English, Texts

A Kalirian Wedding Rahit (Oxford Heb c. 20.46; Cowley 2736)

For Yitz and Daphi, on their wedding day, בהטפת עסיס כעגור וסיס

This Kalirian rahit, a tentative translation of which is offered here, follows the piyyut which our very own Yitz Landes and Daphi Ezrachi chose to quote on their wedding invitation. The entire Kalirian cycle is based on the haftarah reading for the Shabbat before a wedding, Isaiah 61:9-62:9. As can be seen in Daniel Stökel Ben-Ezra’s new THALES project (registration required), this haftarah is read in the Italian rite to this day (See also Encyclopaedia Talmudica s.v. הפטרה, and Shulamit Elizur, “‘al piyyutei hatanim ve-haftarat hatanim,” Massekhet 1 (2002): 64-75, also found here). Following the verse in Isaiah (62:5), it presents pairs of biblical bridegrooms and brides. Some of the verbs used to bless the bride and bridegroom are also taken from the haftarah, Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of justice, as a bridegroom putteth on a priestly diadem, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” The many plant metaphors may resonate with Isaiah 61:11. Letter ז echoes the first verse of the haftarah, Isa 61:9.

The brides are often praised for their children. Some notable exceptions are:

  1. Zipporah is mentioned as “wise and intelligent in all knowledge.”
  2. Elisheva, the sister of Nahson, who married Aaron is portrayed as wearing “the cloak of justice.”
  3. Hannah, who is styled “the Prayer at Shiloh,” wears “justice and fame.”
  4. Esther, of course, has “fame, grace, favor and mercy.”

Hannah is paired with her husband, Elkana; Samuel, who had no wife, is not mentioned. Other interesting pairs (from a total of 11) are: Judah and Tamar (letters ז, ח), Joseph and Potiphar’s daughter (ט, י), David and Bathsheba (ק, ר) and Mordechai and Esther (ש, ת), most likely in keeping with the tradition that Mordecai was Esther’s lover, not uncle (b. Meg. 13a). Epithets are used sparingly – the payytan mentions some heroes by name: Potiphar’s daughter, Amram, Yocheved, Aaron, Zipporah, David and Moses (who is mentioned only through the wish that the bridegroom be diligent in studying Torah).

The text, with some minor corrections, is taken from Maagarim. A short commentary can be found in Ezra Fleischer, Shirat ha-qodesh ha-ivrit bi-yeme ha-benayyim, Jerusalem 1975, 161. I tried to mimic the prosody of the piyyut in the translation, with some success.

ובכן “ומשוש חתן על כלה”.

And so, “and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride”

אדרת מעטה הוד והדר כאיתן יאופד חתן.,

בנים ובנות בילדות ובזוקן כעדנה תחבק כלה.,

גיל ומשוש כיצא לשוח בשדה יעוטר חתן.,

דרך ישר וטוב כניתרוצצה בבנים תונהג כלה.

A mantle, a robe of glory and splendor, as the Strong one, will be girded on the Bridegroom

Boys and Girls, in youth and age, as the Young one, shall be embraced by the Bride

Cheerfulness and mirth, as the one who Went out to Meditate in the Field, will adorn the Bridgroom

Down the road of the one who is Straight and Good, as the one who Was Struggled in by Children, shall go the Bride

הון ועושר ומקנה כאיש תם ינתן לחתן

וכרחל ולאה אשר בנו ביית תבורך כלה

זרע ברכה ומלוכה כגור אריה יגזיע חתן

חניטים תאומים כפרץ וזרח ייחם כלה.

Endowments and Riches and Acquisitions, like the Plain Man, will be given to the Bridegroom

For as Rachel and Leah who built a Home will be blessed the Bride

Generation of blessing and kingdom like the Lion Cub will be sprouted by the Bridegroom

Identical offshoots as Peretz and Zerah will be sired by the Bride

טוב חן וחסד ורחמים כפורת ינתן לחתן.,

ילדי אהבה וחיבה כבת פוטיפרע תוחנן כלה.,

כבוד ויקר ומלכות וחוסן כעמרם תן לחתן.,

לולבי נבואה וסיגני כהונה כיוכבד תעמיד כלה.

