Enhancing the Amidah

A selection of piyyutim from the Rosh Hashanah Amidah

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Like many of the piyyutim, Eten le‑fo'ali tzedek draws on verses from the Book of Job. The story of Job-‑the righteous man who demands justice of God and, after considerable suffering, is finally vindicated--is an appropriate subtext for these days of heavenly judgment. Rabbi Simeon and others who lived in a European society in which the Jew seldom triumphed may have found inspiration in the figure of Job and his ultimate triumph over suffering.

Several piyyutim are centered around the idea of God's kingship. Adirei ayumah (those mighty and awesome) is recited on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Like many other piyyutim, this poem forms an alphabetical acrostic. Here, each line concludes with the Hebrew word be‑kol (aloud), which refers to the way the heavenly choirs and the people, Sages, and singers of Israel all give praise to God. The verses are written in sets of three. After the leader recites the first verse, the congregation responds, "The Lord is King;" after the second verse, "The Lord was King;" and after the third, "The Lord will be King." The refrain, repeated after each set of triplets, is, "The Lord is King, the Lord was King, the Lord will be King for ever and ever." The idea expressed in the piyyut that the praise of God is made both on earth and in heaven is the very essence of the Kedushah, which this poem is meant to introduce.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah it is customary to substitute a different piyyut on the theme of God's kingship, Melekh elyon (most high king). Written by Rabbi Simeon of Mainz, this piyyut (an alphabetical acrostic) describes and praises God as king.

Another piyyut, Kol shinanei shahak (all the hosts of heaven), recited on the second day, uses the same refrain as the earlier Adirei ayumah, "The Lord is King, the Lord was King, the Lord will be King for ever and ever."

The piyyut that brings this series to a conclusion and leads immediately to the Kedushahisperhaps the most famous of them all: Le‑el orekh din (God who arranges judgment). In this short, classical piyyutby Eleazar Kalir, each verse begins with the letter lamed (used in its sense of "to"), followed by the letters of the alphabet in order. The first part of each line concludes with the word din, judgment, and the second part concludes with be‑yom din, on the day of judgment, that is, Rosh Hashanah.

Although this magnificent poem precedes the Kedushah,it is not thematically connected to it. Rather, it stands alone as an expression of judgment, a major theme of Rosh Hashanah that has not yet been expressed in such blatant terms. The piyyutim up to this point in the service are concerned with God as King; the Gaonic additions focus on the Book of Life. This poem, however, details the process of the trial and the judgment itself and thus adds a solemn note to the liturgy.

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Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer is a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, he is one of the founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel and is currently Head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel.