Redundant Recitation: Repeating words and phrases in prayer, Part V

In the past few weeks, we have explored the rules governing a chazzan’s repetition of words or phrases that are part of a formal, canonized text.  We have seen that there are two varieties of these official texts: standardized liturgy and biblical verse.  That is, many of the prayers in the Siddur are either part of the set text of the compulsory prayer services or are verses from the Tanach; each type has its own particular guidelines that may therefore apply.  A third category to address is that of liturgical poetry or piut.  Many of the prayers in the Siddur that were not part of the original establishment of our set repertoire of prayers are poetic compositions that customarily became part of the Siddur over the centuries. Some examples include Adon Olam, Yigdal, and Anim Zemirot[1].  Since this poetry does not fall under any particular Halachic rubric its recitation enjoys greater leniency.  For example, the restriction on interrupting the recitation of liturgy would not apply, nor would it be frowned upon to repeat a word or phrase as it is regarding the prayers that are part of the set Siddur cannon – since this poetry is not liturgy, in the technical and legal sense of that term.  Nor is it Bible, therefore the Talmudic rule that proscribes recitation of a verse fragment has no relevance.  In light of the origin of these prayer-poems, however, there may nevertheless be other potential concerns that relate to repeating parts of a liturgical poem.

A liturgical poet (paytan) has license to author a poem as a prayer however he sees fit and in whatever way he happens to be inspired.  For an example relevant to the present discussion, would there be any reason, for the poet not to compose it with repeated words?  One elementary necessity would be that he must ensure that his poem be free of any heretical ideas or implications.  But since the poem is intended to be recited as a prayer there might be an additional issue.  If a regular poem that is unrelated to prayer lacks logical coherence, it would, at worst, not be taken seriously be its readers.  But a poem which will be recited before the Almighty as prayer or praise must make logical sense and be meaningful.  To utter a nonsensical or meaningless prayer would run contrary to a basic sense of awe of Heaven.  These same limitations and privileges of a poet authoring a poem also apply to a davener that wishes to recite a prayer-poem he did not personally author.[2]  As long as a modification to a prayer-poem that is engendered by a Chazzan’s repetition of words does not result in heretical statements[3] or sacrifice the poem’s sensibility[4], it would be permitted.
In summary, the ability of a Chazzan to repeat words or phrases of the prayer service in order to fit into a melody largely hinges on the classification of the prayer in question.  If it is a formal part of the Siddur liturgy, repetition is sometimes forbidden and other times permitted but frowned upon due to the need to preserve its integrity.   If it is a Biblical verse, although according to the strict Talmudic limitations on recitation of verse fragments a chazzan’s repetition would not be allowed, long-standing and virtually universally accepted common practice allows for leniency.  There are, in addition, two concerns that don’t depend on a prayer’s categorization.  One is a concern for heretical implications found in the Mishna and Gemara that appears to only apply to the first word of Shema and the word “modim” in the Shemonah Esrei but not to other prayers.  Finally, if a repetition of part of any prayer recited before the Almighty would compromise its meaningfulness or coherence, it would be inconsistent with a basic awe of Heaven.

Based on all of the above, generally speaking a chazzan may not repeat the words of any berachot, any prayer from Baruch She’amar through the end of the repetition of the Shemonah Esrei[5], or any Kaddish due to their status as formal liturgyIn contrast, while reciting other parts of the prayer service, a Chazzan is subject to little if any limitation on such repetition.


[1] This article does not address piyutim that are inserted into the middle of formal prayers like the blessings of the Shema and the repetition of the Amidah.

[2] This is because a written prayer that is not part of the ancient, formal liturgical canon has no special Halachic status, designation, or category – no matter how pious the author or how long its inclusion in the Siddur.  Therefore, although in common practice such a prayer that was authored by a particularly saintly or pious individual or hallowed by a long legacy of communal recital may be treated with greater reverence, its technical Halachic standing would be no different than a prayer-poem spontaneously composed by the even the simplest and most unsophisticated tongue or pen.

[3] This would hinge on the issues raised in the previous section of this discussion regarding repittion of the word modim in Shemonah Esrei.

[4] Regarding whether repetition of a word or phrase would adversely affect the coherence of a poem, Igrot Moshe (O.C. 2:22) implies that such repetition is frowned upon in the context of the formal prayers of the siddur due merely to its interference with the integrity of the liturgy but not because of any disruption in the coherence of the prayer.  One might argue that this is not because Igrot Moshe denies the need for coherence in prayer but rather because he is of the opinion that such repetition does not interfere with its coherence.  This might be because this repetition is not taken as a nonsensical redundancy but rather as a rhetorical emphatic device.  If so, in the informal sections of the Siddur where liturgical integrity is not a factor, repetition would not even be frowned upon.

[5] The status of repetition of words and phrases during Pesukei D’zimra and Hallel is out of the scope of the present article.

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