Traditions of Liturgical Poetry at the Turn of the Modern Era as Reflected in East-European ARI Prayer-books

From the earliest documentation of Ashkenazic liturgy in the Medieval Period, liturgical poetry held a central place in it. The European prayer-book preserved the Palestinian liturgical traditions with greater devotion than any of the other prayer-books, and even served as a home for the active furtherance of this tradition.

The 17th-18th centuries was a period of significant developments in the European prayer-book. The Lurianic kabbalah had a decisive influence on the text and arrangements of prayers, first of individuals and later of whole communities, in Central and Eastern Europe. This phenomenon was expressed in a wave of writings, transcriptions, and printings of prayer-books in the ARI tradition.

In Eastern Europe of the 17th-18th centuries there was an increase of major centers for the absorption and study of kabbalah, and many ARI prayer-books were written and published during this period. Some of these prayer-books were printed in Lviv (1788), Zhovkva (1781), Korets (1794), and elsewhere in the last years of the 18th century.


Seder Berachot

I wish to examine the relationship between this new phenomenon and liturgical poetry. The more specific issues I seek to address are the preservation of the poems themselves within the ARI prayer-book, in the Ashkenazic context, as an integral part of the prayer service. Likewise, and in consequence of the above, I will analyze the overall attitude that developed in this period towards the liturgical poems: Was the kabbalistic idea of mystical “intentions” applied even to such poems, or at least to some of them? If the prayer text serves to guide one’s thoughts towards the mystical realm, does this include liturgical poems? The results of these inquiries will be compared to the kabbalistic traditions of Ashkenazic Hasidism and their views of such liturgical works. Another pertinent question is which poems were kept as part of the prayer-book and which were rejected, and whether these choices can be seen as systematic in any way.

This study will be conducted through consultation with the existing research on the processes of change and development in the prayer-book, as well as the history of the writings of the ARI and their dissemination throughout Europe.