Why do certain synagogues sing Psalm 92 after the Torah reading of the Shabbat Minhah service? Responsa in a Moment Volume 11, Number 5


In memory of Gershon Kekst z”l,
who passed away 19 Adar 5777.
Leader, philanthropist, mentsch.
May his memory be for a blessing.
                                                                                   

Question from Rabbi Dikla Drukman: It is customary to sing Psalm 92 – Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbat – after the Torah reading during the Shabbat Minhah service at Camp Ramah and at some Conservative synagogues. What is the origin of this custom, which is not found in standard Ashkenazic prayer books?

(Orah Hayyim 292 in Kaf Hahayyim, paragraph 12)

Responsum

I) The song which was supposed to have been chanted at Shabbat Minhah in the Second Temple period
The following passage appears in the tractate of Rosh Hashanah fol. 31a in a section devoted to the Psalms for the Day:

At Shabbat Minhah what did they recite [in the Temple]? Rabbi Yohanan said: Az yashir (Exodus 15:1-10), Mee Kamokha (ibid., v. 11-19) and Az Yashir (Numbers 21: 17-20). The question was raised: were all of these recited in one Shabbat or did they recite one every Shabbat? Come and hear, for our Sages have taught in a Beraita: Rabbi Yossi [ben Yehudah] said: until the first [the song for Musaf which had six sections] repeats itself once, the second [for Minhah] repeats itself twice. Learn from this: every single Shabbat they recite one section.

We have no way of knowing if these songs for Minhah were actually sung in the Second Temple. Maimonides, who was one of the only rabbis to codify laws related to the Temple, codified this law in his Hilkhot Temidin Umusafin 6:9, but this law had no influence on the subsequent liturgy of Shabbat Minhah.

II) The earliest sources for this custom
As far as I know, after checking over twenty medieval Siddurim and codes of Jewish law, the only medieval code which mentions this custom is Sefer Abudraham, written by Rabbi David Abudraham in Seville in the year 1340:

And there are places where they are accustomed to recite in Minhah on Shabbat after reading the Torah — Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbat. And according to this, he could have recited Kaddish after the Torah reading [which is not normally done at Minhah on Shabbat], and the other [=next] Kaddish would come in relation to the Mizmor.

Thanks to the assistance of Prof. Ruth Langer and my student Natan Waingortin, I was able to check various manuscripts of medieval Sefardic Siddurim. In some cases, this custom is not mentioned, while in others the evidence is inconclusive, but one 15th century Sefardic Siddur does contain this custom. In British Library Ms. Or 5866 it says:

For Minhah… Ashrei and Uva LitziyonKaddishVa’ani tefilati… and he takes out a Sefer Torah and three men read from next week’s weekly portion, and he says Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbat, and he returns the Sefer Torah and he says Yehalelu

Thus we see that there was a Sefardic custom in the 14th-15th centuries to recite Psalm 92 after the Torah reading of Shabbat Minhah.

III) Some reactions to the custom in the 16th and 18th centuries
Two important halakhic authorities reacted to this custom, regarding the number of times one recites Kaddish in Minhah and where, but it is clear that they are reacting to a widespread, entrenched custom.

Rabbi Yaakov Castro (Egypt and Israel, ca. 1525-1610) wrote in his Erekh Lehem (to Orah Hayyim 292, Constantinople, 1718, fol. 10a):

It is better not to say Mizmor [Shir Leyom] Hashabbat after the Torah reading, and in some places they are accustomed to say it, and this is a mistake because they have to recite Kaddish twice, one before the Torah reading and one afterwards to pray Minhah [i.e., before the Amidah, and adding this Mizmor will require a third Kaddish]. (1)

In other words, he is opposed to this custom because it forces one to add another Kaddish to the Shabbat Minhah service.

Rabbi Ya’akov Emden (Altona, 1697-1776) was also aware of the “Kaddish dilemma”, but he chose to ignore it in his Siddur Beit Ya’akov (Lemberg, 1904, p. 186):

And even though some say Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbat and this is the custom of my father and teacher [The Hakham Tzvi, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi, 1660-1718] and it is also our custom, in any case they do not recite the Kaddish after the Torah reading, perhaps in order not to prolong the service.

