Chapter 15: Korbanot and Pesukei De-zimra

01. Women’s Recitation of Korbanot: A Pious Custom

Thus far, we have studied laws that pertain to men and women alike, such as netilat yadayim, Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, Birkhot Ha-Torah, and the Amida. In the next chapters we will learn about prayers that were instituted for men as an obligation, and from which women are exempt, although women who wish to enhance the mitzva recite them.

Some poskim maintain that women, too, must recite the Tamid passage, because the prayers were established to correspond to the Tamid offerings, and just as women must pray Shaĥarit (according to the majority of poskim, as explained above, 2:2), it is also proper that they recite the Tamid passage. Others say that in addition to the Tamid passage, it is best that they recite all the Korbanot.

However, the widespread practice is that women do not recite the Tamid passage, and that is the opinion of most poskim. The reason is that the essence of the women’s obligation to pray is the request for mercy and not the association with korbanot. Furthermore, men are not obligated to recite the Korbanot passages either, and in principle they are not even obligated to recite the Tamid passage – it is a custom that became obligatory – so certainly there is no obligation for women to recite the Tamid passage and the Korbanot, although a woman who wishes to enhance the mitzva and recite the Tamid passage and the verses of the incense is praiseworthy. 1

  1. Agur states in Maharil’s name, as cited Beit Yosef §47 that women must recite Birkhot Ha-Torah because they must recite the Tamid passage. Maharil reasons that women are obligated to offer korbanot just as men are, so they must also recite the Korbanot passages. So states Tevu’ot Shor. However, SAH 47:10 states that women are only required to recite the Tamid passage (and even men are not required to recite all the Korbanot passages). Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 47:14 states that only men have the obligation of  korbanot, and Mor U-ketzi’a §47 and Tehilla Le-David 47:9 state similarly that women did not have to give maĥatzit ha-shekel to fund the korbanot and that their obligation to pray is only to request mercy. However, Ĥida (Yosef Ometz §67) writes that women are certainly obligated in all the korbanot, which atone for men and women alike. However, with the exception of a few individual pious women who recite the whole prayer including Korbanot, women do not recite the Korbanot passages in practice. See Maĥazeh Eliyahu §14, which offers several reasons for the exemption of women from the recitation of Korbanot.

    Nevertheless, we can suggest that after Birkhot Ha-Torah, instead of reciting the verses of Birkat Kohanim and the beraita of “Elu devarim…,” women should recite the Tamid passage and the verse mentioning the Exodus from Egypt. There is no obligation to recite those specific verses and that exact beraita; rather, the entire goal is to learn some Torah after reciting Birkhot Ha-Torah, and if so, it is best to study verses that some say it is an obligation to recite. It is best to print this in women’s siddurim, thereby enabling everyone to fulfill their obligation to recite the Tamid passage and mention the Exodus from Egypt.

    It is noteworthy that although the crux of the debate is the Tamid passage, the verses about the incense is a close second in importance. Both the Tamid and the incense were offered twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon. The Tamid was a material offering that was brought on the outside altar, whereas the incense was a spiritual offering that was burned on the inner altar. Peninei Halakha: Prayer 13:5-6 on the reason for the Tamid and incense. 

02. The Custom of Reciting Korbanot and its Reason

The Sages teach (Ta’anit 27b and Megilla 31b) that when God entered a covenant with Avraham and promised him that he and his children would inherit Eretz Yisrael, Avraham asked God, “Master of the universe, perhaps, God forbid, Israel will sin before You and You will do to them as You did to the generation of the flood and the generation of the Tower of Bavel?” God answered, “I will not do that to them.” Avraham said, “How will I know that You will not destroy their memory?” God responded, “Bring me three calves…,” thereby alluding that the korbanot bear witnesses to the eternal bond between Israel and God. Therefore, even if they are sinful, it is only because of external influences; at their core they are righteous and connected to God. Therefore, by offering korbanot and expressing Israel’s absolute connection to God, their sins will be atoned. Avraham said before Him, “Master of the universe, what if the Temple is destroyed? How will their sins be atoned?” God answered, “I have already instituted the Korbanot passages for them. Whenever they recite them, I consider it as though they are bringing an offering to Me and I will forgive them for all their sins.”

