Mitzvat Hallel - A Halakhic Overview

  • Rav Doniel Schreiber


The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur
Yeshivat Har Etzion




by Rabbi Doniel Schreiber

A discussion on the topic of Hallel, it would seem, should not arise in the context of any one particular Yom Tov or chag. Rather, the recitation of Hallel, which is an obligation on many holidays, should be discussed only once in the general framework of tefilla, or should issue from an analysis of each relevant holiday. Nonetheless, Rambam (1) chose to couch his examination and definition of Hallel specifically in the framework of Chanuka. Why was this particular holiday chosen as the paradigm for the laws of Hallel? Moreover, Chanuka appears to be a poor choice for centering a presentation of hilkhot Hallel, as Chanuka is merely mi-divrei Soferim. Why not discuss Hallel in the context of a Biblical holiday?

The Rav zt"l, Maran Rabbi Joseph B. Ha-Levi Soloveitchik, addresses this question. He answers (2) that each Yom Tov has many aspects, but only one central motif. The central motif of Sukkot, for example, is not the arba minim, but the mitzva of living in the Sukka. Chanuka's central motif is the praise of God, and is synonymous with Hallel. Indeed, because Hallel is so basic to Chanuka, it acquires an added dimension and finds expression even within hadlakat ner Chanuka. It is not coincidental that the passage of "Ha-nerot ha-lalu," which explains the purpose of lighting ner Chanuka, states: "ke-dei le- hodot u-le'Hallel le-shimkha ha-gadol al nisecha...." It is for this reason that Masekhet Soferim (3) states that "Ha-nerot ha-la'lu" should be recited before lighting ner Chanuka. Thus, Hallel is not only expressed verbally, but also demonstratively in the form of hadlakat nerot. Therefore, explains the Rav, due to the centrality of Hallel to Chanuka, Rambam elected to discuss Hallel in its most appropriate location - Hilkhot Chanuka. With this in mind, as we gaze towards Chanuka, let us review some of the laws of Hallel.

I. Mekor Mitzvat Hallel The Gemara states in Ta'anit:(4) "On eighteen days of the year the individual recites Hallel; and they are the eight days of Succot, the eight days of Chanuka, the first day of Pesach, and the Yom Tov of Shavuot." (5) According to the gemara, (6) this listing refers only to days on which we are obligated to recite the full Hallel, or Hallel shalem. The saying of half Hallel on Rosh Chodesh (7) and on the last day of Pesach,(8) however, are merely custom(9) - minhag avotey'hem be- yidey'hem(10) - and are thus excluded from the above listing.(11)

What is the nature of our obligation(12) to recite Hallel shalem on the specified eighteen days of the year? On the one hand, it would appear from the gemara in Ta'anit that Hallel is a mitzva min ha-Torah. This appears obvious from the gemara's differentiation between the listed days of Hallel and the Hallel of Rosh Chodesh - by declaring that Hallel on Rosh Chodesh is "lav mi-de'orayta," i.e. not min ha-Torah. Apparently, then, according to the gemara, Hallel on the enumerated days is min ha- Torah. On the other hand, the Gemara in Berakhot(13) explicitly says that Hallel is mi-derabanan. In the middle of the spectrum, Gemara Pesachim(14) states that it was the nevi'im who established the recitation of Hallel.

Indeed, due to this ambiguity, Geonim and Rishonim dispute whether Hallel is a mitzva min ha-Torah or merely rabbinic in nature. For example, Bahag(15) understands that the recitation of Hallel is min ha- Torah,(16) and therefore counts it in his minyan ha-mitzvot.(17) Rambam,(18) however, rules that Hallel is only a takanat chachamim.(19) A middle position may be attributed to Ra'avad, who understands that the recitation of Hallel is an obligation mi-divrei kabbala, i.e. ordained by the Prophets.(20) Another intermediary position is that of Ramban,(21) who only recognizes Hallel on the Mo'adim as min ha-Torah, whereas Hallel of Chanuka is only rabbinic.