At first glance, this testimony would seem to indicate that this custom had spread to Ashkenaz (cf. Kaf Hahayyim quoted below). However, the Hakham Tzvi studied in Salonika and Belgrade and adopted many Sefardic customs. Thus, this testimony of Rabbi Emden in Altona remains testimony to a Sefardic custom.

IV) From the nineteenth century until today
It is now the standard custom among Sefardic Jews and Jews from Islamic countries to recite Psalm 92 after the Torah reading on Shabbat. Here is the evidence that I have found thus far:

Yemen, before the Torah reading. Rabbi Yahya Tzalah, ca. 1715, Tiklal Etz Hayyim, Part I, Jerusalem, 1962, fol. 144a; Moshe Gavra, Hatiklal Hamada’i Hamehudar, Benei Berak, 2012, p. 216.

Morocco. Siddur Sha’arei Komimiyut, according to the rulings of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Jerusalem, ca. 1994, p. 423.

Alexandria, Egypt. Rabbi Eliyahu Hazzan, Sefer Neveh Shalom, Alexandria, 1894; second edition, Cairo, 1931 to Orah Hayyim 292, fol. 19a. It is not recited in Egypt due to the opposition of Rabbi Ya’akov Castro, but it is recited in Alexandria.

Jerusalem and Alexandria. Rabbi Refael Aharon ben Shimon, Nehar Mitzrayim, Alexandria, 1908, fol. 24b. It is not recited in Egypt due to the opposition of Rabbi Ya’akov Castro, but it is recited in Jerusalem and other places and Alexandria.

Italy. Sefer Mo’adei Hashem edited by L.E. Ottolenghi, Vol. III, Livorno, 1824, p. 166; but it is missing from Seder Tefillot K’minhag Benei Roma, Jerusalem, 2016, p. 226.

Izmir, Turkey. Rabbi Rahamim Pelache, Yafeh Lalev, Izmir, 1872, quoted by Rabbi Ya’akov Hayyim Sofer, Kaf Hahayyim to Orah Hayyim 292, paragraph 12.

Baghdad, Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad, end of 19th century, Ben Ish Hai, Part II, Hayyei Sarah, p. 49.

Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Hayyim Sithon, Eretz Hayyim, Jerusalem, 1908, p. 56, quoting Rabbi Avraham Hayyim Adadi, Sefer Hashomer Emet, Livorno, 1849, fol. 53a.

Eretz Yisrael. Shlomo Tal, ed., Siddur Rinat Yisrael… Ve’edot Hamizrah, second edition, Jerusalem, 1984, p. 329.

Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 1, p. 539 to Orah Hayyim 292, subparagraph 6; Yalkut Yosef, Shabbat, Part I, p. 420, end of note 6; Siddur Hazon Ovadiah, Jerusalem, 1990, p. 428.

The Sefaradim of London. Rabbi Shemtob Gaguine (Keter Shem Tov, parts 1-2, Kaidan, 1934, pp. 449 and 451 in a note) maintains that an individual does not recite Psalm 92 “because it was enacted to accompany the Torah reading… this is simple”. This is not so simple, but we learn from this that the Sefaradim of London also recite Psalm 92 after the Torah reading at Shabbat Minhah.  

Damascus. Rabbi Moshe Natan Hadid, Siddur Tefillah Sha’ar Binyamin, Jerusalem, 2008, p. 465.

Aleppo. Rabbi Rafael Shlomo Laniado, Bet Dino Shel Shlomo, Orah Hayyim, No. 1 (died 1794; quoted by Rabbi Sithon); but it is not found in Siddur Tefillot…Aram Tzobah, Venice 1527 (facsimile edition, Jerusalem, 2007), Vol. I, fol. 121a.

 V) Summary and Conclusions
The custom of reciting Psalm 92 after (or before) the Torah reading at Shabbat Minhah is first mentioned in Sefer Abudraham in Seville in the year 1340 and in a Sefardic Siddur from the 15th century.

