English, Piyut

A Payytanic Quiz for Hanukkah

Hebrew liturgical poems (piyyutim) only rarely relate to halakhic matters. However, we do have one intriguing piyyut for Hanukkah that enumerates laws concerning the candle lighting during the days of the feast. This piyyut is attributed in Genizah manuscripts to the celebrated poet El’azar Birabi Qilir, who lived in the Galilee in the early seventh century, although it appears as well in a composition by the mid-eight century poet, Pinhas Hakohen from Kifra (a suburb of Tiberias). At any rate, we thought that this piyyut would give us an opportunity to hold our first ever Talmud Blog Quiz. Readers are encouraged to decipher the poem: Namely, to explain which laws it alludes to and cite texts that support their answers in the comments section of the blog. When the last day of Hannukah arrives we will post the “correct” answers and respond to your suggestions.

Have fun!



10 thoughts on “A Payytanic Quiz for Hanukkah

  1. Gabriel Wasserman says:

    I think it’s not fair for me to enter this one. Anyway, I would take issue with the first sentence of your post, “Hebrew liturgical poems (piyyutim) only rarely relate to halakhic matters”, especially if you’re going to include European piyyutim. But not only — all the way back to Yannai, we’ve got the piyyutim dealing with the laws of purity for the Sabbaths of Leviticus 12 ff. And plenty of other examples. Hardly “rare”.

    And from Europe, we’ve got tons of piyyutim dealing with halakha — though the ones which deal with the halakhoth of Hanukkah are exclusively Sephardic, not Italo-Ashkenazic.

  2. Gabriel, yes this is a quiz for non-specialists :=)
    As for your second comment; I guess it depends how one defines ‘rare’. By the way, the ultimate collection of halakhic piyyutim is Bar Tikva & Hazan, Shirat Hahalacha, Bar Ilan University Press 1997.

  3. AS says:

    couplets 1 and 4: When the Sabbath of Hanukkah ends you immediately become obligated in five blessings (two on lighting the menorah, and three during havdallah) but cannot make use of its light so it cannot be used for havdallah).
    couplet 2: the mitzvah is fulfilled only when it is lit in the proper place; or, menorah should not be moved after it is lit.
    couplets 3, 6, 7: references the three levels of performing the mitzvah (1 per house, 1 per person, number of candles corresponding to the night and the dispute whether one begins with 8 and removes one each night or begins with 1 and adds every night.
    couplet 5: again, since the light cannot be used one cannot do work in front of it.
    couplet 8: no idea
    couplet 9: the flame should be allowed to smoke out on its own, not extinguished; or, ideally one should use a singed wick; one cannot reuse a lamp made of pottery for hanukkah.
    couplet 10: one cannot light another candle from it (or even from one hanukkah light to another?)

    • I think that the first couplet is referring to the first day of Hanukkah on which 3 blessings are recited when kindling the Hanukkah lights and 2 other when reciting Hallel.

      The forth just says that you need to make a bracha on the lights and can’t use it for Havdala.

      The eighth may be referring to the practice of waiting to recite the blessing of Shi’asa Ni’sim until after the lights are lit, as is evident was the practice from Ma’sechet Sofrim. The Talmud in reference to Ner Havdala writes אין מברכין על נר עד שיאותו לאורו. It seems the same was applied the Hanukkah lights.

      The ninth refers to the custom of using new wicks every night, and therefore not bothering to extinguish the wick before it goes out to save it (which even if saved might be forbidden from being used for something else), a custom later practiced by the Ashkenazim.

  4. Pingback: A Payytanic Quiz for Hanukkah – “The Answers” | The Talmud Blog

  5. Zvi H. Szubin says:

    One of my doctoral students just brought to my attention your timely and thought provoking “Paytanic Quiz” and urged me to share with you segments from recent e-mail correspondence with respected authorities in the field of liturgy and a number of serious talmidei chakhamim concerning my findings as they relate to the hitherto not sufficiently appreciated halakhic significance of “Ha-Neirot Halalu”

    p.s. Since, Chanukka is upon us, I am enclosing a few selected segment from an e-mail that I have sent out last week to one of the roshei yeshiva at YU, who is eager to learn more about my insights (chiddushim) especially those that are related to Halakha and Liturgy
    The bottom line in this case is, according to my research as presented in my book on Law and Liturgy, that the liturgical composition of “Ha-neirot Halalu” comprises a rather profoundly important and legally significant declaration/consecration from the point of view of authoritative Halakha and therefore ought not be treated as just another song, akin to “Ma’oz Tzur” — for indeed, the early sources indicate that there is much more here than meets the eye…

