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Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur

Michael D. Swartz and Joseph Yahalom

Publication Year: 2005

Avodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur is the first major translation of one of the most important genres of the lost literature of the ancient synagogue. Known as the Avodah piyyutim, this liturgical poetry was composed by the synagogue poets of fifth- to ninth-century Palestine and sung in the synagogues on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Although it was suppressed by generations of rabbis, its ornamental beauty and deep exploration of sacred stories ensured its popularity for centuries. Piyyut literature can teach us much about how ancient Jews understood sacrifice, sacred space, and sin. The poems are also a rich source for retrieving myths and symbols not found in the conventional Rabbinic sources such as the Talmuds and Midrash. Moreover, these compositions rise to the level of fine literature. They are the products of great literary effort, continue and extend the tradition of biblical parallelism, and reveal the aesthetic sensibilities of the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity.tAvodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur is the first volume in The Penn State Library of Jewish Literature, overseen by Baruch Halpern and Aminadav Dykman. This series will constitute a library of primary source material for the Jewish and Hebrew literary traditions. The library will present Jewish and Hebrew works from all eras and cultures, offering both scholars and general readers original, modern translations of previously overlooked texts.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Copyright Page

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pp. v

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pp. ix-x

This volume is the result of our mutual interest in the Avodah piyyutim and our conviction that these compositions are significant not only for the history of Hebrew literature but also for the history of Judaism in late antiquity. In 1996, Joseph Yahalom published the anonymous piyyut ...

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pp. 1-42

Every year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in synagogues around the world, congregations recall the biblical sacrifice of purification and expiation that formed the basis for the original Yom Kippur. This recollection takes the form of a service known as the Avodah, designated by the Hebrew term for sacrificial worship. ...

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1. Atah Barata

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pp. 43-52

Atah Barata is perhaps the earliest poetic treatment of the themes of the Avodah. It is an introduction to the Avodah service and therefore ends not with a comprehensive description of the sacrifice but with the statement that God “informed [Aaron’s sons] so that they might serve before [Him].” ...

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2. Shiv'at Yamim

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pp. 53-68

This text is the earliest extant version of the Avodah service. It does not take the form of poetry but is rather a liturgical reworking of Mishnah Yoma. It gives us a reasonable picture of what kind of recitation of the Mishnah the Talmud might be describing.1 The text is one of those Avodah services mentioned ...

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3. Atah Konanta 'Olam Me-Rosh

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pp. 69-94

This anonymous composition is the earliest true Avodah piyyut extant. It contains all the elements that became characteristic of the genre: the historical preamble, selection of Aaron, praise of the priesthood, and the reworking of Mishnah Yoma into a poetic narrative. It is popular in the Sephardic and Middle Eastern liturgies, ...

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4. Az be-'En Kol

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pp. 95-220

This massive composition is one of the most comprehensive of the extant ancient Avodah piyyutim. It is distinguished for its thorough treatment of every major theme in the Avodah, for its extensive use of poetic figures such as metonymy, alliteration, and parallelism, for its use of mythology in its retelling of the history ...

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5. Azkir Gevurot Elohah

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pp. 221-290

Yose ben Yose, who most likely lived in the fourth or fifth century C.E., is the first payetan known to us by name. However, nothing else is known about him except that he composed several important early piyyutim, including at least four Avodot. This composition, Yose ben Yose’s masterpiece, is perhaps the most influential ...

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6. Atah Konanta 'Olam be-Rov Hesed

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pp. 291-342

This composition is a fully formed Avodah and provides another example of Yose ben Yose’s handiwork. It is close in language and structure to Azkir Gevurot, and like it, this piyyut helped set the structure and themes of subsequent Avodah piyyutim. However, it varies in content and some of its emphases within the set themes. ...

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7. Emet Mah Nehedar

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pp. 343-348

This poem, simple in structure but vivid in its use of imagery, has its origins in the apocryphal Book of Ben Sira, or Ecclesiasticus, which served as perhaps the most influential model for the Avodah genre.1 In chapter 50, a seminal composition in which Ben Sira describes the service of Simeon, ...

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8. En Lanu Kohen Gadol

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pp. 349-366

This poem, attributed to Yose ben Yose, is one of several laments of its kind and is meant to be recited in the confession of sins for Yom Kippur. The poem has a strict form and repeats verbs and motifs for the sake of the literary structure and the acrostic. Its literary and historical value lies in its constant wordplay, ...

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pp. 367-372

In this volume, we have presented the most important examples from the early history of the Avodah genre. In doing so, we hope to have conveyed something of the range, variety, and literary and historical significance of this poetry and, indeed, of ancient piyyut in general. ...


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pp. 373-380


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pp. 381-382

Source Index

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pp. 383-388

Subject Index

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pp. 389-390

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052847
E-ISBN-10: 0271052848
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271023571
Print-ISBN-10: 0271023570

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2005