Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Retzei et les prieres du Comtat Venaissin

The antepenultimate blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh, the Blessing of Divine Service.

What are we asking for in this bracha? Whom does it address? Whence cometh its text?

Ashkenazic and Sephardic versions exist, but are almost identical, as Babylonian nusach has become standard since the Eretz Yisrael community disappeared after the conquest of Salah-al-Din in 1191 (enslaved or disappeared). However, the Cairo Genizah has revealed parts of the lost nusach of Eretz Yisrael. Yechezkel Luger published a book with Genizah manuscript evidence for the various nuschaot of the Shemoneh Esreh, the central thrice-daily prayer.

Here is the Ashkenazi nusach:

רצה ידוד אלהינו בעמךָ ישראל ובתפלתם והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך ואשי ישראל ותפלתם באהבה תקבל ברצון. ותהי לרצון תמיד עבודת ישראל עמך:

ותחזינה עינינו בשובךָ לציון ברחמים ברוך אתה ידוד. המחזיר שכינתו לציון:

The usual question, which has sparked some recent discussion on the Avodah mailing list, is how do we parse the paragraph? Does the phrase “v’ishei ysrael” belong with what precedes it, or what follows it? If attached to the preceding, we would say “Return the service to Devir Your House and the fire-offerings of Israel, and receive their prayers with love”. If attached to the following, we have “Return the service to Devir Your House, and receive the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayers with love.” Are the fire offerings to be returned, or to be received?

As it happens, the classical commentaries, mostly based on the last Tosafos in Menachos, which in turn cites midrashim, are divided. The Mishna Brura summarizes the variety of opinions:

First, he notes that the Mechaber is referring to a minhag which skips the beginning of Retzei, starting from V'ishei Yisrael; said minhag is denigrated, although perhaps not so far as the Pri Megadim would, who said it denied the text of Hazal; still one shouldn't do it. That custom supports grouping "V'ishei Ysrael" with Utfilatam.

He then lists three explanations:

  • Tur: V'ishei Ysrael Utfilatam: tefillot are in place of korbanot.
  • Yalkut Shimoni: Angel Michael sacrifices tzadikim on a Supernal Altar, so Ishei Ysrael == Anshei Ysrael, and links with Utfilatam.
  • Some comment: Return the fire offerings along with the Temple service. And accept our prayers...

Taz prefers the second, Gra prefers the third explanation. M"B doesn't say which he prefers. So three sources (the old custom, YS and Tur) support one grouping, while the Gra supports the other grouping.

If I look at it, I prefer "V'ishei ysrael utfilatam", following the Tur's explanation, coupled with grammar:

Return the service to Dvir Your House, and the fire-offerings of Israel. And receive the prayers... - doesn't make sense grammatically.

1) it looks like an afterthought;

2) the service IS or at least INCLUDES the fire-offerings, esp. since we can't ever do bamot again, so it's a redundant afterthought.

3) Lack of an "et" to indicate a direct object to "Hasheiv" also argues against it. In fact, that also makes it group better with "utfillatam":

a) v'...u' to distinguish two types of "and"; the first indicating "here's a similar sentiment to the last" and the second indicating "this is grouped with the previous"

b) neither of the objects of Tekabel gets an "et", while the object of "hasheiv" has an "et". (this turns out to be debatable, some siddurim have “et”, some don’t, in trying to reach a 34-word count set by old Ashkenazic tradition)

If they wanted to group it together with "Divine service", perhaps it should have said "Hasheiv et ha-avodah v'et ishei yisrael lidvir beitecha".

For reference (from Bar-Ilan database):

Tosfos Menachos 110a:

ומיכאל שר הגדול עומד ומקריב עליו קרבן - מדרשות חלוקין יש מי שאומר נשמותיהן של צדיקים ויש מי שאומר כבשים של אש והיינו דאמרינן בשמונה עשרה בעבודה ואשי ישראל ותפלתם מהרה באהבה תקבל ברצון ויש אומרים דקאי אדלעיל והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך ואשי ישראל, לא מצאתי יותר.

