PIYYUṬ (plural, Piyyuṭim):

Hymn added to the older liturgy that developed during the Talmudic era and up to the seventh century. The word is derived from the Greek term for poetry, perhaps more directly from ποιητής. The author of a piyyuṭ is called "payyeṭan," a Neo-Hebrew form derived from "piyyuṭ." In midrashic literature the word "piyyuṭ" is used merely in the general sense of "fiction" (Gen. R. lxxxv.; Yalḳ., Dan. 1063), while "payyeṭan" is used in the technical sense of an author of synagogal poetry. R. Eleazar, son of Simon b. Yoḥai, was called a student of the Bible and the Mishnah, a payyeṭan, and a preacher (Lev. R. xxx.; Pesiḳ. 179a, ed. Buber; Zunz, "G. V." p. 380; idem, "S. P." p. 60).

Historical Development.

The oldest piyyuṭim are anonymous. They were written during the era of the early Geonim (c. 7th cent.) and are embodied in the prayer-book. They show an attempt at meter, and, as in some late Biblical poetical compositions, the successive lines are often alphabetically arranged. Examples of this kind are found in the Sabbath morning prayer "El Adon, ha-Kol Yoduka," in the penitential prayers "We-Hu Raḥum" for Mondays and Thursdays, and elsewhere.

The oldest payyeṭan known by name is Jose Ben Jose (ha-Yatom); his date can be fixed only from the fact that he was known to Saadia, who quotes him; but this merely proves that he lived not later than 850. The next payyeṭan known is Yannai, who is said to have been the teacher of the most prolific and popular of the old payyeṭanim, Eleazar ben Ḳalir. The latter's most famous successor was Saadia Gaon, in the tenth century. From that time the payyeṭanim become very numerous and are found in all larger Jewish settlements, notably in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. Zunz ("Literaturgesch.") counts over 900 names of payyeṭanim. It seems likely that they were influenced by the troubadours and the minnesingers, both in the writing of their poems and in their musical settings.

In Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.

In Germany in the eleventh century there were Moses ben Kalonymus, Meshullam ben Kalonymus, Simon ben Isaac, and Gershom ben Judah; in the twelfth century Jekuthiel ben Moses of Speyer, Menahem ben Machir of Ratisbon, Meïr ben Isaac (the ḥazzan), Kalonymus ben Judah, Eliezer ben Nathan (author of the history of the persecutions during the Crusades), Ephraim ben Isaac of Ratisbon, and Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn; in the thirteenth century Moses ben Ḥasdai (of Tachau ?), Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, and Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levi.

In France Benjamin ben Samuel of Coutances (11th cent.; Gross, "Gallia Judaica," p. 553), YomṬob ben Isaac of Joigny (martyred at York in 1190),Rashi, and many of the tosafists, were liturgical poets, as were Moses of Coucy and Abraham and Jedaiah Bedersi.

In Spain, where Hebrew poetry reached the highest development, the best liturgical poets were Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah ha-Levi, and Abraham and Moses ibn Ezra. A large number of others whose names the famous in philosophical and Talmudic literature wrote liturgical poems, as Joseph ben Isaac ibn Abitur, Isaac Ghayyat, Judah ben Bileam, Baḥya ben Joseph ibn Paḳuda, and Isaac ben Reuben of Barcelona; even Maimonides is known as the author of a few hymns.

In Italy, where, according to some, Eleazar Ḳalir had his home, there were payyeṭanim from the tenth to the eighteenth century. According to Zunz, Solomon ha-Babli of the tenth century lived in Rome ("Babel" being a metonymic name for Rome). To the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries belong Isaiah di Trani and Immanuel of Rome. After the fourteenth, payyeṭanim became fewer, and their productions were rarely embodied in the official liturgy. Generally their piyyuṭim were written to commemorate some local event. Thus Baruch ben Jehiel ha-Kohen wrote on the devastation wrought during the time of the Black Death (1347); Abigdor Ḳara, on the persecution in Prague (1389); Samuel Schotten, on the fire in Frankfort-on-the-Main (1711); Jacob ben Isaac, on the conquest of Posen by a hostile army (1716); and Malachi ha-Kohen, on an earthquake that threatened Leghorn (1742). The Thirty Years' war (1618-48), also the Cossack persecutions under Chmielnicki (1648), produced an extensive literature of such piyyuṭim.


