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Eleazar Kalir

Eleazar Kalir is one of Judaism's most earliest and most prolific of the payyetanim, liturgical poets. Many of his hymss have found their way into the Siddur, the prayerbook of religious Jews.

In the acrostics of his hymns he usually signs his father's name, Kalir. Eleazar's name, home, and time have been the subject of many discussions in modern Jewish literature, and some legends concerning his career have been handed down.

His time has been set at different dates between the end of the seventh and the end of the tenth century of the common era. Older authorities consider him to have been a teacher of the Mishnah and identify him either with Eleazar b. 'Arak or with Eleazar b. Simeon. He has been confounded with another poet by the name of Eleazar b. Jacob; and a book by the title of "Kebod Adonai" was ascribed to him by Botarel.

Kalir's hymns early became an object of study and of Kabbalistic exegesis, as his personality was a mystery. It was related that heavenly fire surrounded him when he wrote the "Kedushshah"; that he himself ascended to heaven and there learned from the angels the secret of writing alphabetical hymns; and that his teacher Yannai, jealous of his superior knowledge, placed in his shoe a scorpion, which was the cause of his death.

Modern research points to the probability that he and his teacher were Palestinian Jews; and since Yannai is known to have been one of the halakic authorities of Anan, the founder of Karaism, and must therefore have lived a considerable time earlier than Anan, Kalir's time may be fixed with some probability as the second half of the seventh century.

Sources and Style

Kalir was the first to embellish the entire liturgy with a series of hymns whose essential element was the Haggadah. He drew his material from the Talmud, and from Midrash compilations, some of which latter are now probably lost. His language, however, is not that of his sources, but Biblical Hebrew, enriched with daring innovations. His predilection for rare words, allegorical expressions, and haggadic allusions makes his writings hard to understand. His linguistic peculiarities were followed by many a succeeding payyetan (Hebrew poetic liturgists); and they influenced to some extent even early prose, especially among the Karaites.

With the awakening of linguistic studies among the Jews and with the growing acquaintance of the latter with Arabic, his linguistic peculiarities were severely criticized (e.g., by Abraham ibn Ezra on Eccl. v. 1); but the structure of his hymns remained a model which was followed for centuries after him and which received the name "Kaliric" (). While some of his hymns have been lost, more than 200 of them have been embodied in the Mahzorim, i.e., prayer-books for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kipur.

See also: Siddur, Rabbi