Acharonim, as well, dispute the nature of the obligation to recite Hallel. Sha'agat Aryei(22) rules that Hallel is mi-derabanan, and therefore in cases of doubt we act leniently. Chatam Sofer,(23) however, opts for a middle position - one that is in direct contradistinction to the above Ramban - ruling that only Hallel established for physical salvation, such as for Chanuka, is min ha-Torah, whereas Hallel for Yom Tov is rabbinic. An alternative middle posture is taken by Netziv,(24) who rules that Hallel is Biblical only at the actual occurrence of the miracle, but is merely rabbinic in subsequent years. Another interesting intermediary position is taken by Maggid Mishneh,(25) who understands that according to Rambam, all Hallel is fundamentally mi-divrei Kabbala, in accord with the above gemara in Pesachim, but that saying Hallel at established times is rabbinic.(26)

II. Conditions for the Recitation of Hallel The Gemara in Arachin(27) discusses why we are exempt from saying Hallel after the first day of Pesach, on Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat, Rosh Ha-shana, Yom Kippur, and Purim. In doing so, the gemara reveals the various conditions required for any day to obligate Hallel. According to the gemara, since the korbanot on Pesach are uniform and do not differ from day to day, as opposed to korbanot on Sukkot, only the first day of Pesach qualifies as a day for Hallel.(28) Shabbat, though distinguished by its korbanot, is not called a mo'ed, and thus it also does not warrant Hallel. Rosh Chodesh, which has korbanot and is called a mo'ed, does not prohibit melakha,(29) and thus it too does not qualify for an obligatory Hallel.(30) Rosh Ha'shana and Yom Kippur, which are characterized by korbanot, mo'ed, and isur melakha, do not require Hallel because Hallel is inappropriate on a day of judgment. Thus, in order for the obligation of Hallel to exist, the day must be one which is distinguished by its korbanot, is called a mo'ed, has isur melakha, and is not suffused with an atmosphere antithetical to Hallel - it must be a day of rejoicing.(31)

Three additional factors, which independently obligate the recital of Hallel, are raised in the context of Purim. Firstly, the gemara in Arachin(32) queries: "If Purim is distinguished by its miracles, like Chanuka, why does it not warrant Hallel?" Secondly, the Gemara in Megilla(33) justifies the obligation of mikra Megilla through a kal va- chomer: "If for being delivered from slavery to freedom (i.e. keriyat yam suf) we chant a hymn of praise (i.e. "az yashir Moshe"), should we not do so all the more for being delivered from death to life?" The gemara then asks: "If that is the reason, should we not also recite Hallel?"

In answer to the gemara's assertions, Amoraim in both Gemarot Arachin and Megilla explain that we do not recite Hallel on Purim either because the miracle occurred outside of Eretz Yisrael, or the reading of the Megilla is in place of Hallel,(34) or because we are still servants of Achashverosh. These Amoraim clearly accept in principle the gemara's assertions that either miracles, delivery from slavery to freedom, or physical salvation, obligate Hallel; it is only due to reasons unique to Purim that we do not recite Hallel. Moreover, these Amoraim embrace the idea that the obligation of Hallel does not differentiate between events - "miracles" or any form of salvation - which occur through supernatural or apparent and natural means. This equation is evident since the gemara in Arachin compares the supernatural miracle of ner Chanuka to the "natural" miracle of Purim, and the gemara in Megilla compares the supernatural salvation of keriyat yam suf to the "natural" salvation of Purim.(35)

What emerges from all these gemarot is that four different sets of conditions can trigger the obligation to recite Hallel. Either it must be a day which is:

1) distinguished by its korbanot, is called a mo'ed, and has isur melakha. Or, it must be a day that marks: 2) a miracle, suas Chanuka, or 3) delivery from freedom to slavery, or 4) the physical salvation of Bnei Yisrael.