The piyyuṭim are of various kinds, according to their theme, their place in the liturgy, or their form. The Seliḥah, the penitential prayer, occupies the foremost rank and is most likely the oldest. The "We-Hu Raḥum," for Mondays and Thursdays, was known as early as the time of the Geonim. It was originally composed for fast-days, as were some of the older, anonymous seliḥot; the "El Melek Yosheb" and the various litanies, which are, in parts, found in Talmudic literature; the "Abinu Malkenu"; and the "Mi she-'Anah." A common theme of the seliḥot is the sacrifice of Isaac (see 'AḲedah). Another regular feature of the penitential prayers is the confession of sins ("widdui"), in which the initial letters of the successive lines are generally in alphabetical order. The introductory part is called the "petiḥah," and the closing part the Pizmon, to which there is a refrain.

Special Names.

The hymns for holy days and some special Sabbaths are more specifically called "piyyuṭim," or often, wrongly, "yoẓerot." They are divided according to their place in the regular liturgy. Those that are inserted in the evening prayer ("'arbit") are called Ma'arabiyyot; those inserted in the first benediction of the morning prayer are called Yoẓer, from the benediction "Yoẓer Or"; in the second benediction, Ahabah, from the initial word of that benediction; those inserted in the benediction following the Shema'are called Zulat, from the keywords "En Elohim zulateka," or Ge'ullah, from the benediction "Go'el Yisrael." Other names taken from the characteristic words of the passages in which the piyyuṭim are inserted are Ofan and Me'orah. Ḳerobot (incorrectly Ḳeroboẓ, perhaps under French influence; Zunz, "S. P." p. 65) is the name of a piyyuṭ inserted in the Tefillah proper (see Ḳerobot and Shemoneh 'Esreh). Another name, rarely used, for the same piyyuṭ is Shib'ata, from "shib'ah" (= "seven"), because the tefillot for Sabbath and holy days consist of seven benedictions. A special class of piyyuṭim is formed by the Tokaḥah (= "reproof"), penitential discourses somewhat similar to the widdui, and the Ḳinah for the Ninth of Ab.

According to their poetical form there are to be distinguished the Sheniyah, the stanzas of which consist of two lines each; the Shelishit, consisting of three lines; the Pizmon, already mentioned; the Mostegab, in which a Biblical verse is used at the beginning of every stanza; the Shalmonit, a meter introduced by Solomon ha-Babli (Zunz, "S. P." p. 167; idem, "Ritus," p. 135). The poetical form was originally acrostic, according to the alphabet in proper order () or reversed () or in some artificial form (). In later times, beginning with the eleventh century, it became customary for the author to weave his name into the acrostic, sometimes adding an invocation; for instance, "May he prosper in the Law and in good deeds."

When Piyyuṭim Are Recited.

The days on which piyyuṭim are inserted in the regular liturgy are the holy days (including Purim and the Ninth of Ab) and a number of Sabbaths which possess special significance, as the Four Parashiyyot, including the Sabbaths falling between them ("Hafsaḳot"); the Sabbaths on which New Moon falls; Ḥanukkah Sabbath; Sabbath Bereshit, when the first portion of the Torah is read; Sabbaths on which the Scriptural reading his some special significance, as when the sacrifice of Isaac (Wayera), or the Song of Moses (Beshallaḥ), or the Ten Commandments (Yitro), or the law of the Red Heifer(Ḥuḳḳat) is read; and other Sabbaths. The persecutions during the Crusades constitute the theme of the "Zulat," on the Sabbaths intervening between Passover and Pentecost. Special events, as a circumcision on the Sabbath or a wedding during the week, are celebrated by appropriate piyyuṭim. On this point the various rites, as the Ashkenazic, the Polish, the Sephardic, the ltalian, those of Carpentras and Oran, Frankfort-on-the-Main, Worms, and Prague, and other prominent old communities, differ very greatly, as they differ also with regard to the pieces selected for the holy days. In general, however, every minhag has given preference to the works of local authors.

