Aleinu


Aleinu

Aleinu (Hebrew: עָלֵינוּ, "it is our duty") or Aleinu leshabei'ach ("[it is] our duty to praise [ God ]"), meaning "it is upon us or it is our obligation or duty to praise God," is a Jewish prayer found in the siddur, the classical Jewish prayerbook. It is recited at the end of each of the three daily Jewish services. It is also recited following the New Moon blessing and after a circumcision is performed. It is second only to the Kaddish (counting all its forms) as the most frequently recited prayer in current synagogue liturgy.[1]

A folkloric tradition attributes this prayer to the biblical Joshua at the time of his conquest of Jericho.[2] This might have been inspired by the fact that the first letters of the first four verses spell, in reverse, Hoshea, which was the childhood name of Joshua (Numbers 13:16).[3] Another attribution is to the Men of the Great Assembly, during the period of the Second Temple.[4] An early - that is, pre-Christian - origin of the prayer is evidenced by its explicit mention of bowing and kneeling - practices associated with the Temple, and its non-mention of exile or a desire to restore Israel or the Temple.[5]

Its first appearance is the manuscript of the Rosh Hashana liturgy by the Talmudic sage Rav (Rabbi Abba Arikha, died 247), who lived in Babylonia (Persia). He included it in the Rosh Hashana mussaf service as a prologue to the Kingship portion of the Amidah. For that reason some attribute to Rav the authorship, or at least the revising, of Aleinu.[6] Its inclusion at the end of the three daily services throughout the year is first mentioned by Eleazar Rokeach (also known as Eleazar of Worms or Eleazar ben Kalonymus, died 1237).[7]

In Blois, France, in 1171, many Jews - reportedly 34 men and 17 women - were burned at the stake for refusing to renounce their faith. They went to the deaths bravely singing Aleinu to a "soul-stirring" melody, which astonished their executioners. This act of martyrdom may have inspired the adoption of Aleinu into the daily liturgy.[8] There was a medieval document ascribed to Hai Gaon (Rabbi Hai ben-Sherira, died 1038, Gaon of Pumbedita), purporting to be his letter describing the daily recitation of Aleinu approximately 150 years earlier than the martyrdom in Blois, but by the 19th century this document was identified as a forgery and there is persuasive evidence that it was fabricated by Moses de Leon (died 1305).[9]

Contents

Text

The following is the first half of the current Ashkenazi version of the prayer (there is also a second paragraph, which some traditions omit, though it is a standard part of the Ashkenazi orthodox liturgy). Translation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, from the Koren Sacks Siddur, Copyright 2009.

