The previous post looked at some of the “bridge” concepts employed to explain Psalm 30’s function in its regular liturgical spot, at the close of the morning blessings, and before the psalms/verses of song. Another explanation for the placement of Psalm 30 is that it was the “psalm of the day” for the holiday of Chanukah and then crept, perhaps by printer’s error, into daily prayers. But how is it connected to Chanukah in the first place?
Rededication and Superscription
Marc Brettler, professor of Biblical Literature at Brandeis University and co-founder of Project TABS (Torah and Biblical Scholarship), notes that the expression “chasidim” — translated as “faithful ones,” “righteous” or “pious” — was used at the time of the Maccabean revolt for those loyal to the Hasmonean cause. Because of this word choice and the psalm’s focus on rescue from a desperate situation, he argues:
…someone (on the wining side) after the Hasmonean victory in 164 BCE could have read Psalm 30 and imagined: “David prophesized this about us!” The psalm, for that very reason, may even have been recited as part of the dedication ceremony on Chanukah in 164 BCE since it was seen as broadly appropriate—or even prophetic—to what had happened.
— Brettler, “Reciting Psalm 30 on Chanukah: A Biblical Custom?“
Brettler hypothesizes a timeline that goes like this:
- The original superscription was מזמור לדוד, “a psalm of David,” with no particular association with the Temple;
- During the Maccabean revolt, the winners identified themselves as the “chasidim,” whose success was prophesized by David in this psalm;
- The psalm may have been incorporated into the Temple rededication;
- At this time, the words שיר חנכת הבית, “A song for the dedication of the House,” entered the margins of a manuscript, noting that Psalm 30 was recited at the rededication and “that, perhaps, Jews were supposed to recite each year during Chanukah”;
- Eventually, the words entered the Psalter, awkwardly placed between the words מזמור, “A psalm” and לדוד, “of David.”
— See article cited above for a much fuller explanation and argument
Superscription and Rededication
The Jerusalem Commentary assumes the converse of Brettler’s conjecture:
We do not find anywhere in rabbinic literature that a special psalm was recited by the Levites in the Temple on Hanukkah. The passages in [8th and 9th Century sources] refer to synagogue customs after the destruction of the Temple. If we assume that this psalm was recited on Hanukkah in the Temple, it would stand to reason that the Hasmoneans said it on Hanukkah because they interpreted the dedication, “a song at the dedication of the house,” as an allusion to their own rededication of the Temple.
— The Jerusalem Commentary (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 2003), p.228
The Jerusalem Commentary adds that assuming Psalm 30 was recited at the (re)dedication of the Temple is based on the belief “that the psalm is the prayer of the entire nation.” This means interpreting “healing” as “deliverance from enemies, for each dedication of the Temple was preceded by God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their enemies” (p.229).
Many commentaries on Psalm 30 focus on an individual’s healing and rescue — that of the psalmist, the person reciting, or a person whose healing is sought. In Samuel Barth’s interpretation (cited in the previous post and linked again here), “rededication” of the “inner temple” can also apply to an individual.
Rabbi Folger’s study (quoted in the previous post and linked again here) offers an interesting sidebar: His review of older prayer books suggests that the opening line, “A song for the dedication of the House,” of Psalm 30 might have been recited only on Chanukah, while the body of the psalm, beginning with “I will extol…,” was regularly recited in the morning. Perhaps the psalm is read differently on different occasions.
12 of 30 on Psalm 30
As a National Novel Writing Month Rebel, I write each day of November while not aiming to produce a novel. This year I focus on Psalm 30 (“Thirty on Psalm 30”) in the hope that its powerful language will help us through these days of turmoil and toward something new, stronger and more joyful, as individuals and as community. Whole series (so far)…apologies, again,for multiple-post days; almost caught up.