Jolly-goodness, grace, and favor and mercy, like the Fruitful Bough, will be given to the Bridegroom

Kids of love and affection, like the Daughter of Potiphar’s, will grace the Bride

Honor and laud, kingdom and strength like Amram, give the Bridegroom

Lulavim of prophecy and princes of priesthood, as Yocheved, will be brought up by the Bride

משתעשע יום ולילה בתורת משה יהי חתן.,

נבונה וחכמה בכל מדע כציפורה תהא כלה.,

שרים עובדים ביראה כאהרן הכהן יצא מחתן.,

עדיים מעטה צדקה כאחות נחשון תילבש כלה.

May merry be made in the Torah of Moses day and night by the Bridegroom

Nimble-witted and wise in all knowledge as Zipporah shall be the Bride

Officers, who serve in awe, as Aaron the Priest, will come from the Bridegroom

Ornaments, the robe of justice, as the sister of Nahshon, will be worn by the Bride

פקוד וחון ברחמיך כאיש הרמתים בחדותו חתן.,

צדקה ותהילה תעט כמיתפללת בשילה תעדה כלה.,

קצינים עושה משפט וצדקה כדוד יעמיד חתן.,

רצוים ומרצים אהובים וידידים כבת-שבע תחניט כלה.

Put favor and visit in your mercy, as you did the man from Ramatayyim, the Bridegroom

Righteousness and Glory like the Prayer at Shiloh shall cover the Bride

Sergeants, who produce justice and charity, shall be brought up like David by the Bridegroom

Treasured and gladdening, loved and friendly, shall be ripened as Bat Sheva by the Bride

שם ויד ועטרת כאיש ימיני יתעטר חתן.,

תהילה וחן וחסד ורחמים כהדסה ינתן לכלה

Unending Fame, and a place, and a diadem as the Man of Jemin shall be put on by  the Bridegroom

Valor and grace, favour and mercy, shall be given, as Hadassah, to the Bride


9 thoughts on “A Kalirian Wedding Rahit (Oxford Heb c. 20.46; Cowley 2736)

  1. Avi Shmidman says:

    Excellent post! I would suggest that the point of departure for the use of Biblical figures in wedding poetry is Ruth 4:11, in which the blessing bestowed by the elders upon Boaz invokes the model of Rachel and Leah. As we see here, the medieval poets expanded upon this technique, incorporating analogies to many additional Biblical couples.
    For a survey of wedding piyyutim which incorporate the analogy to Rachel and Leah, see my article in the most recent version of Melilah, available online here:

    Click to access 5.pdf

    In section 5 of the article (pages 10-14 of the PDF), I consider the use of sequences of Biblical couples within wedding piyyutim, akin to the sequence discussed within this post.

    – Avi Shmidman (shmidman@gmail.com)

  2. Hey Amit! Thanks for this!
    See also Sh. Elitzur’s “מכתבי חידה אל ליריקה זכה: לבחינת יצירתו של ר’ אלעזר בירבי קיליר” in דחק ב (2012), and M. Zulai מפי פייטנים ושופכי שיח pp. 63-64.

  3. Zohar says:

    Yashar Koah to Amit (incredible fealty to the English alphabet in the acrostic!) and Mazal Tov to Yitz and Daphne!! BTW, I would suggest to translate something like: “May the Bridegroom frolic day and night with the Torah of Moses.”

  4. Samuel Hirsch says:

    I was not aware of the fact that there are so many brilliant young people that follow the Talmud blog,like Avi Schmidman,and others like him,that are not professors at major universities.I just downloaded Avi’s article.It would have made my shevuous.I will have to keep i
    t in mind for next year.Who would have dreamed that there is such a journal,in Manchester,no less.
    How can us mere mortals,hold a candle next to such towering intellects.If I would like to make a contribution,what is the procedure?
    Sam Hirsch, (monsey-Boro Park).hirschsam@aol.com