# English translation Transliteration Hebrew
1 It is our duty to praise the Master of all, Aleinu l'shabeach la'Adon hakol עָלֵינוּ לְשַׁבֵּחַ לַאֲדוֹן הַכֹּל,
2 to ascribe greatness to the Author of creation,
latet gedulah l'yotzer b'reishit, לָתֵת גְּדֻלָּה לְיוֹצֵר בְּרֵאשִׁית,
3 who has not made us like the nations of the lands
sh'lo asanu k'goyei ha'aratzot, שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂנוּ כְּגוֹיֵי הָאֲרָצוֹת,
4 nor placed us like the families of the earth;
v'lo samanu k'mish'p'chot ha'adamah, וְלֹא שָׂמָנוּ כְּמִשְׁפְּחוֹת הָאֲדָמָה.
5 who has not made our portion like theirs,
shelo sam chel'qenu kahem, שֶׁלֹּא שָׂם חֶלְקֵנוּ כָּהֶם,
6 nor our destiny like all their multitudes.
v'goralenu k'khol hamonam. .וְגוֹרָלֵנוּ כְּכָל הֲמוֹנָם
   [Some congregations outside of Israel omit:]
7   For they worship vanity and emptiness,   Sh'hem mish'tachavim l'hevel variq שֶׁהֵם מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהֶבֶל וָרִיק,
8   and pray to a god who cannot save.   umit'pal'lim el el lo yoshia וּמִתְפַּלְּלִים אֶל אֵל לֹא יוֹשִׁיעַ.
9 But we bow in worship and thank Va'anachnu qor`im, umishtachavim umodim, וַאֲנַחְנוּ כֹּרעִים ומִשְׁתַּחֲוִים ומוֹדים,
10 the Supreme King of kings, lif'nei Melekh, Mal'khei haM'lakhim, לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים
11 the Holy One, Blessed be He, haQadosh barukh Hu. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא.
12 who extends the heavens and establishes the earth,
Shehu noteh shamayim, v'yosed aretz, שֶׁהוּא נוֹטֶה שָׁמַיִם וְיֹסֵד אָרֶץ,
13 whose throne of glory is in the heavens above,
umoshav y'qaro bashamayim mima'al, וּמוֹשַׁב יְקָרוֹ בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל,
14 and whose power's Presence is in the highest of heights.
ushkhinat uzo begav'hei m'romim, וּשְׁכִינַת עֻזּוֹ בְּגָבְהֵי מְרוֹמִים.
15 He is our God; there is no other. Hu Eloheinu ein od, הוּא אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֵין עוֹד,
16 Truly He is our King, there is none else,
emet mal'kenu, efes zulato, אֱמֶת מַלְכֵּנוּ אֶפֶס זוּלָתוֹ.
17 as it is written in His Torah: kakatuv beTorato: כַּכָּתוּב בְּתּוֹרָתוֹ:
18 "You shall know and take to heart this day
v'yada'ta hayom,
vahashevota el l'vavekha.
וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ,
19 that the Lord is God, Ki Adonai, hu haElohim, כִּי יי הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים
20 in the heavens above bashamayim mi ma`al, בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל
21 and on earth below. There is no other."
v'al ha'aretz mitachat. Ein od. וְעַל הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת. אֵין עוֹד

The literal translation of line number 9 is "But we bend our knees and bow down and express thanks". The Sefardic/Mizrahi tradition shortens this line to ואנחנוּ משׁתּחום -- Va'anchnu mishtachavim -- "But we bow down".
The quotation in lines 18-21 is Deuteronomy 4:39.

Use in the synagogue

Aleinu is recited with all the congregants standing. One reason for this are noble sentiments expressed, but also that the first and last letters of the prayer spell עד - "witness" - and it is appropriate for a witness to stand when testifying.[10]

The original context of this prayer was as part of the middle paragraphs of the Amidah prayer in the mussaf (additional) service on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), and more specifically in the passage known as Malchuyot (the kingdom of God). In this context it includes both paragraphs of the prayer. The first paragraph is also included at the equivalent point in the liturgy for Yom Kippur. The second paragraph, which begins with the words על כּן -- Al kayn, "Therefore we put our hope in you...." -- is not presented here. This second paragraph is not recited by some Sefardic communities, such as those in London and Amsterdam, but it is recited in others.[11]

In the Middle Ages the custom grew up of reciting the first paragraph every day, at the end either of the morning service alone or of all the prayer services for the day. In the 16th century the kabbalist Hayim Vital, recording the opinions of Isaac Luria, ruled that both paragraphs should be included in all services, and should end with the verse "on that day the Lord shall be one and His Name one". This has been accepted in all communities except for the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who retain the "short Alenu".

In the daily and Sabbath services, when the line (numbered, above, as line 9, here translated literally) "But we bend our knees and bow" is recited, the worshipper will flex his knees and then bend from the waist, straightening up by the time the words "before (lif'nei) the King of kings of kings" are reached. But on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the worshipper will not merely flex and bend, but will actually get down on his knees at those words, and some Sefardic and Mizrahi congregants will prostrate themselves on the floor (in those synagogues with sufficient floor space).[10]

In Orthodox and Conservative congregations, the Torah Ark remains closed while it is recited (except on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when the Ark is opened), but in Reform congregations the Ark is opened whenever Aleinu is recited. In Sefardic congregations, as well as in the Askenazic traditions of Frankfurt and Mainz, Alieinu is not followed by the Mourner's Kaddish (because, variously, Aleinu was whispered to avoid antagonizing the Christian authorities, or because Aleinu is not a reading from Scripture), elsewhere it is.[12]

Censored passage

Referring the lines above numbered 7 & 8:

The earlier form of this prayer contains an additional sentence:

For they worship vanity and emptiness, and pray to a god who cannot save.

