English, Piyut

A Payytanic Quiz for Hanukkah – “The Answers”

Hanukkah is almost over and it is time to publish the “answers” to the quiz. I put answers in quotation marks since it is not always clear what the payytan meant or was referring to, but this is the case, I would argue, with almost every text.

Before proceeding I would like to thank those of you who responded to the quiz and brought up many interesting (and “correct”) answers. Special thank goes to those who commented that there are indeed more halakhic piyyutim than one would have assumed from my brief introduction. Most significantly are the Az’harot (=warnings) piyyutim for Shavuoth, as Shamma Boyarin pointed out on our Facebook page.

Below are some short comments concerning each stanza of the piyyut; the comments are taken from my forthcoming critical edition of the piyyutim of the Qiliri for Hanukkah and from the critical edition of the piyyutim of Pinhas Hacohen by Shulamit Elizur.

Stanza 1: This was a tricky one; the prohibition to use the Hanukkah candles is well known and attested in Masekhet Sofrim (20:4). What is less known is that in the same chapter we find the following regulation:

.כיצד מברכין? ביום הראשון המדליק מברך שלוש, והרואה שתים

How does one bless? On the first day the one who lights says three blessings, and the one who sees [the candles] says two.

So what we have here is not a reference to the Havdalah or the Hallel blessings as some suggested.

Stanza 2: The reference here is to the prohibition to move the candles once they were lit.

Stanza 3: A clear reference to “נר איש וביתו” from Bavli, Shabbat 21b.

Stanza 4: Here we do have a reference to the Havdalah and the prohibition of using the Hanukkah candle for that purpose. Medieval sages quote the Yerushalmi to back up this ruling, although it is absent from the version that we now have.

Stanza 5: Here we find a direct allusion to the prohibition to use the light of the candle. The reference to spinning might relate to the following saying from Yerushalmi, Berakhot 8:6:

אין מברכין על הנר עד שיאותו לאורו, רב יהודה בשם שמואל, כדי שיהו נשים טוות לאורו

It is forbidden to bless over the candle until its light is sufficient; Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel: when women could spin in its light.

Stanza 6: A reference to Bavli, Shabbat 21b: “והמהדרין נר לכל אחד ואחד”.

Stanza 7: “מעש” refers here clearly to the famous story (“מעשה”) about בית שמאי ובית הלל in Bavli, Shabbat 21b.

Stanza 8: One reader noted the similarity to the talmudic phrase concerning the candle of Havdalah “אין מברכין על הנר עד שיאותו לאורו” (quoted above). Indeed, it is attested in our context in Masekhet Sofrim: “ואם הדליקו ביום, אין ניאותין ממנו… שכך אמרו אין מברכין על הנר עד שיאותו לאורו”.

Stanza 9: Again, according to Masekhet Sofrim one should wait until the wick will be entirely consumed and, in addition, it is forbidden to use an old one.

Stanza 10: Here the prohibition to light one candle from the other is hinted; as it is appears in Bavli, Shabbat 22a: “רב אמר, אין מדליקין מנר לנר”.

Stanza 11: Nothing halakhic here but the reference to the candles of redemption brings to mind one of my Hanukkah posts from last year.

Next year, God willing, we will have another Hanukkah quiz, this time with a genuine piyyut by Pinhas Hacohen. See you then!


3 thoughts on “A Payytanic Quiz for Hanukkah – “The Answers”

  1. Regarding stanza 1, while I too think that the 5 brachot mentioned seem to be pertaining to the actual kindling of the lights, I think your explanation is untenable. When I first read the piyut I entertained the possibility that the Qiliri might have understood that the brachot of the ראה and the מדליק were not mutually exclusive, and a person would say all five brachot the first night, 2 when he observed the lights of another and three when he lit himself. Such an explanation would fly in the face of all the classical commentators who specifically write that the brachot are mutually exclusive. But such brazenness notwithstanding, the explanation is untenable to a critical reading of the Talmud. Logically it also makes no sense to say the bracha of Shehehiyanu twice.
    If you simply meant that 5 was an allusion to 5 brachot mentioned in Masechet Sofrim, without any inference to them being made by the same person; I think that counting Hallel makes much more sense.

    Regarding stanza 9, first off, צרורה מלהדליק נר ישן most definitely refers the lamp and not the wick. The the earlier halacha in MS also lists this condition and states if one only has a ner yashan he should “cleanse it in the fire”, which makes it clear that yashan is referring to the lamp. According to Maharam from Rotenburg is refers specifically to a lamp made of unglazed pottery. Hagaoth Maimonioth while quoting his master the Maharam, quotes this piyut in support of his practice.

    Regarding the first part of the stanza where he says that the פתילתו בתוכו תעשן, I think it implies the opposite of what you explain it to mean. The stanza seems to be a directive to specially devour the whole wick, as opposed to informing the possibility of reusing the wick. While it is true that MS does say that wicks can be reused until they are finished, I suspect that some editions may not have had this halacha, since many of the rishonim do not mention this in their halachik compilations which bring many halachot from MS but omit this one. It is a bit hard to imagine that the ashknazi minhag of using new wicks like they did in the mikdash would gain support of some rishonim if MS specifically condoned their re-usage.

    When I read the stanza I thought that it possibly served as the source of the custom of the Maharam mentioned above. The students of Maharam record that their teacher would try to use a lamp made of metal , but if none were available he would use one of pottery but would switch it every night, and if multiple pottery lamps were not available he would clean the lamp in the oven as is recorded in MS. The reason he gives is because the lamp MS speaks of is a pottery lamp which becomes disgusting after using it even once. When I read that I didn’t understand what he meant. Historically most lamps were indeed of pottery but they don’t become disgusting after one use or even many uses, at least from what I could tell. While the Talmud in Shabbat does imply that after one use a lamp of pottery would become מוקצה מחמת מיאוס, it seems that this is so because it would be inconceivable to use the lamp to hold any other things because of the dirty oil remnants that remained in the lamp, as opposed to a metal lamp which could be cleansed very easily even on Shabbat. But the lamp for its intended purpose would not be disgusting since one would only be touching the outside. So why would Maharm say that a Hanukkah lamp of pottery needed to be changed everyday? I thought that he may have read this pityut and understood the couplet as one whole. That is, the first part says we don’t reuse the wick and let it burn out in the lamp. Why? Because we cannot reuse the lamp (of pottery), so we might as well just let the wick burn itself out. The implication would be that a lamp of pottery is disqualified from Hanukkah use after one night.

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