We are about to enter one of the high seasons of synagogue poetry, aka פיוטים.
No, your Shul wasn’t overrun by a group of artists and poets. It’s just that time of the year again.
Piyyutim season is here. The ארבע פרשיות – which feature the most widely recited piyyutim perhaps, at least outside the Yomim noraim, are almost upon us. I am not sure if Sepharadim say them too. Anyone know?
The state of piyyutim today seems to be poor, from my observations over the years (as the state of poetry in general today perhaps?). A negative attitude is widespread. But it wasn’t always that way. The great talmid of the נודע ביהודה, רב אלעזר פלעקעלס, author of responsa תשובה מאהבה, who was his successor in the rabbonus of Prague, in a famous teshuvoh, at the beginning of his teshuvos, exclaims, בא וראה כמה חביבים הפיוטים בעיני רבותינו הקדושים הראשונים, come and see how beloved piyyutim are to the holy Rabbis of earlier generations. And he brings a whole list – Rashi, Tosefos, Rishonim….who talk and bring proofs from language of piyyutim to explain Torah. To explain a gemara. To explain a midrash. Piyyutim are handled like Chazal. So piyyutim are the holiest of the holy. Viata – and now – hachareishim – the deaf – haivrim – the blind – habitu – look – im harishonim bnei haElokim, baalei hoasufos, Rashi viTosefos, Ramban, Rashba.. he brings…they all ahovu vechibevu divrei hapiyyutim, they loved the words of the piyyutim, we can come now and criticize them?
How many still say them? How many understand them?
How many enjoy them? How many look forward to them?
Who says them?
Who omits them?
Who says them in a quality manner?
Some say them during chazoras haShatz, some after.
What can be done to improve the situation?
Simple things come to mind. Say them slowly, with no speeding. Have a fitting shliach tzibbur leading them – one that understands them, and knows the nusach with which they are traditionally chanted.
I heard a very interesting shiur from רב בנימין שלמה המבורגר שליט”א on piyyutim (from which the תשובה מאהבה piece above came) a while back. One of the things he suggested to improve the situation was to have shiurim, explaining the piyyutim, before they are to be recited, as is brought by the son of the של”ה, רבי שבתי שעפטל הורוויץ, ווי העמודים, פרק י, who reports that he instituted in Frankfurt when he was אב”ד there that groups should study the meaning of תפלות, פיוטים, ויוצרות so they should know what are saying, be able to have proper kavonnoh and not just emit sounds like birds.