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YANNAI , liturgical poet, one of the principal representatives of the old Palestinian piyyut.

References to Yannai in the Sources

Yannai is first mentioned in *Kirkisani's Kitāb al-Anwar (beginning of the tenth century) once, together with Eleazar (i.e., *Kallir) and Phinehas, as a composer of Hebrew hymns, and in two other places as an authority on religious law. Kirkisani mentions that *Hai (b. David), head of the Pumbedita academy, and his father, after having found rabbinical sources for all but two rules in *Anan's Karaite code of law, finally found these in Yanai's Ḥazzanah. Around the same time *Saadiah names the following among the "elder poets" whose verses he declares as models: *Yose b. Yose, Eleazar *(Kallir), *Joshua, and *Phinehas. An anonymous manual of poetry from Saadiah's circle cites poems by the "famous Yannai" as the example of rhymed prose. An anonymous poem of similar provenance, and the grammarian *Yehudi b. Sheshat (second half of the tenth century), name Yannai and Kallir in succession. *Gershom b. Judah (Me'or ha-Golah) states that Yannai, whom he cites as one of the earliest authors, composed kerovot for all weekly Torah portions. Finally, in a Hebrew manuscript (Munich, Ms. 69) and in a liturgical work of Ephraim of Bonn, Yannai is named as Kallir's teacher. Ephraim adds that in "Lombardy" (i.e., Italy), Yannai's hymn "Onei Pitrei Raḥmatayim" is not recited because he was considered to be Kallir's murderer: he supposedly put a scorpion in his pupil's sandal, thus causing his death.

Rediscovery of Yannai's Works in the Genizah

Yannai is not mentioned in later literature; modern research made his name and works known again. The scholars who first engaged in research on Yannai had only fragments of a kerovah ("Onei Pitrei Raḥamatayim") and a piyyut ("Az Rov Nissim") from the Passover Haggadah as material (it was later discovered that this piyyut was part of the kerovah). Yannai's personality was brought into new light only in the 20th century with the discovery and publication of Cairo *Genizah fragments. In 1901 S.H. Wertheimer published two poems attributed to Yannai (Ginzei Yerushalayim, 2 (1901), 18b). In 1903 S. Poznański found a list of books where the Ḥazzanah of Yannai is mentioned as a special work (jqr, 15 (1903), 77, no. 12). Davidson's publications opened new horizons for research into Yannai. In 1910 he found a Genizah fragment with quotations and beginnings of poems from the "Maḥzor Yannai"; this established the existence of a greater poetic work of Yannai's. In 1919 he found in some Greek-Hebrew genizah, fragment palimpsests (published by F.C. Burkitt in Fragments of the Book of Kings (1897), and by C. Taylor in Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests, 1900) some of Yannai's kerovot which were thought lost, and which he later published with notes by L. Ginzberg (Maḥzor Yannai (1919)). In 1928 Davidson found – following a suggestion by Brody – three other poems by Yannai among the Genizah fragments in the Bodleian Library: he published them in Genizah Studies (vol. 3, 1928). Paul Kahle published, in the Masoreten des Westens (1927; 24–27 (Heb. part) with Ger. translation, 59–66), two poems that had already been published as anonymous in 1898–99, with supralinear (Palestinian) vocalization, which he recognized as Yannai's. Apart from that, Kahle found some Genizah fragments in Cambridge (Taylor-Schechter Collection) and in Leningrad/St. Petersburg (Collection of the Archimandrite Antonin), which also contained kerovot by Yannai and which were in part published by M. Kober (1929). Many more texts by Yannai were identified by J. Schirmann in the large Genizah collections especially in Cambridge in 1931 and 1932. They were photographed for the Archives of the Berlin Institute for Research of Hebrew Poetry, together with thousands of other Genizah fragments. M. Zulay discovered many more unknown texts by Yannai among the fragments and collected all Yannai's works known to him, in a critical edition (1938). Zulay, more than any other researcher, was interested in Yannai, and apart from important text editions, also conducted intensive research into Yannai's language. J. Mann (1940), S. Widder (1941), I. Sonne (1944), Zulay himself (1947), A. Diez-Macho (1955), and A. Murtonen (1958) published important additions to Zulay's preceding work. Among the most recent publications of Yannai's poetry, it is worth mentioning J. Yahalom's (1978), and above all the edition of Z.M. Rabinowitz (1985–87), with the additions and comments of N.M. Bronznick (2000).

Yannai's Kerovot

Davidson established already in his first publication the scheme of the structure of Yannai's kerovot, which with some modifications is still valid. (It is doubtful that Yannai invented the special structure of the kerovah; its regular and rather complicated features make a slow evolution probable.) This type of kerovah served as the model for all his successors, although they differ in many details. Yannai wrote essentially two kinds of kerovot:

(1) The kedushta, a poem for the Sabbath Shaḥarit (morning service) based on the first three benedictions of the Amidah and dealing with the biblical portion of each Sabbath. The third kedushta contains Yannai's name in an acrostic; it also alludes to the haftarah of the relevant biblical portion;

(2) The shivata, for the Musaf and the eve of Sabbaths and festivals, based on seven benedictions of the Amidah (the first three and the last three being always included).