The Sages further say that one who delves into the laws of the ĥatat (sin) offering is like one who offered a ĥatat, and one who delves into the laws of the asham (guilt) offering is like one who offered an asham, and so forth for all korbanot (Menaĥot 110a; see Peninei Halakha: Prayer 13:5-6 on the reason for the Tamid offering and the incense). The idea is that every deed performed in the world possesses an inner spirit, and the soul of the mitzvot is the words of Torah that discuss those mitzvot. This is especially true of the korbanot, whose central idea is to express a bond with God. Therefore, when one cannot actually bring the offerings, their study is considered a substitute (see Maharal, Gevurot Hashem ch. 8).

For this reason, many men customarily recite the Tamid passage every morning before prayer. Although there is no rabbinic enactment to do so and hence its recitation is not considered a true obligation, the practice is nevertheless based on the words of the talmudic Sages, who even instituted Shaĥarit to correspond to the morning Tamid. Thus, over time, the recitation became virtually obligatory.

Secondary in importance to the Tamid passage is the passage of the incense (ketoret), for it too was offered every day. Zohar (Vayakhel 218:2) greatly praises one who recites it daily. It is commendable for men to recite the other passages and prayers included in the Korbanot service as well, but it is not an obligation to recite them (as explained in Peninei Halakha: Prayer, 13:1 n. 1).

03. The Reason for the Recitation of Pesukei De-zimra

The proper order of prayer is to begin by praising God and only then to petition Him. We learn this from Moshe, who opened his prayer with words of praise, saying (Devarim 3:24), “Lord, God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand. What force is there in heaven or earth that can perform deeds and mighty acts as You do?” Only afterwards did Moshe plead, “Please let me cross [the Jordan] so that I may see the good land…” Based on this, Rav Simlai interprets, “One should always praise God first and afterwards pray” (Berakhot 32a). The primary application of putting praise before request is found in the berakhot of the Amida, for as previously mentioned (12:9), the first three berakhot open with words of praise and only later continue to the petitionary berakhot. However, even in the rest of one’s prayer, it is proper to open with words of praise, and that is the purpose of Pesukei De-zimra.

By reciting Pesukei De-zimra, the person praying reflects upon God’s greatness, and thus when he subsequently stands in prayer, he knows before Whom he stands. Were he not to pray this way, there would be concern that he might come to request his needs like idol worshipers, whose whole aim is their personal success in their lowly matters and who are not interested at all in devoting themselves to God, the Source of life. However, one who purifies his heart through meditation on God’s greatness knows how to pray; even his requests for health and sustenance are so that he may devote himself to God and to rectify the world under the Almighty’s sovereignty. His prayers are thus more genuine and worthy of being accepted (see Olat Rei’yah vol. 1, p.14).

The name “Pesukei De-zimra” (“Verses of Song”) alludes to exactly that, as the word “zemer” can mean song or poem and also pruning or cutting. Just like one who prunes his vineyard cuts off the extra branches in order to strengthen the growth of the branches that will produce good fruit in the future, by saying Pesukei De-zimra the person praying destroys his flawed thoughts and bad feelings, and diminishes the laziness that accumulated as a result of sleep, so that he can pray with kavana. This cleansing in advance of prayer is pleasing and enjoyable for within it there is song and praise; therefore, it is called “Pesukei De-zimra” (see Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 2).

04. Is the Recitation of Pesukei De-zimra Obligatory?

Originally, during the time of the Tanna’im, the recitation of Pesukei De-zimra was considered to be a pious act, praised by the Sages. The Sages instituted opening Pesukei De-zimra with Barukh She-amar and ending it with Yishtabaĥ. As time went on, the practice spread until it became an obligatory custom, and now all Jewish men open their prayers with Pesukei De-zimra (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 1).

