrases are used, the phrase “May the wind blow and the rain flow” appears as a refrain.

The text in the London, Amsterdam, and Spanish-Portuguese Mahzorim [holiday prayerbooks]omits the stanzas beginning with the letters vav (Vetazil mitral) and zayin (Zekhor rahamecha). It seems, however, that these two stanzas did appear in older prayer books, as each stanza makes reference to one of the biblical heroes in whose merit we ask for rain, and it would be unthinkable that the poet left out Aaron and David, as intimated in these two stanzas. In the Syrian tradition the eight stanzas, honoring the seven Ushpizin plus Elisha and Melech ha-mashi’ach [the king messiah], are assigned to different worshipers to recite.

Hoshana: Beseeching God

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.

Al Hanisim: Concerning the Miracles

Most commonly associated with Hanukkah, a variation of this prayer is also recited on Purim, and some communities recite a new version on Israel’s Independence Day. All of these are post-Biblical observances.  The words recited in Al Hanisim serve to define God’s role in these historical events.  As detailed in this article, Al Hanisim is actually an insertion into a one of the standard Amidah prayers — the prayer of Thanksgiving.

While the article focuses on the technicalities of this prayer, one additional point should be made.  By treating the Al Hanisim as an insertion into a standard prayer, the status of the holiday is maintained (as being less then a festival) while still religiously acknowledging the importance of God’s role in post-Biblical events.

This article is excerpted with permission from The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (Jason Aronson).

A prayer that relates briefly to the story of Hanukkah and Purim, [Al Hanisim is] inserted into the 18th benediction of the Amidah (“Modim“) and into the second benediction of Birkat Hamazon [the grace after meals](“Nodeh L’kha“). 

The introductory sentence reads as follows: Al Hanisim–“We thank Thee for the miracles, the redemption, and the triumphant victories, and liberation which Thou hast wrought for our fathers in days of old at this season.” Following that is a description of the basic events of Hanukkah (Bimay Mattityahu–in the days of Mattathias] and Purim (Bimay Mordehcai–in the days of Mordecai”].

Since Al Hanisim serves as an expression of thanksgiving, it is most fitting that it is placed into the benediction called Hoda’ah (“Thanksgiving”). A short version of Al Hanisimis found in Soferim (20:8), and the current text is taken from the Siddur [prayer book] of Rav Amram Gaon (Seder Hanukkah) and Siddur R. Sa’adyah Gaon (256). Reciting Al Hanisimis also mentioned in She’iltot (Va- yishlah) of Gaon Aha. Variation in text exists between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic rites.

Some authorities add the conjunction vav before the word Al, thus Ve’al (“And for. . .”). Owing to the fact that the festivals of Hanukkah and Purimare post-biblical and were established by rabbinic ordinances, Al Hanisim does not have to be repeated if one inadvertently omitted it in the Amidah or in Birkat Hamazon.

Customarily, Al Hanisim is not announced at Teffilat Arvit [the evening prayer service], because prior to Teffilat Arvitthe candles are lit in the synagogue and the worshipers are apprised of the additional recital. The [religious authority known as] Abudraham, however, suggests that Al Hanisim be announced by the SHaTZ [prayer leader] on Purim.

Attah Hareita: It Has Been Shown To You

This article is written from a traditional perspective. This article is excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. Copyright 1996 Jason Aronson, Inc.

Attah Hareita is a prayer named after its introductory verse (Deuteronomy 4:35), comprising a collection of other biblical verses, each in praise of God and the Torah. These verses are recited on the Sabbath and festivals by some Sephardic rites and by congregations following Hasidic ritual, to mark the beginning of the ceremony of taking the Torah from the ark, and by the Ashkenazic rite on Simchat Torah to introduce the Hakafot [Torah procession] ceremony.

The reason the six verses Attah Hareita, Ayn Kamokha, Malkhutekha, Hashem Melekh, Hashem Oz, and Haytivah Virtzonekha are said before opening the ark is because of the verse, "And when they that bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he [David] sacrificed an ox and a fatling."

The biblical commentator Rashicomments on the verse Attah Hareita Lada’at ("Unto thee [Israel] it was shown to know") that "when the Holy One Blessed be He gave the Torah, He opened for them the seven heavens, and just as He split the upper, so He split the lower [regions], and they saw that He is one; therefore it is stated Attah Hareita Lada’at."The opening verse is therefore appropriate for Shabbat, considering that the Torah was given on Shabbat [according to traditional belief].

According to tradition, it became customary to recite Attah Hareitain a standing position at the evening service of Shemini Atzeret (if the ceremony of Hakafot takes place) and also at the evening and morning services of Simchat Torah. Each verse is read by the Shaliach Tzibbur [service leader]and repeated by the congregation. At the verse Ki mitziyon, [For our of Zion] all the Torahs are removed from the ark. Most congregations, however, remove the scrolls after all the verses have been recited. The custom also exists that each verse is read by a different member of the congregation and then repeated by the congregation. The ark is opened at Vayehi bineso’a [when the ark was carried].

Generally the first verse, Attah Hareita, is recited by the rabbi of the congregation and the verse Kohanekha yilbeshu tzedek ["your priests will be clothed in righteousness"]by a Kohen.