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Hallel (Part 1)

  • Rav David Brofsky



            One of the central prayers of the Jewish festivals, as well as of Chanuka, is "Hallel." In this week's shiur, we will investigate the source and level of obligation of Hallel, and then analyze its nature and function.  We will then explore the different types of Hallel, and how Hallel seems to play different roles in different contexts.




            A number of Talmudic passages relate to the source of Hallel.  However, as we shall see, some seem to contradict others regarding whether Hallel is of biblical or rabbinic origin.


            On the one hand, the Gemara in Berakhot (14a), concerning whether the same laws of "interruptions" which apply to Keriyat Shema should apply to Hallel, suggests that "Keriyat Shema is mi-de'oraita, and so much more so Hallel which is mi-derabbanan!" and therefore certain interruptions should be permitted.  This Gemara clearly states that Hallel is only of rabbinic origin.


            On the other hand, the Gemara in Taanit (28b) records that "Rava said: we see from here that Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is NOT of biblical origin…," implying that Hallel on different days may indeed be of biblical origin!


            Other Talmudic passages are less clear.  The Gemara in Arakhin (10a), for example, a central source for the study of Hallel, lists the 18 days that one recites the full Hallel (21 days outside of Israel).  The Gemara questions why the full Hallel is not recited on Rosh Chodesh, and answers, "(Rosh Chodesh) is not sanctified by the prohibition to work, as it says [Yishayahu 30] 'You will sing as you do in the evening when you are sanctifying a festival'- an evening which is sanctified as a festival required song, and one which is not sanctified as a festival does not require song…"


            While one may certainly understand the derasha as an asmakhta, the Gemara certainly IMPLIES that Hallel might be a biblical requirement.


            Similarly, the Gemara in Pesachim (117a) asks:


"Who said this Hallel? Rabbi Eliezer said Moshe and Israel said it on the sea (i.e. at keriyat Yam Suf)… Rabbi Yehuda said Yehoshua and Israel said it as they confronted the Canaanite kings… Rabbi Eliezer HaModai said Devora and Barak said it as they confronted Sisra… The Chakhamim said the prophets amongst them instituted that they should recite (Hallel) upon every time set in the Jewish calendar for praise (perek u-perek) and upon being redeemed from a potential threat…"


The Rashbam cites two explanations, which differ as to whether the above Tannaim ARGUE, or whether they are each offering other examples of times in which biblical figures recited Hallel.


            While we shall return to this fascinating Gemara, for now let us note that the Gemara itself questions the origins of Hallel, suggesting that it may be as early as Moshe, and as late as the "Chakhamim." 


            Furthermore, the Chakhamim refer to two types of Hallel, one said for each "perek," and one said as a response to redemption from "tzara." Next week we will question the difference between these two types of "Hallel." 


            The Rishonim also debate the origins and level of the obligation to recite Hallel.  The Rambam (Sefer Ha-mitzot shoresh 1 and Hilkhot Chanuka 3:5-6) writes explicitly that Hallel is only mi-derabbanan, similar to other berakhot and tefillot. 


            Alternatively, the Ramban (in his comments on the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot shoresh 1) disagrees, and argues that Hallel must be of biblical origin.  As for its source, he suggests that it may either be a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, or an expression of the biblical obligation to rejoice on the festivals (simchat Yom Tov).  We shall return to this point, but we should note that the Ramban describes the Hallel which we recite on Yom Tov as an expression of simchat Yom Tov.


            Interestingly, the Raavad, in his comments on the above cited Rambam, suggests that Hallel may be "mi-divrei kabbala" (from the prophets), which is implied by the Gemara in Arakhin cited above. 


            The Acharonim also debate this question.  The Shaagat Aryeh (69) rules that Hallel is only mi-derabbanan, and therefore if one is in doubt whether one recited Hallel, one need not repeat Hallel (safek de-rabbanan le-kula).  Interestingly, the Chatam Sofer (YD 233) suggests that at times, Hallel may be mi-de'oraita, and argues (in contradiction to the Ramban!) that the Hallel of Chanuka may actually be of biblical origin, as opposed to the Hallel of the festivals.  We will return to this opinion next week.


