Psalms 113–118, known collectively as ‘Hallel’, are recited by Jews on New Moons and festivals and are thought to have formed part of Temple practice. I outline the historical development of this unit from two psalms to its full complement of six. Although its rabbinic title suggests that it expresses praise, other more complex associations of the word are explored in the context of reviewing the underlining ‘narrative’ traced by the texts. This spans episodes from patriarchal times to exile, ending with the eventual messianic advent. I propose here that the practice of occasionally abbreviating two of the psalms reflects sympathy for the Egyptian foe, based on rabbinic views concerning the sanctity of human life.
Dr Jeremy Schonfield is John Rayner Reader in Liturgy at Leo Baeck College, London, and Supernumerary Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.