Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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CASPI / THE CREATIVE WRITING OF THE YEMENITE JEWS
75
suggests that it was first recited by Moses and the people o f Is­
rae l.13 The Tosefta to tractate Pesahim adds that the Hallel was
also recited by the devotees in the Temple, who chanted it at the
slaughtering o f the Paschal lamb on Passover eve.14 In the Yem­
enite community it is customary to intone “Halleluyah” as a re­
sponse as each half verse is recited, as advocated in the Mish-
nah .15This liturgical expression is found not only in the Bible but
also in the Dead Sea scrolls. Philo makes mention o f this liturgy16
and a few Hallelot are found in the works o f the Jews at Yanina in
Greece.17
The Yemenite Jews adopted this device as a means o f blessing
the ceremonial host, whether he was the bridegroom, the circum­
cised infant or the head o f the household. Bearing in mind that
before bestowing blessings on mortal man, it is required that the
Creator and Master of the Universe be blessed, the eldest of the
guests begins with the refrain “ve-Halleluyah” and then proceeds
with the first line. He is then joined by the other guests as they
recite the whole Hallel to its end. Usually the Hallelot are recited
in between the singing and dancing activities, probably to allow
the more passive participants to be included in the ceremony. To
date, there have been uncovered some two hund red and seventy
Hallelot written in either Hebrew, Aramaic or Judeo-Arabic.18
Since some of these contain esoteric elements, it is possible to sug­
gest that they were produced during the second period o f crea­
tive writing in the Yemenite community. However, it is difficult
to demonstrate this conclusively and it is more plausible to sug­
gest that both this genre and that o f the Maranot were written
during both the first and the second periods. Both represent a
unique contribution by the Yemenite Jews to the body o f Hebrew
literature.
ORAL POETRY AND THE WRITTEN WORD
Any exploration o f Yemenite literature also requires an unde r­
standing o f the country’s social system and cultural mores. Since
13 Pesahim, 117a.
14 Tosefta Pesahim, 95b.
15 Mishnah Sukkah, 3:10.
16 Songs Sung by the Therapeutae,
De Vita Contemplativa,
66 ff.
17 Apotolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin Schwartz (eds. and trans.),
GreekJew­
ish Poetry of Yanina,
N.Y. and Berkeley: Magnes Museum (in press).
18 A critical edition o f the Hallelot is in preparation for publication.