This sentence is built from two quotes from the Bible, specifically from the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah 30:7, "For the help of Egypt shall be (הבל וריק) vain and empty...."; and Isaiah 45:20. "... No foreknowledge had they who carry their wooden images (וּמתפּללים אל־אל לא יוֹשׁיע) and pray to a God who cannot give success." (New JPS) The line is still set out in full in Sephardi and Italian prayer books, but was omitted in most of the older printed Ashkenazi prayer books. In some older editions of other rites (e.g. the Maḥzor Aram Soba, 1560) a blank line was left in the printing, leaving it free for the missing line to be filled in in handwriting. In many current Orthodox Jewish siddurim (prayer books) this line has been restored, and the practice of reciting it has increased.

Although the above text, which includes the censored verse, is taken from the 2009 Koren Sacks Siddur, edited by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (in that edition the censored verse is printed without any distinguishing marks), the 2007 4th edition of The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, edited by the same Rabbi Sacks, omits the censored verse completely and without any indication that such a verse ever existed.

History of the censorship

Approximately a century after this prayer was incorporated into the daily liturgy, circa 1300, an apostate Jew, known as Pesach Peter, denounced it as a secret anti-Christian slur on the grounds that the word וריק - varik, "and emptiness" - had, in gematria (Hebrew numerology) the value of 316, the same as ישׁו - Jesus. In vain did the rabbis defend the sentence on the grounds that the expression came from the Book of Isaiah, or that the whole prayer came from Joshua, and therefore must predate Christianity, or, if the prayer was attributed to Rav, living in third century Babylonia (Persia), that he never encountered a Christian.[13] -- It probably did not help that at roughly the same time a rabbinic commentary on the prayers, Arugat haBosem by Abraham ben Azriel, made the point that, in gematria, "vanity and emptiness" had the same value as ישׁו ומחמט - "Jesus and Mohammed".[14] As a result of this, in various places the Christian authorities censored the sentence, usually omitting it.

Circa 1938, Herbert Lowe, the Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge University, wrote: "No Jew who recites it ever thinks of it in relation to Christians: the chief thought in his mind is the noble conclusion. It is, in fact, a universalist pronouncement of the Messianic hope, and with this idea every service concludes." [15]

As a result of this censorship a curious practice arose - it may have predated the censorship but thereafter acquired encouragement as a form of resistance - that where the word "emptiness" occurred - or should have occurred - the individual was supposed to spit (on the floor), on the pretext that "emptiness" is very similar to the Hebrew word for "spittle". This practice was mentioned by the early 15th century.[16] When, for example, the accusations about this verse were revived in Prussia in 1703, the government (in Berlin) enacted that the controversial verse should be omitted altogether and that spitting or recoiling was forbidden and that the prayer would be recited aloud "in unison" by the whole congregation (to make sure nobody was surreptitiously reciting the verse) and that government inspectors would be posted in synagogues to ensure compliance.[17] Apparently no one was ever prosecuted for violating this edict.[18] In some other places the practice of spitting persisted (or at least was remembered), and there arose a Yiddish expression for someone arriving very late for services (perhaps just to recite the Mourners' Kaddish, which follows Aleinu), "He arrives at the spitting."[19]

In the daily synagogue services, the Torah Ark is closed while Aleinu is recited, but on Rosh Hashana, when Aleinu is recited during the Mussaf Amidah, the Ark is opened when Aleinu is begun, closed momentarily when the controversial verse was recited (presumably to shield the Torah scrolls from hearing a description of heathen practices) and then opened again as soon as that verse was finished, and then closed again when Aleinu is finished. Even after the controversial verse was deleted from the liturgy, owing to Christian censorship, the Ark was momentarily closed although nothing was recited at that moment, as a relic and reminder of the censored verse.[20]