In the first category, Hallel "flows from and further accents the kedushat ha-yom of the particular mo'ed as a special calendar day," but in the last three groups, Hallel relates specifically to a concrete event.(36)

III. The Scope of Mitzvat Hallel Though we have identified four independent catalysts which obligate the recitation of Hallel, it remains unclear whether comparable events or similar occasions, subsequent to those listed in the gemara in Ta'anit, obligate us in Hallel today. A critical source in regard to this issue; which perhaps even expands and deepens the previous set of conditions, may be found in a gemara in Pesachim:(37) Who originally recited Hallel?...The prophets among them ordained that Israel should recite it at every important epoch and at every misfortune - may it not come upon them - and when they are redeemed they recite it in gratitude for their redemption.

From this gemara, it would seem to follow that events involving salvation - even after the time of the gemara - should obligate the recitation of Hallel.(38) On the other hand, extreme caution must be exercised when applying this principle, for the Gemara states in Shabbat:(39) "He who reads Hallel every day blasphemes and reproaches the Divine Name." Although this warning does not prohibit additional days of Hallel, it certainly is cause for discretion when considering the various factors for an additional day of Hallel.

In conclusion, it is important to note the gemara in Sanhedrin(40) which severely criticizes Chizkiyahu ha-Melekh for not reciting Hallel in honor of God on the day marking the defeat of Sancheriv. According to the gemara, this failing lost him the crown of Melekh Ha-moshiach, and doomed us to an extended galut. Clearly, then, not only is failing to recognize chasdei Hashem a grave offense, but even neglecting to sing God's praises can have disastrous results.

May we merit not only the wisdom to identify God's kindness, both hidden and apparent, but also the basic trait of hakarat ha-tov, so that we may instinctively and spontaneously respond to chasdei Hashem, "ke-dei le-hodot u-le'Hallel le-shimkha ha-gadol, al nisecha, ve-al niflotekha, ve-al yeshu'otekha."

(This article first appeared in Alei Etzion Vol. 4, Kislev 5756.)