Women, though, are exempt from the recitation of Pesukei De-zimra because the passages are dependent on time (the time for their recitation is before Shaĥarit), and women are exempt from positive time-bound mitzvot. Still, some poskim say that since women must pray the Amida, they also must recite Pesukei De-zimra in preparation. Nevertheless, according to most poskim, even though women must pray the Amida, they are exempt from the preparations and introductions that are not requisite for prayer and concerning which the rule exempting women from time-bound commandments applies. Halakha follows this position, and women are not obligated to recite Pesukei De-zimra, though those who wish to enhance the mitzva may to say it, along with its berakhot, so as to prepare for prayer more completely (as explained above, ch. 2 n. 10). 1

  1. MB 70:2 states that according to R. Akiva Eger women must recite Pesukei De-zimra, for those verses are recited as preparation for prayer. However, SHT notes that according to SAH 70:1 women are exempt. The truth is, many wonder how MB infers from R. Akiva Eger that women must recite Pesukei De-zimra. Some teach (Halikhot Bat Yisrael 2:7 and Ishei Yisrael 7:10) that in practice women must pray Pesukei De-zimra since MB tends to rule that way. Beirur Halakha (Zilber) vol. II, OĤ 70 states this as well and proves it from the words of Maharil. However, according to the overwhelming majority of poskim, women are exempt from the recitation of Pesukei De-zimra, and so state SAH 70:1, AHS 70:1, Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:3, and Maĥazeh Eliyahu §15. Moreover, there are those who say that women must pray one prayer a day and are permitted to fulfill their obligation with Minĥa. Still others say that they are only obligated to recite Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah, as explained above, 2:3-4, and many practice this way (see Halikhot Shlomo 2 n. 5). It is thus clear that women are exempt from Pesukei De-zimra.

05. What Are Pesukei De-zimra?

The main part of Pesukei De-zimra is the last six psalms in Tehilim (145-150), the most important being the first (145, “Tehilla Le-David”). Customarily, this psalm is introduced with the verses beginning with the word “ashrei,” and that psalm is therefore generally referred to as Ashrei. The other five psalms each starts and ends with the word “Halleluyah,” about which R. Yossi says, “May my portion be among those who complete the Hallel every day” (Shabbat 118b).

During the post-talmudic era of the Savora’im, the recitation of Hodu (1 Divrei Ha-yamim 16:8-36), the song and praise that King David recited as he returned the Ark of God to the Mishkan from its Philistine captivity, was instituted. Later, in the Temple, they would recite half this praise while offering the morning Tamid and the other half when offering the afternoon Tamid (Beit Yosef §50). In the Ashkenazic rite, Hodu is said after Barukh She-amar so that all the songs of praise and exaltation are included within the berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra (Tur §51). In the Sephardic rite, Hodu is said before Barukh She-amar because it is a continuation of the recitation of the Tamid offering (Ha-eshkol; Kol Bo).

The Savora’im also ordained a collection of verses, called Yehi Khevod after its first verse, to be recited before Ashrei (Sofrim 17:11). These verses reinforce faith in God and in the redemption of Israel. Arizal explained the hidden meanings of these verses at length (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 51:13).

Later, during the Geonic era, it became customary to add more psalms and verses to Pesukei De-zimra. They ordained reciting Mizmor Le-toda (Tehilim 100), for the Sages say that in the future, all songs will be nullified except for this one (Vayikra Rabba 9:7). Therefore, it is proper to recite it with a melody. It is not said on Shabbatot and festivals; instead, Mizmor Shir Le-yom Ha-Shabbat (Psalm 92) is recited. 1

During the Geonic era, some had the custom to add verses from the Torah and from Neĥemia, such as Va-yevarekh David (1 Divrei Ha-Yamim 29:10-13 and Neĥemia 9:6-11) and Shirat Ha-yam, the song that Moshe and the people of Israel sang to God after the splitting of the sea (Shemot 15:1-18). Although the main parts of Pesukei De-zimra are taken from Tehilim (as stated in the words of Barukh She-amar) there is no problem with adding Va-yevarekh David, which is not from Psalms, or Shirat Ha-yam, which is Moshe’s song (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 3).

