ABSTRACT: Sitrey Tefilah veHekhalot

Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1987, 186 pp  Meir Bar-Ilan


The book illuminates, for the first time, the affinities between the mystical literature of the Hekhalot and talmudic literature, the prayer book (siddur), and other literary sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Liturgical texts of the talmudic period meet with a new interpretation here that reveals that the Hekhalot literature frequently served as their inspiration. An analysis of the form and content of the mystic texts, together with historical criticism, enables the dating these texts as well as of other hymns and prayers. It transpires that there were links between the tannaim and the mysticism of the Hekhalot - elestial liturgy of the firmaments - and Ma`aseh Merkabah - the mysteries of the Throne of Glory. The following abstract highlights some of the main concerns of the book:

Chapter 1 deals with the process of the incorporation of liturgical poetry drawn from the mystical literature into the order of prayer, such as the hymns Ha-Aderet ve-Ha-Emuna, Aleinu le-shabe'ach. The date of the hymns of Hekhalot literature is ascertained, based on their form and content.

Chapter 2 surveys the scholarship of ancient Jewish liturgy of the talmudic period and examines how the mystical writing relates to other ancient liturgical texts. Next, 29 liturgical poems of the Hekhalot literature will be discussed, emphasizing form, content and affinity to other liturgical poems from the New Testament, the apocrypha, Qumran, Sefer ha-Razim, and from the body of talmudic and midrashic literature. Chapter 3 is a close reading of the well-known prayer Nishmat Kol Hai ("The Breath of Every Creature") and analyzes it in relation to the Hekhalot literature and other works.

Chapter Four discusses hymns embedded in the Yotzer benediction recited on Sabbath morning and demonstrates the relevance of the mystical sources to achieve an understanding of the traditional order of prayer. The connection between the prayer Adon Olam ("Master of the Universe") and hymns of the Throne of Glory on the Chariot is made clear, further attesting to the antiquity of Hekhalot literature.

Chapters Five and Six discuss the first three blessings of the amida prayer and their parallels from the Hekhalot literature.

Chapter Seven deals with the problem of the typological number of blessings: 18, in the amida prayer. A comparative study of the issue of the number of blessings in Hekhalot literature, in Islam, in the Palestinian Talmud, is followed by an hypothesis regarding how the various blessings were consolidated until they assumed the form of the amida prayer.

The book concludes with a detailed index comprising over one hundred and seventy forms of blessing, and dozens of hymns. There is also an extensive bibliography with some two hundred entries from the Hekhalot literature, ancient liturgy, talmudic literature and the prayer book.