Endnotes: 1Rambam, Hilkhot Chanuka, Chapter 3. 2See "Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's Thoughts On Chanuka," by Kenneth Brander, in Bein Kotlei Ha-Yeshiva, vol. 3, Kislev 1986, pp. 1-7. 3Masekhet Soferim 20:6. 4Ta'anit 28b. 5The gemara ibid. continues that, in the diaspora, Hallel is actually recited on twenty-one days of the year - because Succot, Pesach, and Shavuot each have an extra day of Yom Tov ("Yom Tov sheni shel galuyot"), which require the recitation of Hallel. 6Ibid. 7However, see Rambam (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Shoresh Alef), who holds that on Rosh Chodesh, the recitation of Hallel in the Beit ha-Mikdash is mi-de'oraita, based on the verse in Bemidbar 10:10. ("And on your days of rejoicing, your festivals, and your New Moons...") 8See Rambam, Hilkhot Chanuka 3:7, Tur and Shulchan Arukh, 490:4. 9Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 11:16. This is the opinion of most meforshim. However, Ramban distinguishes between Rosh Chodesh and chol ha-mo'ed Pesach, and rules that it is a special takanat chachamim to say half-Hallel on Pesach. See Maggid Mishneh on Rambam, Hilkhot Chanuka 3:7. 10There is a dispute in the Rishonim as to whether or not half Hallel requires a birkhat ha-mitzva. Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:16) writes it does not, and Rabbeinu Tam (Sukka 44b, d"h "Kan be-Mikdash") rules it does. This issue is dependent upon the role of minhag in halakha, and the multiple dimensions of that issue. This a much discussed topic, and is beyond the scope of this article. Briefly, however, one may view certain minhagim as having taken on certain characteristics of mitzvot, and they thus might require birkhat ha-mitzvot. See Griz on the Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 11:16. 11Oddly, this listing also excludes Hallel on Pesach night, even though the mishna in Pesachim 95a records Hallel on Pesach night as an obligation. Masekhet Soferim 20:9, however, records the above list of days on which we must recite Hallel with the addition that on one night we must also recite Hallel, i.e. Pesach night. It is entirely possible that the discrepancy between these two lists may be due to the fact that they relate to different kinds of obligations, i.e. standard Hallel and a Hallel unique to Pesach night. See "Hallel on Pesach Night," by m"v Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, shlita, published in Yeshivat Har Etzion's Silver Anniversary Dinner Journal, 1993, pp. 71-87. 12Women, however, are exempt from reciting Hallel on Yom Tov (and Rosh Chodesh) because Hallel is a time-bound mitzva. See the Gemara in Sukka 38a, Magen Avraham 422:5, and Biur Halakha, chap. 422, d"h "Hallel." (See, however, Ra'avya on Sukka [ibid], who understands that women are obligated in Hallel.) Nonetheless, women are required to recite Hallel at the Pesach Seder since they were included in the miracle of yetziat mitzrayim. See Tosafot in Sukka 38a, d"h "Mi she-haya," and Biur Halakha, ibid. Based on Tosafot Sukka, it should follow that women are obligated to recite Hallel on Chanuka, since "af hen hayu be-oto ha-nes." Rambam (Hilkhot Chanuka, chap. 3), however, appears to exempt women from Hallel on Chanuka as well. See Marcheshet, vol. 1, no. 22. 13Berakhot 14a. 14Pesachim 117a. 15Rambam, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Shoresh Alef. 16See also Ramban, Hasagot le-Sefer Ha-mitzvot, ibid, and R' Avraham Ibn Ezra, (Yesod Moreh, sha'ar 6, in the name of Rabbenu Bachaya). Nonetheless, it is still possible that the text of Hallel is merely rabbinic in nature, similar to the laws of mourning and of isur melakha on chol ha-mo'ed which may be fundamentally biblical, and yet rabbinic in their detail. This question might be dependent, in part, on the Tannaitic debate in Pesachim 117a as to whether Moshe Rabbeinu and Benei Yisrael or Dovid Ha-melekh were the first to coin the text of Hallel. See Ramban, ibid., and Ra'ah, Masekhet Berakhot, ch. 1. The obvious advantage in embracing the idea of a rabbinic text is that it can be used to reconcile the seemingly contradictory gemarot. Any stress on Hallel's biblical characteristics can be attributed to the obligation to recite Hallel, whereas Hallel's rabbinic tendencies can be ascribed to the nature of its text. 17See also Sefer Yere'im, chap. 242, and Semak 146. 18Rambam, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, ibid., and Hilkhot Chanuka 3:6. 19The Rambam can reconcile the other gemarot with his view by interpreting takanat nevi'im to be on par with rabbinic law, and by explaining that "lav de-oraita" actually means "not prophetically ordained." See also Rashi, Ta'anit 28b, d"h "Minhag avoteihem." 