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Hebrew In Israel | הללויה – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

“Praise be to Yah” is known in Hebrew as HaleluYah-הללויה.

The breakdown of this word is the verb הלל– to praise, and יה– the poetic form of the Tetragrammaton.  However, a question is raised if this word is to be seen as a compound (Portmanteau) word and should be read as one, or that it is two words and should be read as such.  In some bibles, we can find a hyphenated form הללויה, and in others as one-word הללויה.  In the Aleppo we find that it is written as one, and so is it found in most Jewish writings such as the Cairo Geniza as seen in the picture.

However, the debate about this matter dated back to Talmudic times, and can be found in the tractate of Pessachim p.117a:

R. Hisda said in R. Johanan’s name:  Halleluyah, Kesyah and Yedidyah are single words.  Rab said: Kesyah and merhavyah are single words.  Rabbah said Merhavyah alone [is a single word].  The scholars asked: What about Merhab Yah in R. Hisda’s view?  The question stands.  The scholars asked: What about Yedidyah in Rab’s view? — Come and hear: Yedidyah is divisible into two, therefore Yedid is non-sacred while Yah is sacred.  The scholars asked: What about Halleluyah in Rab’s view?  Come and hear, for Rab said: I saw [a copy of] the Psalms in my friend’s college, wherein ‘Hallelu’ was written on one line and ‘Yah’ on the following.  Now he disagrees with R. Joshua ben Levi, for R. Joshua ben Levi said: What is the meaning of ‘Halleluyah?  Praise him with many praises.  Further, he [R. Joshua b. Levi] is self-contradictory.  For R. Joshua ben Levi said: The Book of Psalms was uttered with ten synonyms of praise, viz.: Nizzuah [victory], Niggun [melody], Maskil, Mizmor [psalm], Shir [song], Ashre [happy], Tehillah [praise], Tefillah [prayer], Hodayah [thanksgiving] and HalleluYah.  The greatest of all is ‘Halleluyah,’ because it embraces the [Divine] Name and praise simultaneously.

The discussion opens with examples of compound names of sorts which are seen as one word.  However, HalleuYah is not a name but praise and can be seen as two words as in some cases found in the Torah.  Rab’s view is presented as a testimony of what he saw, however, I must stress that his view is not actually presented, but what he saw.  The reason R.Yehoshua is considered self–contradicting is because when he said that it is many praises, what is understood is that Hallelu is many praises, and Yah is a separate word.  The ending of this section indicates that the probable final understanding is that it is one word.  Because there is no opposing opinion, and it is a testimony of a sage, the conclusion is that it is one.  This is known as Lishna Batra-–an Aramaic term meaning “last word” which is placed in a text to indicate that the ruling is as that opinion.

It is worth noting that the word appears as two words in the DSS as can be seen in the Psalm scroll 11QPs a col.XXVIII for psalm 134 and 151. 

In Jewish reading tradition, we find that all Hebrew speakers say הללויה as one word and not two.  However, it seems clear that there are actually two different reading traditions in which the only one which survived is the one-word reading tradition.

Originally Published:  May 22, 2015


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