Mishna Brura 120:1:

(א) במנחה - דהיינו שהם מתחילין מואשי ישראל ועיין בפמ"ג שכתב דלפי מה שנהגו עכשיו בכל מקום לאמר רצה מקרי המדלג משנה ממטבע שטבעו חז"ל ודינו כמש"כ המחבר סימן קי"ט ס"ג בטעה בברכה ולענ"ד צ"ע אם זה מקרי בדיעבד בשם טעה ואפילו בשחרית עיין לעיל סוף סימן ס"ד במ"א בשם הכ"מ ובסימן נ"ט ובסימן קי"ד מ"א סק"ט ובריש סימן קפ"ז. כתב הטור על מה שאנו אומרים ואשי ישראל ותפלתם וכו' ואע"פ שאין עתה עבודה מתפללים על התפילה שהיא במקום הקרבן שתתקבל ברצון לפני הש"י ובמדרש יש מיכאל שר הגדול מקריב נשמתן של צדיקים על המזבח של מעלה [ר"ל שמגיש אותם לרצון לפני ד' לריח ניחוח] וע"ז תקנו ואשי ישראל ר"ל אנשי ישראל וי"מ על מה שלמעלה ממנו וה"פ והשב העבודה ואשי ישראל ואח"כ ותפילתם באהבה תקבל ברצון ועיין בט"ז שכתב דהפירוש האמצעי הוא המובחר מכולם אבל הגר"א כתב שהעיקר כפי' האחרון:

* * *

While looking into antique siddurim for punctuation evidence, I came across a strange nusach, that of Avignon. Avignon was one of four ancient communities, along with Carpentras, L’Isle sur Sorgue, and Cavaillon. Cut off from the mainstream of French Jewish culture until the French Revolution, their nusach disappeared as the community assimilated into the rest of France. Their prayers were the old Provençal rite. [based on Kestenbaum’s catalogue #36].

Goldschmidt in the Encyclopedia Judaica characterizes it as mostly Sephardi, specifically close to that of neighboring Catalonia. However, their version of Retzei is peculiar, to say the least.

Let’s look at it: (typed from the 1766 Avignon siddur available on the Jewish National & University Library (JNUL) website)

רצה ידוד אלהינו בעמךָ ישראל ושכון בציון מהרה ויעבדוך בניך בירושלים ואתה ברחמיך הרבים תחפוץ בנו ותרצנו:

ותחזינה עינינו בשובך לציון ולירושלים ברחמים כמאז ברוך אתה ידוד. המחזיר שכינתו לציון:

Almost all the main paragraph has changed, and the word k’meaz (as before) was inserted. That last is evident in many older Ashkenazic siddurim, as noted by the Eizor Eliyahu (which assesses old Ashkenazic prayerbooks and manuscripts to find the “original” version) commentary, and in old siddurim online at JNUL. Also note that the following bracha, that of Divine Peace, in the Avignon siddur is the short version we use today only at mincha and maariv, when the priests would not have said the priestly blessing: Shalom Rav instead of our Sim Shalom. However, where does that main paragraph come from?

Let’s look farther back, to the Geniza. Luger has isolated two main versions, which he calls A and B. A is associated with Sephardic traditions, thus is almost identical to our usual Retzei. B is associated with the version of ancient Israel, and contains the text of the main paragraph, plus, as a closing, the bracha that we say only at duchaning - “that only You with fear do we serve”, which was in fact the closing of the bracha in the Temple, when the Kohanim used it to bless the daily offerings.

We find this in other places as well, that Temple prayer texts continue down into Eretz Yisrael post-Destruction rites, and only later are re-absorbed into, or overwritten by, Babylonian prayers. The recitation of Hodu, after Baruch She’amar in the mornings, is similarly a survival of Temple morning rituals, which was in EY and Ashkenazic prayer, and only later migrated into Sephardic practice – see Y. M. Ta-Shma, “Early Ashkenazic Prayer”.

