A Hanukah Liturgy From Yemen - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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A Hanukah Liturgy From Yemen

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ms. Acc. 199

This 1646 Yemenite work of liturgy, law, scripture, and intercalation includes a sizable entry on Hanukah titled “Seder ha-‘asiyah bi-shmonat yeme Hanukah.” The entry begins with a guide to the basic observances, benedictions, and readings for the eight days of Hanukah.

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Introductory Portion of Seder ha-'asiyah bi-shemonat yeme Hanukah.

The liturgy in this section includes the blessing for lighting candles, “shehechiyanu,” the blessing for auspicious occasions, and the blessing for the acknowledgment of miracles. A unique trait of the Baladi formulation for the blessing over the Hanukah candles is the addition of the possessive preposition, של, which is absent in the Sephardic rendering.
After the blessings are several rulings regarding observance of Hanukah, and then a full presentation of Psalm 7. The text instructs us that this psalm is to be read during prayer on every day of Hanukah.

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Psalm 7, with Babylonian supertextual vocalization. The Psalm begins immediately after the flourish.

TThe Yemenite rite depicted here, known as the Baladi (“local,” or “regional”) rite, has several traits which may be unfamiliar to those outside the Yemenite community. The first and most visible difference is the style of the nekudot, or vowel markers. While the Tiberian system was adopted in much of the Jewish world by the time of this manuscript’s writing, the Baladi rite instead used Babylonian supralinear punctuation. All vowel markers appear above the Hebrew letters, and the nekudot themselves are different in appearance from the Tiberian system. Further, segol and patach are assimilated into a single vowel.

Following the psalm are instructions for the reading of a special maftir for the duration of the holiday, and then a new heading appears – נפשי ליי מחכה ואודה לו בנס חנוכה – “My soul waits for God, and I shall thank Him for the miracle of Hanukah.”

This introduces a new section containing Megilat Antiochus in its original Aramaic, with each verse being followed by an interlinear translation in Judaeo-Arabic. The text informs us that Megilat Antiochus is to be read as the maftir (concluding reading) for the duration of the 8 days of Hanukah.

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The beginning of Megilat Antiochus, in Aramaic with Judaeo-Arabic interlinear translation. The Aramaic original can be identified by the supertextual vocalization, while the Judaeo-Arabic translation has no vowel pointers.

Megilat Antiochus is an apocryphal text composed during the Talmudic period. It tells the story of Hanukah – the Greek persecution of Jews and Jewish practice and the rebellion against them lead by the Maccabees –  as well as the miracle of the minute quantity of pure Temple oil which lasted 8 days.

The presence of Megilat Antiochus in the Baladi rite is a result of the influence Saadia Gaon. Yemenite tradition greatly reveres the Gaon’s teachings, holding him to be among the greatest and most influential of historical Jewish philosophers. Saadia Gaon was a great proponent of the importance of Hanukah, which has historically been viewed as a “lesser” festival in comparison to the other Jewish holidays. Saadia Gaon wrote the Arabic translation of Megilat Antiochus, and composed an introduction to the work in which he noted that the victory of the Hasmoneans was not only a great Jewish success, but was biblically prophesied. This assertion of the divine circumstances in which the events of the Hasmonean revolt took place lend it a divine importance beyond the common understanding.*

At the end of a composition or Jewish textual work, many manuscripts commonly conclude with the acronym – תושלב''ע – תם ונשלם שבח לאל בורא עולם – “Finished and complete, praise be to God, creator of the universe.” As a final unique expression of the Baladi rite, the text of Megilat Antiochus concludes with the acronym שושר''ש – שלים ולא שלימו רחמנא שמיא – “[We have reached] the end, while the mercies of heaven are endless.”**

Wishing you a joyous holiday season and a happy Hanukah!


*[see Atlas, S., and M. Perlmann. “Saadia on the Scroll of the Hasmonaeans.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, vol. 14, 1944].

**Thank you to Rabbi Joe Schwartz for this translation, which accurately conveys both the meaning and the doubling-language utilized in the original.


 Contributed by Jason Schapera, Digitizing Speialist at the Klau Library, Cincinnati

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