Akdamut, an introductory hymn to the Aramaic translation of the Torah reading in the Ashkenazic rite for the first day of Shavuot, has outlived all other such hymns, and, it has outlived – by many centuries – the custom of chanting the Aramaic translation itself on Shavuot – its erstwhile raison d’etre! Why should such a lengthy (90 lines) literary creation in a language not understood by most Jews, introducing a translation of the Torah reading not used by these Jews for a thousand years, continue to be so popular that it is included in all traditional versions of the Ashkenazic festival prayer book? This essay proposes that regardless of the author’s original intention for this prayer, it came to be read in a way that the author could not have foreseen. The piyyut’s major theme of the loyalty of Israel to the Covenant in the face of the nations’ enticements and persecutions helped to position the poem to address the needs of European Jewry following the Crusades. But the key role in securing a new and enduring career in Jewish liturgy for this poem was played by a medieval Yiddish tale. This is a case in which the study of a Yiddish folktale against its historical background yields a resolution of the problem of the surprising popularity and persis


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pp. 161-183
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