Akdamut

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Akdamut, or Akdamus or Akdamut Milin, or Akdomus Milin (Aramaic: אֵקְדָּמוּת מִלִּין, "In Introduction to the Words," i.e. to the Aseret ha-dibrot, the Ten Commandments), is a prominent liturgical poem (piyyut) recited annually on the Jewish holiday of Shavuos by Ashkenazi Jews written in Aramaic. It was penned by Rabbi Meir bar Yitzchak ("Nehorai") of Orléans, who was a cantor (prayer leader) in Worms, Germany, (died ca. 1095). Akdamut consists of praise for God, His Torah, and His people.

Akdamut is read in almost all Ashkenazi synagogues on the first day of Shavuos during the Torah reading. The original practice was for it to be recited after the reading of the first verse (Exodus 19:1), but in the past few centuries, the practice has developed in many congregations (mainly Eastern European ones) that the poem is read after the kohen has been called to the Torah reading, but before he recites the blessing.

The reason for the original practice was that, from Biblical times to well into medieval times, each verse of the Torah reading in Hebrew would be followed by its interpretation into Aramaic, and therefore it would be appropriate, after the first Hebrew verse was read, for another reader to provide an Aramaic gloss including this "introduction". However, when the simultaneous Aramaic interpretation fell into disuse, the recitation of Akdamut remained between the first and second Hebrew verses, where it no longer seemed an appropriate interruption, so it was relocated to before the commencement of the Torah reading.[1]

In most synagogues it is read responsively: the ba'al korei (Torah reader) singing two verses, and the congregation responding with the next two verses. Although it is considered "Judaism's best-known and most beloved piyyut",[2] there are some synagogues where it is not recited.[3]

Its adoption into the regular liturgy took some time; it is not mentioned as part of the Shavuos liturgy until the first decade of the 15th century and the earliest prayerbook to contain it was published in 1557.[4] Apparently it replaced an earlier piyyut, Arkin Moshe, which was a folkloric poem describing the excitement among the angels when God brought Moses up to Heaven to receive the Ten Commandments.[5] The adoption of Akdamut into the liturgy may have been assisted by a folktale that connected its composition with a miraculous event involving the defeat of an evil sorcerer monk who was using magic to kill countless Jews.[6]

Structure[edit]

The entire poem is 90 verses long. The first 44 verses of Akdamut are arranged as a double alphabetic acrostic, two lines for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, followed by 46 verses with the initial letters spelling out the words, "Meir, son of Rabbi Isaac, may he grow in Torah and in good deeds. Amen. Be strong and have courage."

The language of Akdamut is terse and complicated, and is replete with references to Torah and Talmud. Each line has ten syllables and concludes with the syllable "ta" (תא), which is spelled with the last letter (tav) and first letter (aleph) of the Hebrew alphabet. The encoded message from the author is that a Jew never stops learning Torah — when one finishes, one must start anew again. This message was appropriately chosen for Shavuot, since this holiday commemorates the Jews accepting the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The language of the poem is Aramaic, -- "terse, difficult Aramaic" [7]—or even "never intelligible".[8] Some prayerbooks, especially those intended for use in Israel, provide a running translation from the now arcane Aramaic into Hebrew.[9]

In summary, the poem begins with the greatness of God, which exceeds all ability to describe it (verses 1-14), and then the myriads of various kinds of angels created by Him and attending Him (15-26). The various angels praise God according to their categories, some praise Him unceasingly, some at recurring times, some only once (27-42). The nations of the earth seek to acquire Israel to add to their own greatness but Israel replies that its loyalty is only to God, and this is the source of Israel's attributes and strength (43-74). In the future, Leviathan and Behemoth, two enormous creatures mentioned in Scripture, will be brought together, and killed and prepared by God as a banquet for the righteous in opulent furnishings (75-84). The narration concludes with a benediction and wish that the hearer might be privileged to attend this same banquet, and assures the audience that this will be so, if only they hearken to the words of the Torah (85-90).

Musical considerations[edit]

When Akdamut was first composed and introduced it was not accompanied by a specific melody. It is not chanted according to any system of accents used in Biblical cantillation.[10] A number of different musical treatments have grown around it in various communities. Among these is a mode similar to that used for the Festival Kiddush, a melody similar to that used on Simchat Torah for the honoring of the "Bridegroom of the Torah" (who reads the concluding lines of Deuteronomy) - which, since the holidays share related concepts, seems very plausible, and there is also a melody of more recent vintage adopted from a German folksong.[11]

Parallels in other works[edit]