    Apropos the injunction not to derive any benefit from the light of nerot chanukka, I have tried to impress upon my students the fact that the two “songs” invariably sung as we light the chanukka candles, – namely, the stirring “Ma’oz tzur” and “Ha-neirot hallalu,” ought not be considered as similar in kind poetic liturgical compositions, for they do not belong to the same category, but rather constitute two distinct inherently incompatible taxonomies. Whereas, the rousing piyut “Ma’oz tzur” is a mere liturgical expression recalling an array of pertinent historical events, “Ha-neirot hallalu,” on the other hand, constitutes a legal halakhic formula of an authoritatively binding declaration. I have devoted a special chapter in my book “Legal Terminology in Liturgy” to the critical analyses of these issues. Succinctly stated, in the case at bar, the legal halakhic force animating the “ha-neirot hallalu” declaration/consecration is irrefutably attested to in a number of early rabbinic sources. Thus, for instance, in the tractate of masekhet Sofrim (20,4-6) the “ha-neirot ha-eilu qodesh…” declaration is recited as part of the first blessing — namely, the benediction of “l’hadliq ner [shel] chanukka” and is to be recited only by the person who is designated as the madliq,– invariably, the master of the household, as per the usage, “ish u’beito” Tellingly, the text of “keitzad mvarkhin” emphasizes that the person who lights the candles after the recitation of the first blessing “u’matne v’omer: ha-neirot ha-eilu qodesh” – “ and he stipulates (imposing a condition) and declares, that these candles are holy (consecrated for the exclusive purpose of seeing them and not to derive any other personal benefit from them) as per the closing statement: “ha-masdliq mvarekh u’matne; v’ha-roeh omer: she-‘asa nisim” (Sofrim 20,4)

    Consequently, from the halakhic point of view the legally binding declaration made in public by the Madlik, is not unlike any other legally sanctioned declaration of dedication, “haqdasha” be it in the realm of qorbanot (sacrifices and other ritualia in the context of temple worship) or matrimony (qiddushin) or even the mundane neder or tnai, as per for instance, a person who declares that XYZ (or even himself) shall not derive any benefit from a particular item or entity. Concerning the intricate legal issues such as, if the consecrated item or entity become invested with a special intrinsic quality (in rem) or the injunction not to derive any personal benefit from these entities is only imposed on the person (in personam) or on occasion in certain cases as a conflation of the two (quasi in rem) I was able to demonstrate that such legal issues are attested to in early rabbinic sources, as well. My former chevruta Israel Ta-Shma, as well as Yechezkel Kutscher, a brilliant linguist and a serious talmid chakham (one of my doctoral advisors) eagerly embraced my findings and also provided additional corroborative proof-texts. By the way, while still a yeshive bochur at the Hevron yeshiva, I have shared some of these findings with reb Mikh’l Feinstein (reb Velvl’s son in law) Trying to impress him, I decided to phrase my insights (chiddushim)in the Brisker derekh of analysis – namely, in terms of gavra and cheftza. But, to no avail. Sadly, my attempt boomeranged, as reb Mikh’l preferred to follow his own distinct derekh ha-limmud…

