Jerrold Landau
Genealogical and Translation Services




 By Jerrold Landau

 © 2020 by Jerrold Landau


I am pleased to present this e-book on piyyutim – the liturgical poetry that embellishes the annual cycle of Jewish worship. I have been fascinated by piyyutim ever since my first exposure to the beauty and grandeur of the synagogue service as a young child. I may not have fully understood the content, but I recall being enthralled by the rhythms and melodies of the special prayers of the festivals. Later on, after adopting a fully observant lifestyle and being exposed to different communities, I recall my surprise, accompanied by a twinge of disappointment, when I discovered that many of these piyyutim are skipped in accordance with many customs. Our frum communities rightly stress the study of Torah and Talmud, but seldom do people delve into the more obscure portions of the prayer service. Many piyyutim are written in complex, poetic language, making their study particularly difficult, and relatively low on the priority list of study of the average observant Jew.

Over the years, my interest expanded to encompass those piyyutim that are not commonly recited in most synagogues. Whereas Akdamut, Hoshanot, and the Yotzrot of the Yamim Noraim are generally familiar and recited by virtually all communities, I found myself peering into the wealth of spiritual treasures found in the Yotzrot for the Four Shabbatot and the Shalosh Regalim. I have often been called upon to give Divrei Torah on Akdamut, Tefillat Tal, Geshem, and Hoshanot, and I have also led explanatory Kinot services on Tisha B’Av for many years. Over the past year, I have decided to put my thoughts and commentaries on piyyutim into writing. The urge to share my thoughts stemmed in no small part from the current COVID situation, during which I found myself sidelined from prayer with a minyan for a period of several months that included both Pesaḥ and Shavuot.  I compensated by delving further into my study of piyyutim and beginning this writing project. While my original intention was to deal with only a selection of my favourites, the work quickly expanded into a comprehensive analysis of the yearly cycle of piyyutim of all genres.

The chapters of this book include the Maaravot, Yotzrot and Kerovot for all the special occasions of the year, as well as Tefillat Geshem and Tal, Akdamut and Yetziv Pitgam, Kah Keili, Aḥot Ketana, Maoz Tzur, Asher Heini, Hoshanot, Ushpizin, Hakafot, Seliḥot for the Yamim Noraim and fast days, and Kinot for both Tisha B’Av and Tikkun Ḥatzot. The chapters are organized by genre rather than time of year. Therefore, the liturgy of any specific occasion, such as Yom Kippur, will be dealt with in more than one place, depending on the topic of the chapter. The concluding chapter deals with creativity in piyyutim at both ends of the emotional spectrum – in humour and sadness – and includes a few of my own creations on that front.

My analysis of piyyutim is dual in nature, covering structure and content. Both are necessary to understand the beauty and meaning of the piyyut liturgy, as well as the place of the specific genre of the piyyut within the prayer service.  Some readers will find the structural analysis somewhat arcane. Those who are less interested in the structural analysis can gloss over these sections, and focus on the content and meaning. In general, I have elaborated far more on the content than on the structure. My analysis does not provide a line-by-line commentary, as many such works already exist. My aim was not to compete with existing detailed commentaries, but rather to provide a thematic overview encompassing a wide spectrum of piyyutim.

In contrast to my e-book on the annual cycle of Haftarot, which can be appreciated by those with minimal or even no background, this work on piyyutim assumes some familiarity with the basic structure of the prayer service. Not everything in this e-book will be comprehensible to those with minimal background. However, over the years, I have noticed that many observant Jews are unfamiliar and somewhat disinterested in the piyyut style of liturgical poetry. Such individuals form the primary target audience of this work. I hope that it will help them uncover the spiritual treasures buried beneath the difficult, poetic language.

The reader will find several inconsistencies in my presentation. Given that some basic knowledge is assumed, not all Hebrew terminology is translated. In order to improve readability, I chose not to translate more common and widely known halachic and religious terms. On the other hand, I generally did translate more complex terminology, as well as Biblical pesukim. Furthermore, I was not consistent in the usage of italics to highlight non-English words or phrases. I italicized those phrases where the focus is on the specific meaning of the words or phrases rather than the general concept. I usually left the titles of the piyyutim in the regular font. My approach was meant to improve the readability of the work, but it does introduce some inconsistencies. I trust that the end result is readable.

The piyyutim included in this e-book generally reflect the Nusaḥ Ashkenaz or Nusaḥ Sephard custom. The true Sephardic and Edot Hamizraḥ customs are equally rich in piyyutim, but were out of the scope of my study, as I focused on that which I was most familiar with.

The text is enhanced  by many endnotes, offering additional elaboration that did not flow well with the main body, and referring the reader to other online resources that provide further background. Many endnotes will direct the reader to cantorial or other musical renditions of the piyyutim, as music and melody are integral to the understanding of the mood and feelings that the liturgy is meant to evoke. Some endnotes provide brief glimpses into my own personal customs and life experiences.

Most translations are my own. In cases where I have taken a translation directly from Mechon Mamre, Sefaria, or a printed source, I have attributed the source. I am grateful to both Mechon Mamre and Sefaria for offering their fine translations online to the public.

I thank those of my friends who have read through and helped me refine many parts of this manuscript. Reb Avraham Fast has read through large portions of the text, and has been of great service in catching typographical and grammatical errors as well as inconsistencies in style. My son, Yisrael Landau, a student of Ner Israel of Baltimore, served as a sounding board for many concepts, especially during his extended stay in our home during April-June 2020, the first three months of the COVID crisis. Dr. Aaron Nussbaum, a neighbour, friend, and veteran Judaic scholar, has also read through large portions of the manuscript, and provided general comments. Others have read through smaller portions, and offered me some comments. At the point of publication, not all reviews have been completed, so there still may be some rough spots in the latter portions of this work. One of the benefits of the e-book format is that I will be able to make ongoing emendations as needed.

I thank my dear wife Tzippy and my children for their understanding over the past nine months, during which late evening hours were occupied with writing and refining this manuscript. On occasion, they may have questioned why our dining room table was adorned with out-of-season Maḥzorim, Seliḥot and Kinot books, but they were always supportive of this project.

I welcome any discussion, comments, and corrections from readers. I can be contacted at or through my social media presence. If anyone wishes a .pdf copy of this e-book, please request it and I will send one. I give permission for anyone to refer to any part of the text, or to copy it for their own purposes, but I do ask that you respect the copyright, and provide appropriate citation, as per the adage in Pirkei Avot 6:6 “Whoever cites something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world.”

The overarching theme of the vast body of piyyutim is Talmud Torah. Piyyutim are replete with Biblical, Midrashic, and Talmudic references. One can learn and review many ideas relating to the Yamim Tovim and other special days by studying the unique liturgy of the day. This is the case whether or not the actual recitation of any specific piyyut forms part of one’s personal or synagogue custom. The piyyut liturgy is worthy of study even when not used for worship. It is my hope that this e-book will serve as a source of Torah study for my readers, and will add to their appreciation of the beauty and grandeur of our holy traditions.

(Note on web browsers: Some compression and corruption of fonts in bulleted and numbered lists are noted in Chrome. I recommend that this e-book be read with Firefox or Microsoft Edge.)


Jerrold Landau   /  Yeshayahu Avraham ben Isser Landau

Toronto, Canada

3 Tevet (Zot Ḥanuka ) 5781    /   December 18, 2020