Perek Shirah

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A close up of Perek Shirah from a 17th-century Dutch Siddur

Perek Shirah (Hebrew פרק שירה, lit. "Chapter of Song") is an ancient Jewish text. There are a number of versions extant, some associated with the Ashkenazic tradition, some with the Sephardic, and some with the Mizrahi Jews tradition.[1] It was first printed, with a commentary, in Moses ben Joseph de Trani's Bet Elohim (1576), but it is mentioned as early as the 10th century.[2] It contains 85 sections, in each of which elements of creation, beginning with the celestial and ending with dogs, use biblical and rabbinic verses in order to sing God's praises. Use of Perek Shirah used to be prevalent in the daily liturgy and medieval philosopher Joseph Albo wrote that whoever recites Perek Shirah is guaranteed a place in the World to Come.[3] Though Perek Shirah means "Chapter of Song", the book is actually organized into six chapters. Some of the utilized verses make mention of the speaker. For example, the song begins with the heavens who say, "the heavens speak of the glory of God, and of His handiwork the skies tell." (Psalms 19:2) Others describe some characteristic or activity of the speaker, e.g., the book ends with the dogs who say "come, let us prostrate and bend our knees, and kneel before God our maker" (Psalms 95:2).

The vast majority of the verses of Perek Shirah are biblical, and most of these are from the book of Psalms, but there are also a few verses from the Babylonian Talmud, at least one from Kabbalistic literature, and a very few whose source is unknown.[4] Some of the birds and animals listed are difficult to identify.[5] It appears that all the creatures named are found in the Holy Land, the only exceptions perhaps being the elephant (whose song is Psalm 92:6) - but elephants were brought into the Holy Land by foreign armies, as mentioned, for example, in the First Book of Maccabees; and the leviathan (whose song is Psalm 136:1), presumably a mythic sea beast mentioned in the Bible.

In modern times, Perek Shirah does not often appear liturgically. However there are many publishers who publish Perek Shirah as a separate entity, anywhere from a wallet-sized booklet to full-sized coffee table books complete with pictures illustrating each of the characters speaking to God.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Macy Nulman, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ: Jason Aronson) page 266; Malichi Beit-Arie, PEREK SHIRAH, Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd ed. 2007) vol. 15, page 760. An example is that one version has the mouse and the cat alternate with two verses each, another version separates them and gives each only one verse.
  2. ^ Macy Nulman, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer (1993, NJ: Jason Aronson) page 266; Bacher, Wilhelm; Judah David Eisenstein. "SHIRAH, PEREK (PIRKE)". Jewish Encyclopedia. S. Retrieved 3 February 2009. ; Malichi Beit-Arie, PEREK SHIRAH, Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd ed. 2007) vol. 15, page 760.
  3. ^ Bacher, Wilhelm; Judah David Eisenstein. "SHIRAH, PEREK (PIRKE)". Jewish Encyclopedia. S. Retrieved 3 February 2009. 
  4. ^ Slifkin, Rabbi Nosson (29 March 2005). "The Circle of Life". Current Issues: Science & Medical. Aish. Retrieved 2009-02-04. ; see, e.g., the source citations in Rabbi Nosson Scherman, Perek Shirah: The Song of the Universe (2005, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications), and in Rabbi Natan Slifkin, Perek Shirah: Nature's Song (2nd ed., 2009, Zoo Torah). The dove's second verse, the frog's verse, and the verse of the wild beasts of the field, are from the Talmud. The rooster's first verse is from the Zohar. A very few verses (such as the mouse's) cannot be identified.
  5. ^ A particular example is a winged creature called the retzifi, whose song is the verse of Isaiah 40:1; the word does not appear in the Bible or Talmud. Slifkin's first edition (2001) identified this (as had many previous commentators) as the bat (although the Hebrew Bible uses the word atalayf _for the bat), and was followed in this by Scherman, but in his 2009 second edition, Slifkin had revised this to the laughing dove.