1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hallel

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HALLEL (Heb. הַלֵּל a Mishnic derivative from הִלֵּל hillēl, “to praise”), a term in synagogal liturgy for (a) Psalms cxiii.-cxviii., often called “the Egyptian Hallel” because of its recitation during the paschal meal on the night of the Passover, (b) Psalm cxxxvi. “the Great Hallel.” C. A. Briggs[1] points out that the term “Hallelujah” (Praise ye Yah) is found at the close of Pss. civ., cv., cxv., cxvi., cxvii., at the beginning of Pss. cxi., cxii. and at both ends of Pss. cvi., cxiii., cxxxv., cxlvi. to cl. The Septuagint also gives it at the beginning of Pss. cv., cvii., cxiv., cxvi. to cxix., cxxxvi. There are thus four groups of Hallel psalms:—civ.-cvii. (a tetralogy on creation, the patriarchal age, the Exodus, and the Restoration); cxi.-cxvii. which includes most of the “Egyptian Hallel”; cxxxv.-cxxxvi.; cxlvi.-cl. All of these Hallels (except cxlvii. and cxlix. which are Maccabean) belong to the Greek period, forming a collection of sixteen psalms composed for public use by the choirs, especially at the great feasts. Their distribution into four groups was the work of the final editor of the psalter. Later liturgical use regarded Pss. cxviii. and even cxix. as Hallels, as well as Pss. cxx. to cxxxiv.

It will be observed that the extent of the official Hallel varied from time to time. It would appear that in the time of Gamaliel (Pesahim x. 5) the custom of its recitation at the paschal meal was still of recent innovation. While the school of Shammai advised only Ps. cxiii., the school of Hillel favoured Pss. cxiii. and cxiv.[2] The further extension so as to include Pss. cxv. to cxviii. probably dates from the first half of the 2nd century A.D., and these four psalms were recited after the pouring out of the fourth cup, the two earlier ones being taken at the beginning of the meal. From the 3rd century the use of the Hallel was extended to other occasions, and was gradually incorporated into the liturgy of eighteen festal days.

The “Great Hallel” (Ps. cxxxvi. and its later extension to cxx.-cxxxvi.) always served the wider purpose of a more general thanksgiving. According to Rabbi Johanan it derived its name from the allusion in v. 25 to the Holy One who sits in heaven and thence distributes food to all his creatures.

  1. International Critical Commentary, “Psalms,” Intro. lxxviii.
  2. The reference to a hymn at the institution of the Eucharist (Matt. xxvi. 30, Mark xiv. 26) must be interpreted in the light of this inceptive stage of the Hallel.