    Anyway, years later, I was able to find a number of additional early rabbinic sources to corroborate my findings. Apropos our specific issue, please note that the linguistic formulation in the above mentioned source in masekhet Sofrim, employs as the operative clause “u’matne v’omer: ha-neirot ha-eilu qodesh v’ein lanu rshut…” Evidently, this language harkens back to the authoritatively legally binding neder and tnai. Moreover, the source also points to a distinct difference between the obligations of the madlik, (the person who lights the candles) in contrast to that of the ro’eh (the onlooker) Consequently, it is only the Madliq who is obligated to recite the first brakha, “…asher qidshanu v’tzivanu l’hadliq ner [shel] chanukka” followed by the official and publicly stated declaration, “ha-neirot ha-eilu qodesh v’ein lanu rshut l’hishtamesh ba-hem…”
    Furthermore, this legally binding declaration of consecration (haqdasha) is associated with to the madliq and his household (ish u’beito), in contrast to an outsider or a stranger. On the other hand, the inactive bystander at the time of the hadlaqa and haqdasha (the initial kindling and consecration) – namely, the person who is designated as the ro’eh (the onlooker) recites only the second blessing of, “se-‘asa nisim l’avoteinu ba-yamim ha-hem ba-zman ha-zeh”
    Thus, on the basis of my research in Jewish law and comparative legal studies aimed at the retrieval of precision oriented legal terminology, submitting the text in masekhet Sofrim to a close critical reading, yielded a better understanding of the underlying halakhically binding legal force inherent in the declaration/dedication of the legal clause: “ha-neirot ha-lalu qodesh hem” Furthermore, meticulous analyses focused on the intersection of Language and Law, of several related early rabbinic texts, including a number of talmudic sources concerning such prohibitions as not to derive any personal benefits from Sukka paraphernalia or other objects such as the etrog or hadas, as per, for instance, Sukka 37b; Shabbat 22a; and Beitza 30b
    Similarly, please note, such usages as, “ha-kol l’fi tna’o” and the response offered by the sage Shmuel, “v’khi ner, qdusha yesh bah ?!” and Rashi’s commentary, “d’chal shem shamayim ‘al ‘atzei sukka l’issur hanaah kol shiv’a” since, all these sources collectively offer a considerably more perceptive understanding of the underlying legal principle inherent in the halakhic significance intrinsic in the legally binding proclamation/declaration of consecration: “ha-neirot ha-lalu qodesh hem, v’ein lanu rshut l’hishtamesh ba’hem, ela li’rotam bilvad.”

    It is unfortunate that this fundamental halakhically binding clause became uprooted from its original in situ legal context and also became detached from the first brakha, to be recited by the madlik, and thus inadvertently placed at the very conclusion of all the other brakhot, consequently creating the impression that the formulation “ha-neirot halalu” constitutes an independent stand-alone liturgical unit, not unlike the liturgical composition of the piyut “Ma’oz tzur.”

    Tellingly, the early strata of rabbinic text, taken in tandem, attest to the legal authoritatively binding halkhic force animating the “ha-neirot halalu qodesh hem” proclamation. Thus, in massekhet Sofrim (20, 4) “ha-madliq omer: barukh ata… l’hadliq ner shel chanukka, u’matne v’omer: ha-neirot ha-eilu anu madliqin ‘al… v’kol shmonat yimei chnukka ha-neirot ha-eilu qodesh, v’ein lanu rshut l’hishtamesh ba-hen ela lirotan bilvad, kdei lhodot shimkha ‘al niflaoteikha v’al niseikha v’al yeshu’oteikha; v’omer: barukh ata she-hecheyanu; v’omer: barukh ata she-‘asa nisim; b’yom rishon, mi’kan v’heilakh, ha-madliq mvarekh u’matne; v’ha-roeh omer: she-‘asa nisim.

    This analysis of the early rabbinic sources (divorced from the ancillary issues of bizui mitzvah and the issues of shimmush ‘arai in contrast to qev’a) also vindicates and soundly validates the interesting question raised by the Beit Ha-Levi (in a typical Brisker fashion) – namely, if an unrelated “ro’e” (onlooker) or a mere by-passer may benefit from the lights of the chanukka candles. It appears to me that he tried to base his analysis on the distinction between, a) an inherent (in rem) cheftza, prohibition, in contrast to b) a gavra (in personam) injunction. Thus, according to the opinion of the Rabeinu Nisim who considers the prohibition of ner chanukka analogous to that of the sanctity invested in the Menorah of the beit ha-miqdash, it would have to apply ipso facto to all persons, whereas according to Rashi the prohibition would apply only to the person who has lit the candles and his household (ish u’beito) However, I would suggest that this question and other related valid inquiries transcend the opinions of the Rishonim, as they appear to be rooted in the legal halakhic distinction between the obligations of the madliq, in contrast to those of the ro’eh, as attested to in such early rabbinic sources as per, the concluding declaration: “ha-madliq mvarekh u’matne; v’ha-roeh omer: she-‘asa nisim” (Sofrim 20,4)

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