Synagogue poetry month – poetry readings in your local synagogue! The current state of piyyutim.

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.


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4 Responses to “Synagogue poetry month – poetry readings in your local synagogue! The current state of piyyutim.”

  1. YDL Says:

    I learned recently ( that in a non-Ashkenaz Minyan, one should not recite piyutim during tefillah; rather, one should say them after davening. This came as quite a surprise to me; if we hold it’s not a hefsek, then why should it be now? R’ Hamburger told me that he also had this sevorah, but one of the Ashkenaz Gedolim (I forget which one), said that in such a situation, it is indeed a hefsek. He told me that it used to be that only the Sha”tz himself would say the piyutim and the tzibur would be yotzei with him. Only in later times did the congregation join in. It is therefore more for the Sha”tz than for the tzibur, and consequently is a hefsek if the actual shul does not say it. However, he advised me that R’ Wosner does allow one to say piyutim during davening if he can meet the following two conditions: 1. He (she) must know the meaning of the ENTIRE piyut; 2. one must feel that this really improves and adds to his davening. He told me that one may rely on R’ Wosner’s opinion. (Unfortunately, I personally can not say I know the meaning to ALL the words – so I have since refrained from reciting piyutim during teffilah).

  2. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    I would think (and know from personal experience) that if the tzibbur is not saying a piyyut, especially longer ones like those of the arba parshios, there is basically no way you can say all of it with proper kavonnoh while a shliach tzibbur breezes through a much shorter regular chazoras hashatz. So it is a difficult situation just on practical, logistical grounds, leaving alone any questions of hefsek.

    One could try to start saying the piyyut, say some of the early sections, but to go through the whole thing, through to the siluk before kedushoh, seems basically impossible, even if the shliach tzibbur is performing some chazonus all the while.

  3. YDL Says:

    Let me clarify. Saying piyutim in a non-piyut schul involved only the sections said by the tzibur (i.e. yotzer, ofan, zulas, and others such as ahavah, when applicable). It did not involve anything connected with chazaras haSha”tz. I had to come to schul much earlier and get a nice head start in order to be up to Shmoneh Esrei with the tzibur. This Shabbos, I will (attempt, time permitting) to recite them after musaf.

  4. Rallis Wiesenthal Says:

    I attend a non-Yekkish shul and have the same difficulty. I end up reciting Pesukei D’Zimro quicker, in order to recite the piyutim (i.e. yotzer, ofan, zulas, and others such as ahavah) as carefully as I can. I feel it is important that they be recited within the tefilloh (with Rav Wosner heter), even if I don’t always know what I’m saying at the time. On Youm Touv I review some of the Piyutei Chazoras HaShatz and have learned many interesting insights into the Yomim Touvim expressed within!

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