“...The prophets of the Jewish people ordained that the Hallel be recited on special occasions and celebrations [like Yom Tov], and at times of national deliverance from peril, in gratitude for their redemption” (Pesachim 117a).
The prayer of Hallel, which is recited before the Torah reading on the holidays of Sukkot, Chanukah, Passover and Shavuot,* is actually the recitation of Psalms 113-118. According to tradition, the Book of Psalms, which contains 150 poetic expressions of devotion to God, were mostly authored by King David. The six Psalms of Hallel were selected for holidays and days of redemption because, as it says in Pesachim 118a, they contain fundamental Jewish beliefs: the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah, the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Messiah.
While the Book of Psalms is attributed to King David, who was a known scholar, pietist and musician, it is understood that a handful of the psalms are actually much older. These psalms had been passed down through the generations until David included them, along with his own writings, in The Book of Psalms. An excellent example of these psalms that pre-dated King David are those psalms that open with a dedication (authorial note) of the sons of Korach.
Similarly, it was argued by the sages that Psalms 113-118 were actually written by Moses. Rabbi Jose said, “My son Elazar is of the opinion that Moses and Israel said it [Hallel] when they came out of the Red Sea, but his colleagues disagree with him. They contend that David composed Hallel. But I prefer my son's opinion to that of his colleagues: Is it possible that the Jewish people slaughtered their Passover sacrifices and took their lulav bundles without singing a hymn to God?” (Pesachim 117a).
*During Chol Hamoed Passover and on the last days of Passover (as well as on Rosh Chodesh - the new month) an abridged form of Hallel, known as Half-Hallel, is recited.
This Treat was last posted on September 17, 2013.