Conservative and Masorti Rabbi Reuven Hammer comments on the excised sentence:

Originally the text read that God has not made us like the nations who "bow down to nothingness and vanity, and pray to an impotent god," ...In the Middle Ages these words were censored, since the church believed they were an insult to Christianity. Omitting them tends to give the impression that the Aleinu teaches that we are both different and better than others. The actual intent is to say that we are thankful that God has enlightened us so that, unlike the pagans, we worship the true God and not idols. There is no inherent superiority in being Jewish, but we do assert the superiority of monotheistic belief over paganism. Although paganism still exists today, we are no longer the only ones to have a belief in one God.[21]

In 1656, Manasseh ben Israel reported that the Sultan Selim (presumably Selim II, died 1573), having read the uncensored text of Aleinu in Turkish translation, declared: "Truly this prayer is sufficient for all purposes. There is no need of any other." [22]

Restoration

Some Orthodox Rabbinical authorities, prominently the 19th century Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Leib Diskin (Maharil Diskin, died 1898), have argued that the disputed phrase should be recited in communities that previously omitted it.[23]

Other variations

"Numberless changes" have been introduced into the text, primarily by Conservative and Reform communities, to make it less controversial and invidious; in some instances these changes have taken the form of less-than-literal translations of the traditional Hebrew into the local language.[24] For example, the British Reform version borrows words from the blessings over the Torah, and begins "It is our duty to praise the Ruler of all, to recognise the greatness of the Creator of first things, who has chosen us from all peoples by giving us Torah. Therefore we bend low and submit.." Reconstructionist Judaism changes the lines which reference the chosen people.[25]

For example, in the Italian ritual, "they bow down" was changed to the past tense, "they used to bow down", and "vanity and emptiness" was changed to לאלילים   "idols", so the whole verse refers to ancient idol worship.[26] There was, evidently, an experimental amendment to the preceding verse in one or more Sefardic prayerbooks: "... He has not made us like some nations of other countries ...." But this amendment was abandoned.[27]