            Until now we have focused on the origins of Hallel, yet regarding the nature of Hallel, we have already seen a number of possibilities.  The Gemara in Pesachim (117a) identifies two types of Hallel: one recite each "perek," and one recited upon redemption from "tzara." the simple understanding of this Gemara seems to teach that while one type of Hallel was established to be recited on specific occasions, another types may come as a response to a miraculous salvation.


            Furthermore, the Hallel recited on Yom Tov, especially according to the Rambam, may express another element, that of "simchat Yom Tov." 


            I would like to dedicate the remainder of our shiur, as well as next week's shiur, to the exploration of the different types of Hallel, and their halakhic differences. 


Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Ha-moed:


            Before we focus on the different types of Hallel which are obligatory, I'd like to relate to a Hallel which is only a "minhag," and not included among the days in which one "completes the Hallel."


            The Gemara (Ta'anit 28b) teaches that while on the chagim, as well as on Chanuka, one is REQUIRED to recite the entire Hallel, on Rosh Chodesh, it is CUSTOMARY to recite a partial Hallel.  The Rishonim debate why this Hallel is said at all, which parts are recited, and when or whether one is to recite a berakha.


            Regarding the reason for reciting Hallel, some (Shita Mekubetzet Berakhot 14a) explain that it serves as a reminder of the ancient practice of "kiddush ha-chodesh," the sanctification of the new month.  Seemingly, this reason would apply exclusively, or at least more, to a PUBLIC recitation of Hallel (see Rabbi Soloveitchik's Shiurim Le-zecher Abba Mari v. 2). 


            Alternatively, the Raavad (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:17) explains that Hallel is recited to "publicize" the day.  While this also seems to place a greater weight upon the public recitation of Hallel, individuals may also need to be reminded, and encouraged, to mark the uniqueness of Rosh Chodesh.


            The Kaftor Va-ferach (R. Yitzchak ben Moshe Ha-Parchi 1280 – 1355) explains that this custom developed in Bavel, and NOT in Eretz Yisrael, as there was no need to remind the people of Rosh Chodesh during the time in which the Beit Din sanctified the new month!


            The Rishonim write that it is also customary to recite the partial Hallel on Chol Ha-moed Pesach, as well as on the last day of Pesach. 


            Unlike on Sukkot, the full Hallel is not recited for the entirety of the festival.  The Gemara (Arakhin 10b) explains that only Sukkot, when on each day a new and distinct korban is offered ("chalukin be-korbanotehen"), warrants a full Hallel each day.  Pesach, however, which does not have a new and distinct mussaf each day, does not obligate a new Hallel each day.  Incidentally, it seems that this distinction reflects a fundamental difference between the two chagim: The festive aspect of Pesach is observed primarily on the first day, as opposed to Sukkot, which should be viewed as one long seven/eight day festival.  The Netziv (Ha-Emek Davar Vayikra 23) already notes this distinction in the pesukim, and the halakhic differences between the two festivals also express this idea.  Pesach is a commemoration of a onetime event, whose aftermath we experience to this day, while Sukkot may not commemorate a specific event, but rather a constant relationship between God and the Jewish people (see Sukka 2a).  


            Alternatively, some Rishonim (see Beit Yosef OC 590) cite the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni Parashat Emor 247) which explains that it would be inappropriate to recite Hallel on the seventh day of Pesach, which commemorated not only salvation of the Jewish people through the keryiat Yam Suf, but also the death of the Egyptians in those waters. 


            The Rishonim question whether and when one should recite a berakha on a shortened Hallel.


