AVODAH (Heb. עֲבוֹדָה; literally "service"), name for *Temple ritual, applied to the central part of the Musaf liturgy on the *Day of Atonement. This poetically recounts the sacrificial ritual in the Temple on the Day of Atonement. The ritual, based on Leviticus 16, is described in detail in Mishnah Yoma (chs. 1–7) and in the talmudic tractate of that name.
After the destruction of the Second Temple, the description of this ancient ritual became the core of the Musaf service on the Day of Atonement. In early times it was also recited during Shaḥarit and Minḥah (cf. Siddur of Saadiah Gaon). The Day of Atonement was the only occasion during the year when the high priest entered the Holy of the Holies in the Temple, and he had to make special preparations for the ritual. Seven days prior to the Day of Atonement, the high priest was moved to a special apartment in the Temple court (palhedrin) where he studied with the elders every detail of the sacrificial cult for the Day of Atonement. A deputy priest was appointed to take the place of the high priest should he be prevented by defilement or death from performing his duties. The day before the Day of Atonement, the high priest was escorted by the elders to his chamber in the Temple compound where he joined the other priests. The elders earnestly entreated him to perform all the minutiae of the sacrificial cult carefully as interpreted by the Pharisaic school, and took leave of him. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest himself performed the offering of the daily sacrifice, the incense offering, and the other sacred duties. After a series of immersions and ablutions he offered a bull as his personal sin-offering. He confessed his own and his family's sins, the sins of the tribe of Aaron (the priests), and those of all Israel (Lev. 16:6). Every time he uttered the holy name of God, the Tetragrammaton which was uttered only on the Day of Atonement, the people prostrated themselves and responded: "Blessed be His Name whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever" (see Tosef., Sot. 13:8; Yoma 39b). During the service of the high priest, this procedure was repeated ten times (Tosef., Yoma 2:2), or, according to another source (tj, Yoma 3:7), 13 times.
The high priest then drew two lots from a wooden box, one inscribed "For *Azazel" and the other "A sin-offering for the Lord." The role of each of two he-goats participating in the ritual was determined by the lots. The high priest sent the goat "For Azazel" into the desert and he offered the other as a sin-offering. After a special incense-offering in the Holy of the Holies, the high priest recited a prayer (Yoma 5:1) that the climate in the coming year be moderate, neither too hot nor too wet; that the sovereignty of Judah be preserved; that Israel be prosperous (Yoma 53b; Ta'an. 24b); and that no earthquake harm the inhabitants of the Sharon Plain.
This traditional, and to some extent idealized, account of the ceremony served as the base for the subsequent development of the Musaf liturgy of the Day of Atonement. Originally, the Avodah was of a simple nature, being an unadorned description of the Temple service following the Mishnah Yoma. The main section was composed, at latest, in the fourth century c.e. but was enriched in the Middle Ages by elaborate piyyutim, most of them of an acrostic pattern. The Avodah texts currently in use contain compositions by Yose b. Yose, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Judah Halevi, and Moses ibn Ezra. The Avodah service, according to the Sephardi rite, opens with the piyyut "Attah Konanta Olam" by an unknown paytan, or with an introductory poem "Be-Or Divrei Nekhoḥot" (Roman rite), followed by a series of acrostics where the initial letter is repeated up to eight or even 16 times. The Piedmont rite opens with another piyyut entitled "Attah Konanta Olam" by Yose b. Yose. The Yemenite Avodah is similar to the Piedmont rite. In the Ashkenazi rite the Avodah opens with an introductory piyyut, "Amiẓ Ko'aḥ" by the poet Meshullam b. Kalonymus, which gives a short account of biblical history, the creation of the world, the sinfulness of the early generations, the election of the Patriarchs and of Israel, up to the priestly ritual of atonement in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. These themes are found in all of the later Avodah services. Next follow detailed descriptions of the sacrificial cult on the Day of Atonement in the Temple. There is also an opening Avodah piyyut, entitled "Asoḥe'aḥ Nifle'otekha," found in the ancient French rite and attributed to Meshullam b. Kalonymus. In both the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi rite (but not the Yemenite), the order of the confession of the high priest is recited three times as is the response of the people: "And when the priests and the people that stood in the court (of the Temple) heard the glorious Name (of God) pronounced out of the mouth of the high priest, in holiness and purity, they knelt and prostrated themselves, and made acknowledgment to God, falling on their faces and saying: Blessed be His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever." This response is recited a fourth time in the Sephardi rite. At this passage, it is still customary in the Orthodox Ashkenazi rite and in some Sephardi communities for worshipers to prostrate themselves on the floor of the synagogue.
Other parts of the Avodah (e.g., "Tikkanta Kol Elleh li-Khevod Aharon" ("All this didst Thou establish for the glory of Aaron") in the Sephardi and Yemenite rites) then describe in great detail the high priest's actions, including the counting of the blood-sprinklings of the sacrifices, which are recited in solemn melody "And thus he counted: One, One and One, One and Two…" etc.
This elaborate poetic description of the sacrificial cult of the Day of Atonement closes with an account of the festivity which the high priest arranged for his friends in gratitude for the successful performance of the Day of Atonement ritual "in peace and without harm" (Yoma 7:4). After a free poetic rendition of the high priest's prayer for the welfare of the people of Israel, this section of the Avodah closes with the nostalgic piyyut, "Ashrei Ayin Ra'atah Kol Elleh" ("Happy is the eye that saw these glorious services…"), based on a hymn in Ben Sira 50.