Yannai's Dates

A close relationship between the older Palestinian Midrashim and Yannai's poetry can be established by numerous parallels in content and style. It cannot be determined, however, whether the Midrashim influenced his poetry, or whether both, belonging to approximately the same period, represent the same spirit in somewhat different forms. It is difficult to accept Yannai's compact style with its many allusions to classical sources as his own creation. Between Yannai and *Yose b. Yose – his only predecessor known by name – there is a linguistic disparity which can be explained only by assuming several intermediary stages in language development between them. Furthermore, it is clear that Yannai lived some centuries before Saadiah, who already considers Yannai to belong to the dim past. As historical perspective was undeveloped in Kirkisani's day, his reference (see above) does not prove that Yannai lived before Anan, but only that a later author (Hai b. David) found two points of Karaite law in Yannai's work. The tale of Yannai's relation to Kallir, being legendary, does not help in the determination of Yannai's dates, apart from the fact that Kallir's dates too are uncertain. While modern scholars have accepted the sixth–seventh century as a dating for Yannai, an older one (fourth–fifth century) is also possible.

Yannai's Provenance

For several reasons, it is obvious that Yannai must have lived in Palestine. His kerovot are written according to the *triennial Palestinian cycle; only Christians are named as Israel's enemies; and his name is usually spelled יַנַּיי, according to the usage of the Jerusalem Talmud, and not יַנַּאי. Other Diaspora countries were not yet Jewish cultural centers and, therefore, cannot be taken into account. What Gershom b. Judah says of him (see above) has been fully confirmed by modern research. Yannai's Ḥazzanah (Arabization of the Hebrew ḥazzanut, "liturgy") must have contained kerovot to all the portions of the (triennial) Palestinian cycle; used by the Palestinian community in Cairo, it was fragmentarily preserved there in the Genizah. The work could have been considered as a source of religious law, as it contained, apart from the aggadah, much halakhic material. With the rapid diffusion of Kallir's works, though, it became obsolete and lost its standing in literature.

Yannai was probably the first, or one of the very first, to introduce into the tradition of Jewish liturgical poetry the rhyme and the alphabetic and nominal acrostic.


A. Harkavy, Zikkaron la-Rishonim ve-Gam la-Aḥaronim, 1, pt. 5 (1891), 106–9; P. Kahle, Masoreten des Westerns, 1 (1927), 24–27, 59–66, 87 (Heb. pt.); I. Davidson (ed.), Maḥzor Yannai (1919), Heb. with Eng. introd.; idem, Genizah Studies in Memory of Dr. Solomon Schechter, 3 (1928), 1–47, passim; Elbogen, in: jjlg, 20 (1929), 21-69; J Mann, in: aysll, 46 (1929/30), 275–7; M. Zulay (ed.), Piyyutei Yannai li-Shema Yisrael (1933) = ymhsi; idem, "Meḥkerei Yannai", in: Studies of the Research Institute for Hebrew Poetry ii (1936), 213–391; idem (ed.), Piyyutei Yannai (1938); idem, "Iyyunei Lashon be-Fiyyutei Yannai," in: Studies of the Research Institute for Hebrew Poetry vi (1946), 161–248; idem, in: Semitic Studies in Memory of Immanuel Loew (1947), 147–57 (Heb. pt.); Lieberman, in: Sinai, 4 (1939), 221–50; S. Widder, in: Jubilee Volume… Prof. Bernhard Heller (1941), 37–60 (Heb. pt.); J. Sonne, in: huca, 18 (1944), 199–220; A. Díez-Macho, in: Sefarad, 15 (1955), 287–313, 324–40; Spiegel, ibid., 314–23 (Eng.); idem, in: ymhsi, 7 (1958), 137–43; idem, in: mewj, 74 (1930), 94–104; Z.M. Rabinowitz, Halakhah ve-Aggadah be-Fiyyutei Yannai (1965); idem, in: Tarbiz, 38 (1969), 384–94; J. Yahalom, in: Leshonenu, 31 (1966/67), 211–6; N. Fried, in: Sinai, 61 (1967), 50–66; 62 (1968), 127–62; J. Schirmann, in: Keshet vi (1964), no. 4, p. 45–66; A. Mirsky, Reshit haPiyyut (1965), 74–85; idem, in: Schirmann Jubilee Volume (1970), 347–62; H. Yalon, Pirkei Lashon (1971), passim; E. Fleischer, in: Sinai, 64 (1968/69), 176–84. add. bibliography: E. Fleischer, in: Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle Ages (1975), passim (Heb.); idem, in: Ha-Yoẓerot (1984), passim; J. Yahalom, A Collection of Geniza Fragments of Piyyute Yannai (1978); B. Chiesa, in: Henoch, 2 (1980), 333–48; T. Carmi, The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981), 215ff.; W.J. van Bekkum, in: eol, 27 (1983), 120–40; Z.M. Rabinowitz (ed.), The Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Yannai according to the Triennial Cycle of the Pentateuch and the Holidays (1985–87); idem (ed.), Maḥzor Piyyutei R. Yannai la-Torah ve-la-Mo'adim (1985); A. Kor, Yannai's Piyyutim: Evidence of the Hebrew in Ereẓ Israel during the Byzantine Period (1988) (diss., Heb.); N.M. Bronznick, Piyyutei Yannai: Be'urim u-Ferushim im Haẓẓa'ot Menumakot le-Tikkunim ve-Hashlamot (c. 2000).

[Jefim (Hayyim) Schirmann]