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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Priestly Benediction

A silver amulet dating from the 7th‐century BCE contains a version of the Priestly Benediction closely resembling that recorded in Num. 6.24–26 and demonstrates that even at that early period some special liturgical significance was already attached to the benediction. It certainly played a role in the worship performed in the Second Temple, and there is no doubt that elements of priestly liturgy were absorbed into the proto‐rabbinic prayers. At the same time, the extensive talmudic sources record tensions about whether priests are to retain their privileged position or are to be succeeded by the Rabbis. For the tannaʾ R. Simeon, it was not priesthood but a good reputation that had maintained an attractive religious standing (Eccl. Rab. 7.1.3), and a Mishnaic statement (Ber. 5:4) seems to regard the Priestly Benediction as separate from the standard prayer context. Other teachers, however, preferred a compromise to such a categorical differentiation. What is clearly attested (b. Sot. 37b–39b) are changes in the use of the divine Name, the custom of raising the hands in blessing, the nature of the accompanying ritual, and the Jewish constituency to whom the Priestly Benediction is addressed. Although biblical privileges were to a large extent retained, and the priestly genealogy and role continued to be recognized, intellectual and halakhic leadership became more democratically available.

As the rabbinic liturgy became more formal in the early medieval period, the congregational recitation of the Priestly Benediction was permitted only in restricted circumstances to the priests (that is, descendents of the priestly line who had almost no function and little status after the destruction of the Second Temple), and there were some arguments for weakening even that privilege, especially among the Jewish communities in Christian lands. The Benediction even came to be part of the biblical readings of the daily “morning benedictions” that were originally recited by every pious individual at home and were later absorbed into the synagogal ritual. The halakhic authorities in the Middle Ages generally maintained the biblical restrictions and some of the special honor that applied to the priests, but they were content to leave the matter of the restoration of their total power to the messianic age. The priests did at times mount counterattacks in attempts to restore their earlier authority but generally with only limited success. The recitation of the Priestly Benediction by the father (not necessarily a priest) to bless his children in the domestic service preceding the Friday evening meal was promoted by the 16th‐century mystics and amounted to a further process of democratization. With the rise of the modern progressive movements, even those last few ceremonial roles and restrictions left to the priests were abolished in all but Orthodox communities. In the latter, there were doubts about the priestly role in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but these seem to have been widely overcome in more recent decades, as reflected in current editions of Orthodox prayerbooks.

Kedushah

Although the recitation of the Kedushah, or trisagion (Gk., “thrice holy”), from Isa. 6.3 (“kadosh, kadosh, kadosh”) is accorded importance in the Talmud, it is not clear precisely what piece of liturgy is intended by the term and on which occasions and at what time it was employed in the prayers. In the post‐talmudic period, however, it was certainly used regularly in a number of different contexts in the prayers, especially together with such verses as Ezek. 3.12 (“Blessed is the Presence of the LORD”), Ps. 146.10 (“The LORD shall reign forever”), and Isa. 5.16 (“the LORD of Hosts is exalted”). It was employed in connection with the study of Torah, as well as inthe prayer‐leader's repetition of the ʿAmidah and in the first benediction preceding the morning Shema, as a description and emulation of the angelic choir praising God. Since there are precedents in the Qumran literature, the custom might well have been transmitted by pietistic groups, at that time and later, and thus incorporated into the rabbinic liturgy. They found the close description of what they regarded as the heavenly liturgy as a mystical activity that extended their religious experience and sharpened their spiritual sensitivity.

Whether or not such groups were initially based in the land of Israel, there is a report from Pirqoi ben Baboi in the 9th century that the communities there did not recite the pre‐ Shemaʿ Kedushah on a daily basis until the Babylonian Jews living in Jerusalem and some other cities created contention about its omission. In the 10th century, Saadia ben Joseph made a point of including the Kedushah only in the communal, and not the individual, context, but gradually it became the widespread custom to allow its recitation even by the individual in at least the non‐ʿAmidah contexts. It need hardly be pointed out that the 19th‐century rationalists were no happier with this mystical item than they were with any others.

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