20See also Rashi, ibid. The degree to which divrei kabbala expresses biblical and rabbinic qualities is the subject of another discussion. See the gemara in Rosh Ha- shana 19a. 21Ramban, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, ibid. According to Ramban, the source for Hallel min ha-Torah is either halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, or that it is included in the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov. 22Siman 69. 23Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, Yorah Deah, chap. 233, and Orach Chayyim, chaps. 191 and 208. 24Ha-amek Shela, Sheilta 26, note 1, in an explanation of Sheiltot de-Rav Achai Gaon. 25Hilkhot Chanuka 3:6. 26See Griz al ha-Rambam, ibid. 27Arachin 10a-b. 28The gemara's emphasis on the correlation between korbanot and Hallel is striking. After all, what does one have to do with the other? Indeed, the Midrash (cited in Beit Yosef, Orach Chayyim 490, d"h "kol ha-yomim") understands that the reason why we recite Hallel only on the first day of Pesach, as opposed to Sukkot, has nothing to do with korbanot. Rather, in principle, we should really recite Hallel every day of Pesach, just like Sukkot, but since on the seventh day of Pesach, i.e. Yom Tov acharon, the mitzrim were drowned in the Yam Suf, it is inappropriate to recite full Hallel on that day. Moreover, since we do not recite fullHallel on Yom Tov acharon of Pesach, we also refrain from reciting it on chol ha-mo'ed Pesach, since otherwise chol ha-mo'ed will appear more significant than Yom Tov. It is for this reason, according to the Midrash, that we recite Hallel only on the first day of Pesach. See Taz, Orach Chayyim, 490:3. The Rav zt"l, Maran Rabbi Joseph B. Halevi Soloveitchik, has suggested that based on our gemara's emphasis on korbanot's relationship with Hallel, one may adduce that part of Yom Tov's kedushat ha-yom is rooted in korbanot, as given expression by the shira said over the korbanot. Thus, since there are different korbanot brought each day of Sukkot, we see that each day of Sukkot has a unique kedushat ha-yom, and are considered like seven different Yom Tovim. We therefore understand why Hallel is recited each day of Sukkot, as opposed to Pesach. 29Turei Even (Megilla 22b, d"h "ve-she'in bo") understands that in the times of the Mikdash, there was indeed an isur melakha on Rosh Chodesh as well, due to the Korban Musaf. Nonetheless, he explains that this isur melakha is not as stringent as that of chol ha-mo'ed, which stems from the day itself. 30An intriguing question, raised by the Avnei Nezer, is why do we not say Hallel on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, as that day now has isur melakha, korbanot, and mo'ed? Avnei Nezer answers that Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh are two separate kedushot which do not unite, and each kedushat ha-yom by itself does not warrant Hallel shalem. See, however, Gemara Zevachim 91a which seems to suggest that Shabbat Rosh Chodesh is a unified kedusha. 31Even if only some of these factors exist, it is possible that they would create a special Rabbinic obligation to recite Hallel. See Meiri on Ta'anit (perek 4, mishna 5), and Shita Mekubetzet on Berakhot 14a. 32Ibid. 33Megilla 14a. 34Some Rishonim, like Rambam (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:6), understand that there is an obligation to recite Hallel on Purim, and keriat Megilla actually serves as Hallel. Meiri (Megilla 14a) writes that according to this reasoning, one must recite Hallel on Purim in the event one does not have a megilla, and indeed this is Meiri's final ruling. Le-halakha, Posekim rule against Meiri, and in the event one does not have a megilla, there is no obligation to recite Hallel (Chatam Sofer, Orach Chayyim, chap. 192), or at best, one should recite Hallel without a berakha (Ketav Sofer, Orach Chayyim, chap. 140). 35Of interest is the opinion of Maharitz Chayes who understands these gemarot to imply just the opposite, and only supernatural events can activate a chiyuv Hallel. 36It is possible that there is no distinction between the Hallels obligated by any of these four categories, and all Hallels are either min ha-Torah or mi-derabanan. Yet, perhaps one can distinguish, as does Ramban, between Hallel of mo'ed, which is min ha-Torah, and Hallel in response to events, which is mi-derabanan. One may also distinguish, based on these categories, between Hallel shel shira, and Hallel shel korin. See "Hallel on Pesach Night," pp. 77, where this distinction is applied to Hallel of leil Pesach. 37Pesachim 117a. 38Nonetheless, as is well known, the recitation of Hallel on Yom Ha-atzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim has long been the subject of heated controversy. It is not the intention of this article, however, to explore the propriety of saying Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim. For a review of the material related to this issue, see Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society, No. VII, Spring 1984. 39Shabbat 118b. 40Sanhedrin 94a.



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