References

  1. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer, (NY, Urim Publ'ns, 2010) page 204; Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 24.
  2. ^ Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 24; Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer, (NY, Urim Publ'ns, 2010) pages 205-206. Among the authorities supporting the attribution to Joshua was Rav Hai Gaon (died 1038), Eleazar of Worms (died 1230), Rabbi Nathan ben Rabbi Yehuda (13th cent.), and Kol Bo (publ. 16th century).
  3. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer, (NY, Urim Publ'ns, 2010) page 206; Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur: An exposition and analysis of its structure, contents, language and ideas (2nd ed, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 309.
  4. ^ Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 24; Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer, (NY, Urim Publ'ns, 2010) page 207. This attribution was supported by Manasseh ben Israel (died 1657).
  5. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer, (NY, Urim Publ'ns, 2010) page 210; Hertz, Joseph H., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book with commentary, introductions and notes (rev. American ed. 1948, NY, Bloch Publ'g) page 208; Reif, Stefan C., Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (1993, Cambridge Univ.Press) pages 208-209.
  6. ^ Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur: An exposition and analysis of its structure, contents, language and ideas (2nd ed, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 307; Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 24.
  7. ^ Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur: An exposition and analysis of its structure, contents, language and ideas (2nd ed, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 306.
  8. ^ Hertz, Joseph H., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book with commentary, introductions and notes (rev. American ed. 1948, NY, Bloch Publ'g) page 209; Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer, (NY, Urim Publ'ns, 2010) pages 228-229 & 236; Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur: An exposition and analysis of its structure, contents, language and ideas (2nd ed, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 307; Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 25; Reif, Stefan C., Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (1993, Cambridge Univ.Press) page 209.
  9. ^ Wolfson, Elliot R., Hai Gaon's Letter and Commentary on Aleynu: Further evidence of Moses de Leon's pseudepigraphic activity, Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. n.s. 81, nr. 3-4 (Jan-April 1991) pages 365-410.
  10. ^ a b Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 25.
  11. ^ Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 19; Abrahams, Israel, Companion to the Authorised Daily Prayerbook (2nd ed. 1922, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode) page LXXXVI, (revised reprint 1966, NY, Hermon Press) page 86; Al Kayn" does appear in the ArtScroll Sefard siddur, the Koren Sefard and Koren Mizrahi siddurim, and the Orot Sephardic siddurim.
  12. ^ Gelbard, Shmuel P., Rite and Reason: 1050 Jewish customs and their sources (1995, Petach Tikvah, Isr., Mifal Rashi Publ'g) page 72.
  13. ^ Elbogen Ismar, Jewish Liturgy: A comprehensive history (orig. 1913, Engl.transl. 1993, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Soc.) page 72; Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer (2010, NY, Urim Publ'ns) page 232; Hertz, Joseph H., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book with commentary, introductions and notes (rev. American ed. 1948, NY, Bloch Publ'g) page 209; Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur: An exposition and analysis of its structure, contents, language and ideas (2nd ed, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 307; Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 24.
  14. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer (2010, NY, Urim Publ'ns) page 233.
  15. ^ Montefiore, C.G., & Lowe,H., The Rabbinic Anthology (orig. 1938, reprinted 1960, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Soc. of America) sec. 976, page 367.
  16. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer (2010, NY, Urim Publ'ns) page 234.
  17. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer (2010, NY, Urim Publ'ns) page 234 and the first and last pages of the decree appear on pages 237-238; Jacobson, B.S., The Weekday Siddur: An exposition and analysis of its structure, contents, language and ideas (2nd ed, Tel-Aviv, Sinai Publ'g) page 308.
  18. ^ Elbogen Ismar, Jewish Liturgy: A comprehensive history (orig. 1913, Engl.transl. 1993, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Soc.) page 72.
  19. ^ Freundel, Barry, Why We Pray What We Pray: The remarkable history of Jewish Prayer (2010, NY, Urim Publ'ns) pages 234-235; Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 25; Schach, Stephen R., The Structure of the Siddur (1996, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 134.
  20. ^ Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) pages 25-26; Schach, Stephen R., The Structure of the Siddur (1996, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 134; Silverman, Morris, Comments on the Text of the Siddur, Journal of Jewish Music & Liturgy (publ. Cantorial Council of Am.) vol.2, nr. 1, 1977, page 24.
  21. ^ Hammer, Reuven, Or Hadash, (the annotated edition of Siddur Sim Shalom) (2003, NY, The Rabbinical Assembly) page 51.
  22. ^ Hertz, Joseph H., The Authorized Daily Prayer Book with commentary, introductions and notes (rev. American ed. 1948, NY, Bloch Publ'g) page 209.
  23. ^ Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) pages 24-25; Reif, Stefan C., Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (1993, Cambridge Univ.Press) page 312.
  24. ^ Friedland, Eric L., The Historical and Theological Development of the Non-Orthodox Prayerbooks in the United States, doctoral dissertation, Brandeis University, June 1967, page 226 (examples are on pages 226-236 and page 153); Petuchowski, Jakob J., Prayerbook Reform in Europe (1968, NY, World Union for Progressive Judaism) pages 298-306 (with examples); Reif, Stefan C., Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (1993, Cambridge Univ.Press) page 287; Montefiore, C.G., & Lowe,H., The Rabbinic Anthology (orig. 1938, reprinted 1960, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Soc. of America) sec. 976, page 366. .
  25. ^ also, Rosenberg, Arnold S., Jewish Liturgy as a Spiritual System (1997, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 142.[dead link]
  26. ^ Idelsohn, A.Z., Jewish Liturgy and Its Development(NY, Henry Holt, 1932; reprinted NY, Dover, 1995) page 316
  27. ^ Montefiore, C.G., & Lowe,H., The Rabbinic Anthology (orig. 1938, reprinted 1960, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Soc. of America) sec. 976, page 366; but this amended wording does not appear in the De Sola Pool Prayerbook, nor the Orot siddurim, nor Koren's Sefard or Mizrahi siddurim.

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