Philological and Dogmatic Characteristics.

The natural development of the language introduced into the piyyuṭim not only the Neo-Hebrew words which are found in the prayers of Talmudic times, such as "'olam" in the sense of "the universe" (Biblical Hebrew, "eternity"), "merkabah" (= "the divine chariot"), "hitḳin" (= "to arrange"), but also a large number of new words formed on models and from roots found in Talmudic and midrashic literature or arbitrarily developed from such words as are met with in the works of the oldestpayyeṭanim. Thus Jose ben Jose employs "shu'at ḳeṭoret" (= "the service of the frankincense") in his ritual for the Day of Atonement (Landshuth, "Siddur Hegyon Leb," p. 507, Königsberg, 1875), an expression the use of which has only a weak support in the Biblical "sha'ah" (comp. Gen. iv. 5). The typical development of the mannerism of the payyeṭanim is found as early as in the works of Yannai—for instance, in his piyyuṭ for Passover eve, embodied in the Haggadah and in the Ashkenazic ritual for the Sabbath preceding Passover ("Az Rob Nissim"). He uses by preference such rare and poetical expressions as "ẓaraḥ" (="to call") instead of "ḳara," and "saḥ" (="he spoke") for "dibber"; and such midrashic allegorical designations as "ger ẓedeḳ" for Abraham, "Patros" for Egypt; and he arbitrarily mutilates Biblical and rabbinical words (e.g., [= "the camp"] from [Greek, τάξις], the Aramaic translation of "degel" in Num. ii. 2).

The master in this line is Ḳalir, whose in the ḳerobah for Sabbath Zakor (the Sabbath preceding Purim) has become proverbial for its mannerisms (see Erter, "Ha-Ẓofeh," Vienna, 1864). No better, as a rule, is its intrinsic worth as poetry. The piyyuṭ suffers from endless repetitions and from excessive attention to rime and the acrostic. One of the most curious, instances is afforded by the seliḥḥZah of Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn (12th cent.), beginning "Ta shema'," and found in the Ashkenazic ritual for the fifth day after New-Year. The author, who shows a remarkable command of the Talmudic idiom and a profound knowledge of Talmudic dialectics, argues with God, in the style of the Talmudic discourse, to prove that Israel should receive far better treatment at His hands, saying, "To every question there is an answer; only mine remains unanswered!"

There are, however, a few noble exceptions, as Judah ha-Levi's poems, notably his famous ode on Zion, found in the liturgy for the Ninth of Ab, and Solomon ibn Gabirol's hymns, as his wonderful penitential hymn "Shomamti be-Rob Yegoni" in the Ashkenazic ritual for the Fast of Gedaliah. Abraham ibn Ezra's religious poetry, while noble in thought and grammatically correct, lacks the inspiration of true poetry.

Among the German and French payyeṭanim, Solomon ben Abun of France (12th cent.) and Simon ben Isaac of Worms (10th cent.) likewise may be quoted as exceptions. While both poets labor under the difficulties created by the customs of acrostic, rime, and midrashic allusion, they display deep religious sentiment and are free from that mannerism which seeks distinction in creating difficulties for the reader. Simon ben Isaac's poem beginning "Atiti le-ḥananek," which serves as an introduction to the ḳerobah for the Shaḥarit service of the second New-Year's day (Ashkenazic ritual), is a noble expression of trust in God's mercy, not unworthy of Ps. cxxxix., from which the author drew his inspiration. The pizmon "Shofeṭ Kol ha-Areẓ.," by Solomon ben Abun (Zunz, "Literaturgesch." pp. 311-312), found in the Ashkenazic ritual for the day preceding New-Year and for the Shaḥarit service on the Day of Atonement, expresses in profoundly religious tones the belief in divine justice.