  1. According to Ashkenazic custom, Mizmor Le-toda corresponds to the toda (thanksgiving) offering, which contained ĥametz. For that reason, it is not recited on Erev Pesaĥ, Ĥol Ha-mo’ed Pesaĥ, or Erev Yom Kippur, since on those days no toda offering was brought, since it could not be eaten the next day. However, in Sephardic custom,  Mizmor Le-toda is recited as praise and thanksgiving, not to commemorate the toda offering, and therefore it is also recited on those specific days (Beit Yosef and Rema 51:8).

06. Customs and Kavana Regarding Its Recitation

Barukh She-amar possesses a special quality and alludes to sublime matters, and it is therefore customary to recite it while standing (MB 51:1, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 1). According to Ashkenazic custom, one also stands while reciting Yishtabaĥ, which ends Pesukei De-zimra. However, according to Sephardic custom, one need not stand (Rema 51:7; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 42). Likewise, it is customary to stand from the beginning of Va-yevarekh David until the words “asher baĥarta be-Avram,” out of respect for the Davidic kingdom. 1

Pesukei De-zimra is recited in a relaxed manner and not hastily (SA 51:8). One must especially have kavana when reciting Tehilla Le-David (Ashrei, Tehilim 145). The Sages teach that one who recites this psalm every day earns life in the next world (see Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 5) because its praises are arranged according to the order of the Alef Bet and it contains the important verse, “Pote’aĥ et yadekha…” (“You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing”) (Berakhot 4b). One who realizes that she did not pay attention while reciting that verse must repeat it with kavana, even if she already started reciting other passages (SA 52:7; Peninei Halakha: Prayer, 14:3 n. 5).

Pesukei De-zimra is surrounded by berakhotBarukh She-amar before and Yishtabaĥ after; therefore, it is considered a single unit during which interruptions are forbidden. However, for a great need, such as to prevent loss, it is permissible to interrupt verbally. Similarly, one may greet another to avoid insulting him (MB 51:7 states that one should say the verses “Barukh Hashem” that appear before Va-yevarekh David, before and after the interruption).

Some poskim say that when one must relieve herself in the middle of Pesukei De-zimra she should delay the recitation of Asher Yatzar until after the Amida so as not to interrupt in the middle of Pesukei De-zimra. However, it is best to recite Asher Yatzar immediately after relieving oneself, for if she delays its recitation until after praying, she might forget to say it altogether (Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 6).

  1. According to Sephardic rite, today it is also customary to stand when reciting “Hashem Melekh, Hashem Malakh…” before Barukh She-amar. See Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 n. 4.

07. The Order of Preference for Omissions

A woman who wants to recite Pesukei De-zimra and its berakhot but does not have time to recite the whole thing may recite the main parts. She begins with Barukh She-amar, recites the six psalms from Ashrei until the end of the Halleluyot (which are the main parts of Pesukei De-zimra) and ends with Yishtabaĥ. If she does not even have time for that, she may recite just Barukh She-amar, Ashrei, the two psalms which begin with the words “Halleluya hallelu” (Tehilim 148 and 150), and Yishtabaĥ. If she does not even have time for that, she may recite just Barukh She-amar, Ashrei, and Yishtabaĥ. However, if she does not have time to recite Ashrei, she may not say Barukh She-amar and Yishtabaĥ, because these berakhot were instituted to be recited along with the psalms of David, so one must at least recite the main psalm, Ashrei, between them.

