We are all used to reciting this prayer (Psalm 30) around the time of Baruch She’amar. The recital of Baruch She’amar in daily Shacharit is a long-established practice. But when did Psalm 30 enter the daily Shacharit?
If one looks at the classic Geonic sources: Siddur of R. Saadia Gaon and Seder R. Amram Gaon, Psalm 30 is not found in their daily Shacharit. Nor is it found in the daily Shacharit of the classic Ashkenazic and Sephardic sources thereafter: Machzor Vitry, Rambam, Tur and Abudarham.
Many years ago, I began to investigate this issue. It turns out that what is written in many of the standard siddur commentaries (e.g., A. Berliner, I. Jacobson, E. Munk, ArtScroll) is wildly speculative and not correct. I could go through all the wrong ideas but I will spare you.
Eventually, I found some sources that did seem to do proper research and address the issue adequately. The best discussion was in a 19th-century work, Tzelota De-Avraham. Based on this, I gave a lecture with the following explanation. The daily recital of Psalm 30 is mentioned by R. Chayim Vital (1542-1620), the principal disciple of the ARI (R. Isaac Luria.) The discussion is found in R. Vital’s work Etz HaChayim. R. Vital explains how Psalm 30 (without the first line, but starting with “aromimcha”) fits into the Kabbalistic view of Pesukei D’Zimra in his time. For example, both the first and third sentences of the body of Psalm 30 (“aromimcha,” and “Hashem he’elita min sheol nafshi”) deal with the theme of “raising up.” Without going into detail, the theme of “raising up” was an important one to the ARI and to R. Vital in general, and was appropriate to this part of the davening in particular.
So I thought I was done with the issue of how Psalm 30 entered the daily Shacharit. I believed it was first introduced into the daily Shacharit by the ARI. I also found many siddurim that included a brief note stating that the daily recital of Psalm 30 was first introduced by the ARI.
But it turns out I was wrong. The second part of my story begins with a Rabbi Ari Folger, now chief Rabbi of Vienna, who walked into a Shacharit minyan in Basel, Switzerland, and was surprised that Psalm 30 was not recited. This got him interested in the issue. He researched the issue very thoroughly and posted about it in 2009. He found the recital of Psalm 30 in daily Shacharit in a siddur printed at the end of the 15th century in Lisbon, Portugal. This predated the birth of the ARI. (I later discovered that the scholar Moshe Chalamish also found some early references to the daily recital of Psalm 30 in the Sephardic world. See his Chikrei Kabbalah U’Tefillah, p. 73. The earliest reference he found was from the 13th century.)
Rabbi Folger explained that when R. Vital was writing his comments on the daily recital of Psalm 30 in Shacharit, he was merely commenting on a siddur from 1524 that followed the Sephardic tradition. He was not necessarily recording a custom of the ARI of reciting it nor was he explicitly advocating that the followers of the ARI in Vital’s times change their custom and add Psalm 30 to their daily liturgy. He was just explaining why Psalm 30, found in the daily Shacharit in some Sephardic traditions, would fit with the Kabbalistic ideas of the ARI.
Eventually, based on the comments of R. Vital, Psalm 30 did make it into the liturgy of nusach HaARI for daily Shacharit, but it seems to have been a slow process. Rabbi Folger notes that the Siddur HaShelah was published in 1717 and this mainstream Kabbalistic siddur did not yet include the recital of Psalm 30 in Shacharit. Of course, it is possible that some Kabbalists were reciting it orally from the time of R. Vital. Also, perhaps it did make it into some Kabbalistic siddurim in R. Vital’s lifetime or shortly thereafter, but we do not have evidence for this yet. But its omission as late as 1717 in the Siddur HaShelah is significant.
Once it made it into the Kabbalistic liturgy of daily Shacharit, it later spread to the Ashkenazic liturgy of daily Shacharit. But at present, our first source for its appearance in daily Shacharit in an Ashkenazic siddur is only in the year 1788.
To sum up, Psalm 30 began to make its way into some Sephardic liturgies in the 13th through the 15th centuries for some unknown reason. (Perhaps the reason was based on Kabbalistic ideas but these would be pre-expulsion Kabbalistic ideas, ideas that preceded the ARI.) Based on R. Vital’s comments, it eventually made its way into the liturgy of the Kabbalists who followed nusach HaARI. From there it made its way into some, but not all, Ashkenazic communities. For example, the German Jewish community never adopted it. (It is not found in I. Baer, Siddur Avodat Yisrael.) Also, the Vilna Gaon was against its inclusion.
It is significant that the earliest Sephardic and Kabbalistic sources that record the daily recital of Psalm 30 do not include the title line. Their recital started with “aromimcha.” Many of the conjectures offered to explain Psalm 30’s inclusion into the daily Shacharit had focused on the title line: mizmor shir chanukat habayit… and postulated some explanation related to the Beit Hamikdash. But the omission of the first line shows that the reason for its original inclusion in the daily liturgy, when we eventually determine it, will relate instead to the body of the Psalm.
Two remaining points: I have only been discussing the recital of Psalm 30 daily. Its recital on Chanukah has earlier sources. Finally, the recital of Psalm 30 in the daily Shacharit is also recorded in the Yemenite tradition. The sources I have seen have not discussed in detail how old this Yemenite tradition is. It may be as old as the Sephardic tradition or even older.
There is an interesting issue with regard to the text of this Psalm. In most editions of the Tanach today, verse 9 reads: eilecha YHVH ekra, ve-el ADNY etchanan. The rest of this chapter has YHVH nine times. But when we look at some editions of the siddur, particularly ones following nusach HaARI, they print YHVH in both parts of verse 9, making a total of 10 YHVH in the chapter. R. Vital had said that the chapter included YHVH 10 times. Presumably, in his time there was such a Tanach text, even though it apparently was not the majority one. One can even find some texts of Tanach today that have YKHK in both parts of verse 9. For example, this is what is printed in the standard one volume Mikraot Gedolot in which the Nevi’im and Ketuvim are printed together.
A separate issue involving this Psalm is the relation between the title line mizmor shir chanukat ha-bayit le-David and the body of the Psalm, which has nothing to do with any Temple or dedication. I will discuss this in a future column.
By Mitchell First
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. His most recent book is “Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy.” He can be reached at [email protected] He makes sure to recite Psalm 30 daily, despite the mysterious origin of the practice (or perhaps because of it!).
For more articles by Mitchell First, and information on his books, please visit his website at rootsandrituals.org.