This is followed by a series of acrostic piyyutim deploring the misfortune of Israel, now deprived of the Temple and its sacred cult, and subjected to the sufferings and persecutions of exile. This cycle of piyyutim, which closes with an ardent prayer for the reestablishment of the Holy Temple, its cult and institutions, destroyed because of the sins of Israel, is immediately followed by the penitential Seliḥot prayers of Musaf, thus linking up again with the main motif of the Day of Atonement service.
In the Reform ritual, only the confession of the high priest "Anna Adonai Kapper Na," is recited, in Hebrew and the vernacular. The details of the ancient sacrificial cult are not dwelt upon and the congregation does not prostrate itself during the service. In that ritual the prayers inserted instead of the traditional Avodah emphasize the moral duties to which Israel has to consecrate itself anew to bring about the kingdom of God among all mankind. The last Hebrew poet to compose an entire Avodah was S.D. *Luzzatto in his Kinnor Na'im (1913), 341–62 (this was not composed for synagogue use). In the Conservative ritual, most parts of the traditional Hebrew Avodah service are retained, but, instead of their exact rendition in English, new meditations and prayers of contemporary relevance are inserted as well as modern interpretations of the symbolism of the ancient sacrificial cult.
The descriptions and emotional content of the Avodah have always been a challenge to musical inventiveness. It was set to especially solemn melodies in many Jewish communities, for example that of Rome. The most distinguished Avodah tunes, however, can be heard in Ashkenazi synagogues. These possess a uniform tradition for the chapter Ve-ha-kohanim ve-ha-am; less distinctive tunes are given to the texts Ve-khakh hayah Omer and Ve-khakh hayah moneh. In addition, the cantors of Eastern Europe used to perform their own versions of sections such as Amiẓ Ko'aḥ (*Bachmann), Nilvim elav nevonim (*Abrass), or the elegiac U-mi-she-ḥarav Beit Mikdashenu (Bezalel Shulsinger).
The Ve-ha-kohanim tune is common to all Ashkenazi communities, both eastern and western, and belongs to the cycle of unchangeable Mi-Sinai melodies. Its musical character is that of a "cantorial fantasia," in which sustained passages of vocalize are inserted between short groups of words. In Ve-ha-kohanim, the brief textual statements are interrupted by almost explosive coloraturas which are intended to give expression to the vision of the overwhelming power of the former atonement ritual.
The traditional Ashkenazi Ve-ha-kohanim tune comprises nine themes, the majority extended vocalizes, each attached to one word or at most a few words of the text. The complete series of themes is repeated three times. The musical substance of these themes has to be sought for in a melodic idea which is conceived only as a general outline; auditory shape and final elaboration are provided by the individual performer. Thus there are as many "realizations" of the fundamental idea as there are written (and recorded) versions, but all of them remain closely related to an imagined archetype.
The unending process of variation can be illustrated by samples taken from four Ashkenazi versions, two eastern and two western. The examples demonstrate Theme VII of the Avodah melody (which follows Shome'im et ha-Shem). The first western version changes from E-flat major to F minor, and the second one remains in the major key, while the eastern versions are in the characteristic scale of a *Shtayger. Nevertheless their common origin is clearly perceptible. Western Ashkenazi cantors generally tend to favor diatonic progression of the coloraturas and to curtail or even omit some of the longer vocalizes. The Ve-ha-kohanim tune remains, however, one of the most grandiose creations of Ashkenazi synagogue song.
avodah: Union Prayerbook, 2 (1928), 262–75; M. Silverman, High Holiday Prayerbook (1939), 368–79; High Holiday Prayerbook (Reconstructionist), 2 (1948), 366–85; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 216–7; idem, Studien zur Geschichte des juedischen Gottesdienstes (1907), 49–190; E. Levy, Yesodot ha-Tefillah (1963), 259–61. For piyyutim and seliḥot see: Davidson, Oẓar, 1 (1924), 221 (nos. 4805, 4806, 4808, 4809), 223 (nos. 4838, 4843), 260 (no. 5703), 381 (no. 8430); 2 (1929), 462 (no. 6), 490 (no. 574); 3 (1930), 93 (no. 540), 534 (no. 401), 535 (no. 423). For Ve-ha-Kohanim see music examples, and also: Idelsohn, Melodien 6 pt. 2 (1932), no. 7; 7 pt. 1 (1932), no. 234; pt. 2, no. 204; M. Deutsch, Vorbeterschule (1871), nos. 429–31; M. Wodak, Hamnazeach (1898), nos. 760–2; Ch. Vinaver, Anthology of Jewish Music (1955), no. 33–34. for other parts of the avodah see: Ephros, Cant, 2 (1940), 265–90; Vinaver, no. 35; O. Abrass, Simrat-Joh (n.d.), no. 34; J. Bachmann, Schirat Jacob (1884), no. 133–5; ej, 1 (19258), 353–6; Idelsohn, in: Zeitschrift fuer Musikwissenschaft, 8 (1926), 449–72; Avenary, in: Yuval, 1 (1968), 65–85.
"Avodah." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/avodah
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