These guidelines apply to an ad hoc situation. However, a woman who only wants to recite Ashrei before the Amida on a regular basis should not recite Barukh She-amar and Yishtabaĥ, for those berakhot were instituted on the main part Pesukei De-zimra – the last six chapters of Tehilim – and since a woman is not obligated to recite Pesukei De-zimra, it is not proper for her to recite them in a be-di’avad situation of reciting only one psalm.

In a women’s educational framework, teachers may decide that the girls will regularly recite the berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra along with the six Halleluyot, so that on the one hand they will say Pesukei De-zimra and on the other they will not be overburdened. However, if it seems that the six Halleluyot are also too difficult for the girls to recite with kavana, it is best that they do not recite Pesukei De-zimra at all (as explained above, 8:3). 1

 

  1. As a rule, the order of precedence for women to recite the main parts of prayer is as follows: Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah, the first verse of Keri’at Shema, and the Amida prayer. If there is more time, it is best to recite Birkat Emet Ve-yatziv, for it mentions the Exodus from Egypt, which is a biblical commandment for men, and some say even women must recite it. By reciting it one adjoins berakha of redemption to the Amida, as explained above, 8:3 n. 4. Following them in importance are Pesukei De-zimra, meaning Barukh She-amar, the six Halleluyot, and Yishtabaĥ. However, Beirur Halakha (Zilber) vol. 1, §70 and Ishei Yisrael 7:18 state concerning the order of precedence, that once she has time to recite Barukh She-amar, Ashrei, and Yishtabaĥ, she then recites the rest of the Shema and its berakhot. If she has more time, only then she recites the remaining Pesukei De-zimra psalms. However, this is problematic: There are poskim who maintain that women must recite Pesukei De-zimra, and all agree that it is preparation for prayer and that women must pray. Moreover, according to Rif and Rosh the essence of Pesukei De-zimra is the last six psalms of Tehilim (see Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 14 nn. 1, 3, and 10). If so, why should a woman give priority to Birkhot Keri’at Shema, from which she is certainly exempt and which are not preparation for the Amida? Therefore, it seems that all six Halleluyot take precedence over Birkhot Keri’at Shema, as mentioned above, 8:3 n. 4. I have further found that Halikhot Bat Yisrael 2 n. 21 states in the name of R. Scheinberg that women must recite Pesukei De-zimra but perhaps can skip passages and recite just Barukh She-amar, Ashrei, and Yishtabaĥ. This is again problematic, for how can we instruct women to omit the main parts of Pesukei De-zimra on a regular basis? Perhaps this opinion follows R. Akiva Eger’s position, cited in MB, that women are obligated in Pesukei De-zimra, and should therefore recite it even in the most abbreviated way, that is, in keeping with the position of Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 23a) that the main purpose of Pesukei De-zimra is for Ashrei. However, most poskim maintain that women are exempt from Pesukei De-zimra, as explained in n. 2 above; if so, why should they recite it in an abbreviated manner? The fact that the woman already wants to enhance the mitzva means that in principle she should recite them properly, meaning the six Halleluyot, for they constitute Pesukei De-zimra, as Rif and Rosh teach (and Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona presumably agree), and not just say one psalm. R. Rabinovitch concurs with my ruling. Additionally, Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:3 rules that it is forbidden for women to recite the berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra, for they are dependent on time. Although it is not customary to practice in accordance with its ruling, as explained above, chapter 2 n. 10, still, it is proper to err on the side of caution and not say them when reciting only one psalm. Perhaps it is best to instruct even men not to recite the berakhot on Pesukei De-zimra for the recitation of Ashrei alone on a regular basis. However, if a woman recites the six psalms which are the essence of Pesukei De-zimra, she must give preference to Keri’at Shema and its berakhot over the Tamid and incense passages, which take precedence over the rest of Pesukei De-zimra due to their importance, as explained in Peninei Halakha: Prayer, 13:1 n. 2. The overall order of preference is explained above, 8:3 n. 4.