Ambiguities of the Stammaitic פסוקי דזמרא [Talmud Tuesday]
Having written earlier about one rabbi in the Talmud who was recorded as having stated nine religious aspirations, I wanted to briefly look at how the Talmud discusses one of them, in particular. One of them is that his portion is with those who complete the Hallel every day.
איני? והאמר מר הקורא הלל בכל יום הרי זה מחרף ומגדף
כי קאמרינן בפסוקי דזמרא
Is that so? Behold, a master said: “One who reads out Hallel every day, behold he is a blasphemer and scoffer.”
He is talking about verses of praise.
This clearly is a huge problem – clearly, according to the text above, one shouldn’t be saying Hallel every day. However, Rabbi Yosé didn’t say that he actually wanted to complete Hallel every day, he just wanted to receive the portion of those who do so. Furthermore, as Rabbi Ezra Bick has pointed out, that
based on this source, we would draw two conclusions. The first is that this recitation is not obligatory. R. Yossi is merely recommending the practice. He expresses his hope to be someone who completes “hallel” every day. Second, it does not seem to have anything to do with the daily prayer. It is recommended as a desirable daily practice, but bears no hint of a connection to Shacharit.
While I don’t think that Rabbi Yosé is “recommending the practice”, as Rabbi Bick proffers nor do I see as it “recommended as a desirable daily practice”, since it would seem that Rabbi Yosé is offering his personal religious aspirations, but I would agree that the Talmud positions this as a discussion on a non-obligatory matter and that it is not particular to the morning.
So, if the stammaim have an issue with Rabbi Yosé‘s wanting to say Hallel every day, they feel a need to offer up an alternative understanding of his statement: that he was talking about פסוקי דזמרא, verses of praise. It’s not clear what these verses of praise are, which is quite curious – what are they? The Talmud does not state what they are, although since they are meant to take the place of Hallel on some level, it would stand to reason that they are a Psalm or multiple Psalms, whether verses from the Psalms included in Hallel – perhaps key lines in each Psalm of Hallel – or whether they are verses from other Psalms or entire other Psalms.
Whether this stammaitic statement is meant as a way of stating something that is somehow implicitly known to the stammaim or whether it was meant as a way of stating something to leave an ambiguity to allow for multiple possibilities is very unclear. But one thing is clear: when there is a lack of clarity, it opens up space for speculation, especially by medieval commentators. I hope to be able to write in the future about how these medieval commentators approached this text.