The reference in Akdamut to all the seas being ink and all the reeds pens is paralleled by the Koran: “Were the sea ink for the words of my Lord, the sea would surely fail before the words of my Lord fail” (Sura 18, verse 109), and “Were the trees that are in the earth pens, were the sea ink with seven more seas to swell its tide, the words of God would not be spent” (Sura 31, verse 27). The third verse of Frederick M. Lehman's 1917 hymn "The Love of God" is based on this passage from Akdamut. Medieval Christian sermons use the same imagery.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 14; Salamon, Avrohom Yaakov, Akdamus Millin, with a new translation and commentary anthologized from the traditional Rabbinic literature (1978, Brooklyn, Mesorah Pub'ns) intro., pages xv-xvi.
  2. ^ Scherman, Nosson, The Complete ArtScroll Machzor: Shavuos (Ashkenaz ed. 1995, Brooklyn, Mesorah Pub'ns) page 266; Salamon, Avrohom Yaakov, Akdamus Millin, with a new translation and commentary anthologized from the traditional Rabbinic literature (1978, Brooklyn, Mesorah Pub'ns) intro., page xiii.
  3. ^ Nathan Marcus Adler, the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (from 1845 to his death 1890), opined that it was expendable from the liturgy. cf. Stern, Martin, Akdamut, Mail-Jewish, June 13, 2007. For this reason, apparently, it has not appeared in the "official" British siddur, The Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations, from the Singer edition (1890) down to the Jonathan Sacks edition (2007) – yet it does appear in the Hebrew-English siddur edited by the same Jonathan Sacks, The Koren Sacks Siddur, published by Koren of Jerusalem, 2009, page 792, as well as in American Orthodox and Conservative prayerbooks. Elbogen, Ismar, Jewish Liturgy: A comprehensive history (orig. 1913, English transl. 1993, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Society) page 154, "These poems were never intelligible, but now, with the elimination of the [Aramaic] translation that they were intended to introduce, they have completely lost their significance and their right to exist." It was also omitted, as were most piyutim, from Reform liturgy. Petuchowski, Jakob J., Prayerbook Reform in Europe (1968, NY, World Union for Progressive Judaism) page 117. It also does not appear in the Reconstructionist 1958 Festival Prayer Book.But it appears in the Conservative 1946 Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book (with a lyric translation).
  4. ^ Hoffman, Jeffrey, "Akdamut: History, Folklore, and Meaning", Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 99, nr. 2 (spring 2009) page 170.
  5. ^ Marx, Dalia, "Liturgy Composed on the Brink of Catastrophe: Examination of Akdamut Millin by R. Meir of Worms and R. Leo Baeck's Hirtenbrief for Kol Nidre Service of 1935", in Homolka, Walter, ed., Leo Baeck - Philosophical and Rabbinical Approaches (2007, Berlin, Frank & Timme) footnote 24 pages 93–94. That poem is still used in some congregations. Nulman, Macy, Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ, Jason Aronson) page 36; Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (orig. 1935, English transl. 1961, NY, Feldheim) page 165. It is present in the first volume of the so-called Worms Mahzor, JNUL 4° 781/1 (Wurzburg, 1272), fol. 147v.[1] It appears without an English translation in The Complete ArtScroll Machzor: Shavuos (Ashkenaz ed. 1995, Brooklyn, Mesorah Pub'ns) page 658.
  6. ^ Hoffman, Jeffrey, "Akdamut: History, Folklore, and Meaning", Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 99, nr. 2 (spring 2009) pages 162-164; Munk, Elie, The World of Prayer (orig. 1935, Engl. transl. 1961, NY, Feldheim) page 165.
  7. ^ Scherman, Nosson, The Complete ArtScroll Machzor: Shavuos (Ashkenaz ed. 1995, Brooklyn, Mesorah Pub'ns) page 266; Salamon, Avrohom Yaakov, Akdamus Millin, with a new translation and commentary anthologized from the traditional Rabbinic literature (1978, Brooklyn, Mesorah Pub'ns) intro., page xiii.
  8. ^ Elbogen, Ismar, Jewish Liturgy: A comprehensive history (orig. 1913, Engl. transl. 1993, Philadelphia, Jewish Publ'n Society) page 154.
  9. ^ Examples: Rosenstein, Hayim David, Siddur Shira Hadasha (orig. 1914, reprinted 1945, Jerusalem, Eshkol Publ'g, pages 547-550 (different pages in some other printings); Tal, Shlomo, Siddur Rinat Yisrael (Ashkenaz ed. 1977, Jerusalem, Israeli Ministry of Education) pages 580-587 (and similarly in the Rinat Yisrael mahzor for Shavuot); (these two Hebrew renderings differ from each other).
  10. ^ Nulman, Macy, Concise Encyclopedia of Jewish Music (1975, NY, McGraw-Hill) page 6.
  11. ^ Nulman, Macy, Concepts of Jewish Music and Prayer (1985, NY, Cantorial Council of America) pages 44 and 54; Beer, Bernard, "Liturgical and Musical Aspects of Shavuot", Shavuot-to-Go 5769 (2009, NY, Yeshiva Univ. Center for the Jewish Future) page 5, http://www.scribd.com/doc/31159472/Untitled.

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