As time went on, this custom spread to the Spanish Diaspora and to the Islamic countries and even to Ashkenazic Jews such as Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi and his son Rabbi Ya’akov Emden who adopted Sefardic customs. There was some learned opposition to this custom by Rabbi Ya’akov Castro ca. 1600 having to do with the number of times Kaddish is recited in Minhah and where, but it is clear that the opposition was to a widespread, entrenched custom.

Interestingly enough, none of the rabbis mentioned above explain why this Psalm is recited at Minhah on Shabbat, but I believe that the reason is clear. The heading of Psalm 92 is “Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbat“, “A Song for the Sabbath day”. This is probably why it is recited on Friday night as part of Kabbalat Shabbat, and this custom even predates the Kabbalat Shabbat as developed in Safed ca. 1570. (2) It is also recited on Shabbat morning both as part of Pesukei D’zimra, the Psalms of Praise at the beginning of the service, and as the Shir Shel Yom, the Psalm for Shabbat, a custom which probably goes back at least 2,300 years to Second Temple times.(3) We can surmise that since Psalm 92 was recited on both Friday night and Shabbat morning, the Jews of 14th century Spain or earlier wanted to include this beautiful Psalm for the Sabbath Day in the Minhah service as well.

I believe that this explains why this custom was adopted by Camp Ramah and some Conservative synagogues and why it is now included in the new Siddur Lev Shalem (New York, 2016, p. 220). And if someone should ask why Ashkenazic Jews should adopt this 650 year old Sefardic custom, I would refer them to the 300-year-old precedent of the Hakham Tzvi and Rabbi Ya’akov Emden cited above.

David Golinkin
Jerusalem
Isru Hag Shavuot 5777

Notes

  1. For an attempt to explain this sentence in Erekh Lehem, see Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Toledano, Yam Hagadol, Cairo, 1931, No. 34, who also refers to Responsa Bet Dino Shel Shlomo, No. 2.
  2. See the Responsa of Maimonides, ed. Blau, No. 178 = Pe’er Hador, No. 116 and Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 261:4.
  3. See what I wrote in Insight Israel; The View from Schechter, Jerusalem, 2003, p. 53, note 5.

8 thoughts on “Why do certain synagogues sing Psalm 92 after the Torah reading of the Shabbat Minhah service? Responsa in a Moment Volume 11, Number 5

  1. The adoption of this minhag by Camps Ramah and Conservative congregations should be traced directly to its practice in the JTS Seminary Synagogue throughout its administration by Rabbi Saul Lieberman, where I served as Gabbai (c. 1980’s)… and where countless Ramah counsellors and future rabbis and cantors worshipped. Why the Lithuanian Rabbi Lieberman adopted the predominantly Sefardi practice documented in this responsum remains a question.

  2. At Kehillat Yedidya in Yerushalayim where the davening is Nusach Ashkenaz, they also recite Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbat after Hagbah and G’lilah with no additional Kaddish after the Mizmor.

  3. As a student at JTS attending Shabbat Minha services with Dr. Finkelstein and other faculty it was the custom to say Psalm 92 after the Torah reading. I remember not only appreciating the Psalm but the melody to which it was sung as well.

  4. Is it possible, given the Seminary’s Sephardic roots, that the recitation of this Mizmor at JTS goes back to the founding of the institution? (and was retained even after the Seminary’s re-organization by Ashkenazim)

  5. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s at Beth El Temple in West Hartford, Connecticut. Our Rabbi was Stanley Kessler, who is Rabbi Emeritus. He was always the shaliach tzibbur for Shabbat Mincha, and we always recited this Psalm at Shabbat Mincha, as the Torah was being “dressed” after the Torah reading. I have inquired about his derivation of this custom. He explained that he had learned this custom while attending Yeshiva University in 1942.

  6. I asked Rabbi Dr. Robert Fierstien about this since he has studied and written about the history of JTS and was ordained there. He replied that “One possible explanation why they say it at JTS is that Rabbi Sabato Morais, Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes and several of the key early lay leaders of the early Seminary were Sephardic Jews, and, in its earliest days, the key service in the Seminary synagogue was the Shabbat afternoon service.”

  7. Haverim,

    Thank you for the responses. Iy”h I will look into the custom at JTS as well.

    David Golinkin

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