At any rate, Luger’s recensions of the prayers:

Version A:

רצה ידוד אלהינו בעמך ישראל ובתפלתם
והשב עבודה לדביר ביתך
אשי יש ותפלתם
מהרה באהבה תקבל ברצון
ותהא לרצון תמיד עבודת יש עמך
ותחזינה עינינו בשובך לציון ברחמים כמאז
בא"י המחזיר מהרה שכינתו לציון

Version B

רצה ידוד אל
ושכן לציון

יעבדוך עבדיך
בירושלים נשתחוה לך
ברחמיך הרבים תחפוץ בנו ותרצינו
בא"י שאותך ב[יר]אה נעבוד

You can clearly see our version as a slight variant on Version A. And you can also see the Avignon text as a hybrid of Versions A and B. That could be understood in terms of an old French community with some remnants of Eretz Yisrael prayer-texts (under the widely-held theory that Jews migrated from Eretz Yisrael through Italy north into France, bringing an oral culture of Minhag Eretz Yisrael with them that became Minhag Ashkenaz, as attested by some Tosafot which try to reconcile Minhag Ashkenaz with clearly different laws in the Babylonian Talmud, and in some ancient piyutim), merging its nusach with neighboring Spain during some period of increased contact.

Note also that the speaker is different in the two version. In our Version A, we specifically ask for return of the Temple Service. It is a thoroughly Galut prayer, fitting for Babylonia, and after the Destruction, universally applicable. Version B, however, associated with the rite of the Land of Israel, is personal, it asks for us the servants to return to service. Version A is objective, referring to the Service, version B is subjective, referring to the Servants, the priests and their followers who returned to, and remained in, Eretz Yisrael.

However, here’s where it gets really weird.

Luger has a source text, from the Geniza, which is almost identical to our Comtat Venaissin prayer text. His Source 46, which is identified as manuscript fragment H5.135, covers two leaves of a prayerbook, with the second blessing and last three blessings of the Shmoneh Esreh. He doesn’t estimate a date or a point of origin, but since it is mostly the Eretz Yisrael text, I have to wonder if it really is an Eretz Yisrael survival, perhaps from some period when the two versions were merging. Also, Luger’s text, clearly from a morning service (as there is the beginning of a piyut attached to the blessing of Gevurah (Might), has Shalom Rav as its concluding blessing.

Luger’s text, reconstructed from his notes in the book, is as follows:

רצה ידוד אלהינו בעמך ישראל
ושכון בציון מהרה
יעבדוך בניך בירושלים
אתה ברחמיך הרבים תחפוץ בנו ותרצינו
בא"י שאותך ב[יר]אה נעבוד
ותחזינה עינינו בשובך לציון ולירושלים ברחמים כמאז
בא"י המחזיר שכינתו לציון

So how did a prayer text, a hybrid between Nusach Bavel and Nusach Eretz Yisrael, found in the Genizah in Cairo, find its way also to the isolated communities of the Comtat Venaissin? Is the Avignon text a survival of Nusach Eretz Yisrael from some intermediate period when it was being infiltrated by Nusach Bavel? Or is it parallel evolution leading to the same solution?

If someone could forward contact information for Dr. Luger, I’d love to hear his opinion.

Huh. If I get some interesting answers, and expand it a little with midrashic and scriptural sources for the prayer, and some exegesis, I could turn this into an article. As a blog post, it’s a bit telegraphic.


Anonymous said...

Also note that the following bracha, that of Divine Peace, in the Avignon siddur is the short version we use today only at mincha and maariv, when the priests would not have said the priestly blessing: Shalom Rav instead of our Sim Shalom.

Although certainly not knowlegable enough to comment on the blog, I do have a question on the above statement.

At Shabbat Mincha Nusach Ashkenaz (according to the Gr"a) there is "Sim Shalom" at yet there is no birkat haCohanim. Also we we still say "Sim Shalom" on morning fast days when we don't do Birkat HaCohanim (probably because of being in distress).

Thus I would conclude (according to Nusach Ashkenaz):
a) Sim Shalom always at Shacharit
b) Sim Shalom at other times only if there is k'riat hatora.

I realize now that this now drifts from the subject of "retzai" of which birkat hacohanim is a kind of continuation, but I would be happy to hear how you can refute my conclusion and substantiate your statement on this further.

Chana said...

Thank you for this insightful article!