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Kinnot (Hebrew: קינות‎‎; also kinnos, kinoth, qinot, qinoth; singular kinah or qinah) are dirges (sad poems) or elegies traditionally recited by Jews on Tisha B'Av to mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history, including the Crusades and the Holocaust. The Kinnot are recited on the night of Tisha B'Av after reciting the Book of Lamentations, which was also called "Kinnot" in the Talmudic era (see, e.g., Bava Batra 14b) before it assumed its more familiar name of "Eichah." The term is also used for a dirge or lament especially as sung by Jewish professional mourning women.

Development of the Ashkenazic Kinnot[edit]

The oldest Kinnot were composed by Rabbi Elazar Hakalir, who lived in Kiryath-Sepher in the Land of Israel (See Rosh. Brochos, ch. 5, siman 21. [1]).

His time has been set at different dates, from the second century, to the tenth or eleventh century[2] of the common era. Based on Saadiah's Sefer ha-galuy, some place him in the 6th century.[3] Older authorities consider him to have been a teacher of the Mishnah and identify him either with Eleazar b. 'Arak[4] or with Eleazar b. Simeon.[5][6] (See Heller, Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann. Ma'adanei Yom Tov. Brochos, ch. 5, siman 21, gloss 5. [1] where he discusses whether he was the son of Rashbi or another Rabbi Shimon).

His Kinnot resemble the structure and content of the Book of Lamentations.

For example, one of his Kinnot begins each stanza with the word "Eichah", the opening word of Lamentations. He often writes stanzas in an alphabetical acrostic, similar to the first four chapters of Lamentations. The style deals primarily with the destruction of the Second Temple, similar to Lamentations which mourns the destruction of the First Temple.

The main impetus for creation of new Kinnot during the Middle Ages was the Crusades, in which Christian mobs decimated many Jewish communities. The Kinnot deal with the then-current tragedy of the Crusades, no longer focusing on the destruction of the Temple in the past. The loss of the Torah and its scholars, instead of the loss of the Temple, occupies a central theme.

Rabbi Judah Halevi completely changed the nature of the Kinnot with his compositions. There is no pain or despair over the tragedies of the distant or near past, but rather a longing for returning to Jerusalem in his poem, Tziyon Halo Tishali.

The Kinnot are arranged in modern printings approximately by the chronological order of their composition. Thus the reader experiences a developing feeling of deep sorrow building through the generations, combined with a yearning for the restoration of the Temple in the Messianic era. This is similar to the book of Lamentations, which waxes sorrowful with tales of woe, but ends on a note of optimism ("renew our days as of old", 5:21).

Kinnot in memory of the Holocaust[edit]

Although the fast of Tisha B'Av was founded to mourn the destruction of the Temple, over the years other travails of the Jewish Diaspora have been added to its observance and memorialized in the Kinnot. Despite this, few Kinnot have been composed in the last several centuries, and none of them had entered the standard Kinnot service.

After the Holocaust, many people felt that it was inappropriate to mourn on Tisha B'av for the destruction of cities during the Middle Ages without mourning the even greater tragedy of the Holocaust. For this reason, many people recommended the composition and recitation of new Kinnot to commemorate the Holocaust. These people, including many important rabbis, argued that in every generation, Kinnot were composed to address the difficulties of that generation. Some added that it was essential to incorporate such Kinnot into the Jewish liturgy, lest the Holocaust be forgotten by future generations. One popular Kinnah on the Holocaust is Eli Eli Nafshi Bekhi, composed by Yehuda Leib Bialer.

However, many other rabbis dissented on the grounds that they could not create new Kinnot because the existing Kinnot were holy and were composed by the greatest individuals of their respective generations, but today there is nobody who can write like them. Others claimed that any individual community could recite new Kinnot as they wished, but only the greatest rabbis would have the authority to institute new Kinnot into the communal service in the entire Jewish world community.

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel claims that the Kinnot service, unlike the Siddur and other Jewish rituals, was not created by authority of the rabbis, but rather developed based on the acceptance of communities and the decisions of the printers who produced printed copies. Thus the new Kinnot could gradually enter the accepted roster of Kinnot. However, since many congregations now recite Kinnot to commemorate the Holocaust, this may become an integral part of the service without a formal decision.


  1. ^ a b Rosh (in Hebrew). Brochos, ch. 5, siman 21, with Ma'adanei Yom Tov. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  2. ^ KALLIR, ELEAZAR in the Jewish Virtual Library.
  3. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Kalir (Qalir), Eleazer". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 29 September 2013. 
  4. ^ Shlomo ben Aderet. "469". שאלות ותשובות (in Hebrew). 1. OCLC 233041810. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  5. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Kalir, Eleazar". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Retrieved 29 September 2013. 
    Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography:
  6. ^ Tosafot (in Hebrew). Wikisource link to תוספות חגיגה יג א. Wikisource. 

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