            The Rambam (Berakhot 11:17), and other Rishonim, insist that berakhot cannot be recite upon minhagim, and therefore a berakha should not be recited before Hallel on Rosh Chodesh or on Chol Ha-moed Pesach.  Some explain that the reason is technical: one cannot say the words "asher kiddeshanu" ("Who COMMANDED") of the birkat ha-mitzva, on a minhag.  For that reason, it would seem that women should not recite a birkat ha-mitzva upon a mizvat asei she-hazeman gerama, from which she is generally exempt, as she cannot truly say "asher kiddeshanu." Indeed, the Rambam (Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9) rules that women do NOT recite a birkat ha-mitzva before performing a mitzvat asei she-hazman gerama. 


            Seemingly, however, one could suggest that at times the "kiyum" of a minhag is not significant enough to warrant a berakha.  If so, we may at times distinguish between different minhagim.


            Regarding Hallel, the Kesef Mishna (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:17) notes that unlike the Rambam, other Rishonim allow one to recite a berakha before Hallel.  He notes that while the Raavad suggests that one should recite a berakha on Rosh Chodesh, and NOT on Pesach, the Ramban argues the opposite, claiming that Hallel on Chol Ha-moed Pesach is an expression of one's simchat Yom Tov (as mentioned above) and therefore deserves a berakha, unlike the Hallel of Rosh Chodesh.


            Other Rishonim offer a different distinction.  The Shulchan Arukh (OC 522) cites a view which maintains that while the tzibbur should recite a berakha before Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, an individual should not.  Apparently, there may be a qualitative difference between the public and private recitation of Hallel, and only the publicly recited Hallel is worthy of a berakha.  The Rema notes that the minhag is that even individuals recite the berakha. 


            Ultimately, the Raavad concludes that one should recite the berakha on both Rosh Chodesh and Chol Ha-moed, as "they instituted Hallel on these days to acknowledge their kedusha, and their action was praiseworthy and requires a berakha…"


            Rabbenu Tam also argued that Hallel should always be recited with a berakha, and, incidentally, that women should recite berakhot on mitzvot asei she-hazeman gerama.


            To this day, there are different customs among Sefaradim, Ashkenazim, and Chassidim regarding a berakha for Hallel on Rosh Chodesh. 


Hallel and its Relationship to the Arba Minim:


            So far, we have seen Hallel as a text recited on the festivals, an expression of simchat Yom Tov, a response to miraculous salvation, and even as a means of calling attention to a day (i.e. Rosh Chodesh). 


            I would like to briefly explore another type of Hallel - one which is recited in tandem with the performance of mitzva, such as the arba minim.


            The Mishna (Sukka 37b) teaches that the "shaking" of the lulav (na'anumim) should be done DURING Hallel, while saying "hodu" and "ana Hashem."  How should we view the relationship between the performance of the mitzva of arba minim and the recitation of Hallel?


            Seemingly, one could suggest that while on the one hand, the shaking of the arba minim intensifies the recitation of Hallel and transforms it into a more meaningful prayer, the Hallel may also do the same for the mitzva of arba minim!


            There seems to be ample evidence that the arba minim, or at least the lulav, is meant to be an instrument of praise.  For example, the Yerushalmi (Sukka 3a) disqualifies a dried up lulav, for "the dead are unable to PRAISE God." Similarly, the Midrash Tanchuma (Parashat Emor 18) describes the taking of the arba minim as an expression of victory, demonstrating that the Jewish people were judged favorably on Yom Kippur.  Therefore King David said, "And then the branches of the forest should sing before God… when he comes to judge the world…" The Midrash equates the taking of the arba minim with the "branches of the forest singing."


            Interestingly, the lulav itself is measured by its ability to be waved.  Therefore, the Mishna teaches (Sukka 29b), a "lulav must be at least three tefachim long, enough to shake."


            Therefore, its not surprising that the Rambam, in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot (mitzvat asei 169), writes, "… commanded to take a lulav and rejoice with it before God for seven days…"


            Seemingly, the Hallel of Sukkot doesn't just commemorate the festival, or express its simchat Yom Tov, but may also elevate the mitzva of lulav, and be elevated by the mitzva of arba minim, as together they offer praise to God.


            Next week we will continue our study of Hallel, especially the Hallel of Pesach and Leil Ha-seder.