  5. Tzvi Novick says:

    This is great stuff. Remarkable work with the acrostic.
    Though I haven’t thought explicitly about “principles” of piyyut
    translation, it seems to me that replicating the acrostic almost
    inevitably comes at the expense of other elements (sense, rhythm,
    etc.) more integral to the poem. Here’s a tentative attempt at the
    first two stanzas, with a focus on prosody (seven beats in each
    line). I also use alliteration and assonance where I can,
    especially in the last phrase in each line. One of the major
    problems in trying to preserve the prosody is that the English
    version of an epithet is inevitably longer than the Hebrew. To
    compensate (e.g., in the first two lines), I delete an inessential
    word (e.g., הדר, more or less synonymous with הוד). With a mantle
    enfolding glory, like the strong man, will the groom be girt.
    Children in youth and age, like the pleasured woman, will the bride
    embrace. With joy and cheer, like him who departed to pray, will
    the groom be crowned. On the straight and good path, like the
    son-worn woman, will the bride be guided. Property, wealth, and
    goods, like the simple man, will the groom be given. Like Rachel
    and Leah who built houses will the bride be blessed. Blessed and
    royal seed like the lion whelp will the groom propagate. Twin
    shoots like Peretz and like Zerach will the bride enwomb.

    • Nice work Tzvi (and Amit!). Joan Acocella recently raised some related issues you point to in her review of some new Dante translations http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/05/27/130527crbo_books_acocella. Worth a read, especially for this delicious critique: Oddly, given Bang’s stated aims, she’s happy to court obscurity. She says that the she-wolf that detains the pilgrim outside the wood has a “bitch-kitty” face; Virgil tells the pilgrim to climb the “meringue-pie mountain” that lies ahead. “Bitch-kitty” gets an explanatory footnote: Bang says it’s something that she found in the Dictionary of American Slang. My edition of that book says “bitch kitty” was a phrase of the nineteen-thirties and forties. (Roughly, it meant a “humdinger.”) Did Bang expect today’s readers to know it? Not really, it seems. She says that she wants these oddities to be fleeting pleasures for us. To me, they’re not pleasures, but just oddities, something like finding a Tootsie Roll in the meat loaf.

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your comments, and especially Tzvi for his suggestions.
    I wonder about this often: what are the striking features of the text (piyyut in this case) that we are trying to convey to the uninitiated? I felt that the acrostic and the somewhat unnatrual word order – with each stich ending either with חתן or כלה were worth preserving, at the expense of rythm and alliteration. Whereas the former are unique to the genre, the latter run the risk of morphing into a contemporary poetic conceit which rings somehow “off.” But then again I could be wrong.

  7. Tzvi Novick says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies, Shai and Amit. For me, the rhythm is all-important, both for the integrity of the translation as a poetic work, and, more importantly, because it’s the most basic feature of the source text. I was tempted to preserve חתן and כלה at the very end of the line, but it seemed to me that they were prominent enough even as the penultimate stress of each line. Moreover, while Qillir’s Hebrew is unnatural in fronting the object, once he does front the object, the word order verb-subject that he employs is in fact natural in Hebrew, whereas it’s unnatural in English, so that the more “faithful” translation (accounting for the differences in language) is arguably Object-Subject-Verb. Here’s roughly how I’d do stanzas three and four. In the third line of stanza three, where Qillir shifts to the imperative, I maintain the groom in the penultimate position, at the expense of awkwardness (“to the groom give”), because, while I don’t think “groom” and “bride” need to come at the very end, I do think they need to always be in the same position.

    Good and grace, kindness and mercy, like the bough, will the groom be given.
    With children of love, like Potiphera’s daughter, will the bride be graced.
    Glory and honor, kingship and power, like Amram, to the groom give!
    Fronds of prophecy, princes of priesthood, like Yocheved, will the bride found.

    A frolicker day and night in the Torah of Moses will the groom be.
    Perceptive and wise in all things, like Zipporah, will the bride be.
    Princes serving in awe, like Aaron the priest, will the groom beget.
    Ornaments and justice’s robe, like Nachshon’s sister, will the bride don.

  8. Ruth Langer says:

    Yitz might like to know that I drew heavily on this posting for our son’s sheva berakhot last night at the shul his grandparents helped found in Newton MA. It gave me a chance to invoke the memory of his beloved (by him and by us) grandmother a”h and grandfather.

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