Opposition to Piyyuṭim.

It seems, as has already been stated, that the payyeṭanim, like the troubadours, conceived their poetry as something that possessed no liturgical character in the strict sense of the word. The degree of approval with which these hymns were received, or of personal respect which the author, in many instances a local rabbi, enjoyed, decided for or against the insertion of the piyyuṭim in the Maḥzor of the congregation. Opposition to the inclusion of the piyyuṭ in the regular prayer as an unlawful interruption of divine service is found as early as the eleventh century. Rabbenu Tam (Jacob ben Meïr) defends the practise against the objections of Hananeel and Hai Gaon ("Haggahot Maimoniyyot," in "Yad," Tefillah, vi. 3). Jacob ben Asher disapproves of the practise, quoting the opinion of his father, Asher ben Jehiel, and of Meïr ha-Kohen. Still, in the fourteenth century the custom was so well established that Jacob Mölln (Maharil; Hilkot Yom Kippur, p. 47b, ed. Warsaw, 1874), disapproved not only of the action of his disciples, who preferred to study in the synagogue while the congregation recited the piyyuṭim, but also of any departure from local custom in the selection of the piyyuṭim and the traditional airs (Isserles, in notes on Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 68; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 619).

Other objections, from the esthetic standpoint, and on account of the obscure and often blasphemous language used, have been presented in a masterly criticism upon Ḳalir's piyyuṭim by Abraham ibn Ezra (commentary on Eccl. v. 1). These objections, against which Heidenheim endeavored to defend Ḳalir (commentary on the ḳerobah for the Musaf of the Day of Atonement), were revived in the earliest stages of the Reform movement (see Zunz, "Ritus," pp. 169 et seq.). Indeed, as early as the beginning of the eighteenth century dogmatic objections to the piyyuṭim were raised, chiefly in regard to addressing prayers to the angels, and to certain gross anthropomorphisms (Lampronti, "Paḥad Yiẓaḳ," s.v. pp. 33b et seq.)—objections the force of which some of the strictest Orthodox rabbis, like Moses Sofer, recognized. (See Anthropomorphism and Anthropopathism.

The Reform movement resulted in the general disuse of the piyyuṭim even in synagogues in which otherwise the traditional ritual was maintained; but in such synagogues and even in almost all those which use the Reform ritual, some of the most popular piyyuṭim for New-Year and the Day of Atonement have been retained.

The verbal difficulties of the piyyuṭ made commentaries a necessity, so that even the authors themselves appended notes to their piyyuṭim. An exhaustive commentary by Johanan Treves was published in the Bologna (1541) edition of the Roman Maḥzor. Of the later commentators none has done more valuable, work than Wolf Heidenheim, who, however, limited himself to the Ashkenazic and to the Polish ritual. He was the first, also, to write a correct German translation of the whole Maḥzor, butneither his nor Michael Sachs's translation succeed in the almost impossible task of remaining faithful to the original and producing at the same time a readable text in German. The same may be said of the translations in other modern languages. An exception exists in the work of Seligmann Heller, who succeeded in producing a really poetical version of some of the piyyuṭim.

  • Maḥzor, ed. Heidenheim, Introduction:
  • Zunz, S. P.;
  • idem. Literaturgesch.: idem. Ritus;
  • Gestettner, Mafteach ha-Pijutim, Berlin, 1889;
  • Weiss, Dor, iv, 221-226;
  • Landshutb, 'Ammude ha-'Abodah;
  • Fleckeles, Teshubah me-Ahabah, vol. i., No. 1, Prague, 1809;
  • Wolff. Die Stimmen der Aeltesten und Glaubwürdigsten, Rabbinen über die Pijutim, Leipsic, 1857.