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Schedule for the Reading of Psalms corresponding to Festivals and Commemorative Days, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

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Psalms, or Tehilim, have been in liturgical use for as long as any text in Judaism has been. Prayers, praises, supplications, and the like – it’s all in this book of 150 works. So it seems odd that while we use its texts regularly in prayer, we have no tradition of public kriah for Psalms.

In older Rabbinic texts, though, a tradition is mentioned that every festival and holy day has some sort of psalm associated with it. Many communities preserve traditions of this nature. For instance, traditions of reading Psalms 30 for Ḥanukkah and Psalms 104 for Rosh Ḥodesh are alive and well, many communities read Psalms 124 on Purim and Psalms 27 for the season of repentance, and the recent Lev Shalem series from the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly includes psalms for the days with work prohibitions (though not the same psalms chosen here for said days). A full calendric cycle of psalms for every appointed time, though, isn’t really a common practice.

This system attempts to remedy that, selecting psalms that reflects the meaning of the holiday in some way. It includes every single commonly celebrated holiday, including sub-ethnic celebrations like Mimouna or Sigd as well as more recent national holidays like Yom ha’Atzmaut. It also includes a system for dividing Psalms 119, a massive 176-verse acrostic hymn to Torah, throughout the weeks of the Omer season as a preparation for Sinai.

Inspiration for psalm selections comes from:

  • Traditional connections – see Psalms 30 for Ḥanukkah, Psalms 104 for Rosh Ḥodesh, Psalm 27 for the Season of Repentance
  • Rabbinic connections – see Psalms 124 for Purim (Megillah 11a), Psalms 22 for the Fast of Esther (Megillah 15b), Psalms 29 for Shavuot (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 20:2)
  • Literal connections – see Psalms 79 for 17 Tammuz, Psalms 137 for 9 Av, Psalms 126 for Yom ha’Atzmaut
  • Thematic connections – see Psalms 99 for Rosh haShanah, Psalms 45 for Tu b’Av, Psalms 120 for the Fast of Gedaliah, Psalms 119 for the Omer

Just as in the earlier Reading of Psalms for the Weekly Shabbat Portion created by the same author, perhaps these psalms could be read after the Torah reading in the Mincha service, or perhaps they could be read at the same time as the psalm of the day. One could use a system of psalm cantillation (like the Syrian system, for instance), but since most communities don’t have such a system they could also be read using musical motifs appropriate for the day in question.


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