SHIRAH, PEREḲ (PIRḲE):
Chapter of song and praise to God by heavenly and earthly bodies, and by plants and dumb creatures. It is composed of Scriptural verses, one or two for each creature enumerated; and it is divided, according to subjects, into six parts, one for each of the six week-days, though the whole chapter is repeated every day at the morning prayer, except on Sabbath, when the "Shir ha-Yiḥud" is substituted. The reciting of "Pereḳ Shirah," however, is not obligatory, and is not observed generally, except by very pious Israelites.
"Pereḳ Shirah," as is shown in part by the strangenames of the birds mentioned therein, is evidently an ancient baraita, which has been more or less modified in the course of time. There are unmistakable traces of it in the Talmud, though it is not specifically referred to. The Talmud mentions that an egg of an unclean fowl is forbidden by the Mosaic law, and quotes "bat ha-ya'anah" ("the daughter, or issue, of the fowl"; Lev. xi. 16). This interpretation is disputed by counter-quoting, "The beasts in the field shall honor me, the dragons and the owls" ("u-benot ya'anah"; Isa. xliii. 20), and it is argued: "Surely an egg can not be classed among those that may say the 'Shirah'!" (Ḥul. 64b).Perhaps Referred to in the Talmud.
R. Isaac Nappaḥa asserted that the crushing defeat of Sennacherib's army before Jerusalem was due to the shirah of the beasts of the field, to whose voices the Almighty opened the ears of the Assyrians. "At the noise of the tumult the people fled; at the lifting up of thyself [by the recitation of the "Shirah"] the nations were scattered" (Isa. xxxiii. 3; Sanh. 95b). In I Sam. vi. 12, referring to the kine that drew the cart in which the holy Ark was conveyed from the country of the Philistines, R. Meïr interprets "wa-yishsharnah" (they took the straight way) as "they [the kine] sang the 'Shirah'"; according to one rabbi, it was Psalm xcviii.; while R. Isaac Nappaḥa puts into their mouths verses in classical Hebrew ('Ab. Zarah 24b). R. Eleazar and R. Simeon assert that the ears of grain say their shirah in the month of Nisan: "The valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing" (Ps. lxv. 14 [A. V. 13]; R. H. 8a). R. Mana b. Tanḥum could determine the time of day when the waters of the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) rendered praise to their Creator, for they are then sweet (Yer. 'Ab. Zarah ii. 8). In Josh. x. 13 the words "wa-yiddom ha-shemesh" ("And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed") are interpreted, "The sun ceased to say the 'Shirah'" (comp. "wa-yiddom" = "was silent"; Lev. x. 3), for Joshua replaced their shirah by his own ('Ab. Zarah 25a, Rashi).Early References.
Evidence of the existence of "Pereḳ Shirah" in the geonic period is given by the Karaite Solomon b. Jeruḥam, the contemporary of Saadia Gaon (892-942). Salomon, in his commentary on Ps. cxix. 51, criticizes the Talmudic rabbis for their "invention" in attributing the "Shirah" to the ass, and quotes from I Chron. xxix. 11 (Pinsker, "Liḳḳuṭe Ḳadmoniyyot," Appendix, p. 134). The tosafists quote the geonic responsa, asserting that the Palestinians recite Ḳedushshah only on the Sabbath, to take the place of the shirah of the living creatures in the Merkabah and of the six-winged angels; the latter have one wing for each week-day, but none for the Sabbath; and when the Sabbath arrives the angels plead that they have no wing for that day. But the Almighty assures them that there is another wing, which recites the "Shirah": "From the uttermost part ["kenaf" = "wing"] of the earth have we heard songs" (Isa. xxiv. 16; Tos. Sanh. 37b).
The ascription of the shirah to dumb animals is explained in one of two ways: the first is that their angels (each creature has a special guardian angel, or "mazzal" [constellation], above) speak for them; the second is that the "Shirah" is in the hearts of the creatures, and represents what they would say if they could speak (Tos. 'Ab. Zarah 17a; see commentary on "En Ya'aḳob," ib.).
Joseph Albo (1380-1444) highly values "Pereḳ Shirah," and explains why the Rabbis asserted that every one who recited it daily would become "a member of the world to come"; he regarded the sayings as wise and excellent, as tending to elevate man's moral conduct: "Who teacheth us from the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser from the fowls of heaven" (Job xxxv. 11, Hebr.). R. Johanan said: "If these things were not prescribed in the Torah, we could learn decency from the cat; the ant would preach against robbery, and the dove against incest" ('Er. 100b). Albo quotes the shirah of the ant: "Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever" (Ps. cxxxvi. 25). From this, he says, each may learn to be content with his lot, to be industrious and saving, like the ant. The shirah of the dove teaches that "in the clefts of the rocks" (Cant. ii. 14) one may find examples of true love and virtue ("'Iḳḳarim," iii. 1).The Preface.
The preface to "Pereḳ Shirah," which declares that every one who recites it daily is sure to be a "ben 'olam ha-ba" (an inhabitant of the world to come), is' credited in certain editions to R. Eliezer the Great, and also to Rabbi. In another edition these names are omitted. The preface is probably erroneously copied from R. Joshua b. Levi: "Whosoever recites the 'Shirah ' in this world is en titled to recite it in the world to come" (Sanh. 91b; comp. Tan., Ẓaw)—in which "Shirah," however, refers to the shirah of Moses at the Red Sea, and not to "Pereḳ Shirah."
Another preface to "Pereḳ Shirah" consists of the midrash concerning King David and the frog. David, on completing his Book of Psalms, is said to have boasted of his beautiful hymns; whereupon a frog appeared and exclaimed: "Do not be so proud; indeed, I sing more beautifully than thou" (Yalḳ., Ps. 889).
"Pereḳ Shirah" ends with the "Song of the Dogs," to which is appended the following midrash: R. Joshua, a disciple of R. Ḥanina b. Dosa, fasted eighty-five days, imploring a divine explanation of the shirah of the dogs. "Is it possible," he argued, "that the greedy dogs, 'which can never have enough' [Isa. lvi. 11], shall be honored by being permitted to say the 'Shirah' ?" An angel then said: "R. Joshua, why this long fasting? This is the decree of the Almighty, the secret of which has been revealed only to Habakkuk, but which I will now reveal to thee, since thou art a disciple of a great man: The dogs are thus privileged for the reason that against the children of Israel in Egypt there did 'not a dog move his tongue' [Ex. xi. 7]. Furthermore, the dog's excrement is used in tanning parchment for the Sefer Torah, phylacteries, and mezuzot. Finally, pay heed to the proverb, 'Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles'" (Prov. xxi. 23; Yalḳ., Ex. 187).In the Cabala.
R. Isaac Luria recognized the worth of "PereḳShirah" from a cabalistic standpoint (Azulai, "Shem ha-Gedolim," ii., No. 147). Moses b. Joseph di Trani, in his "Bet Elohim," credits King David with the authorship of "Pereḳ Shirah." Trani's commentary on it comprises the third part of his "Sha'ar ha-'Iḳḳarim" (Venice, 1576). Other commentaries on it are: "Mesapperim Tehillot," by Hananiah Jaghel of Moncilisi; "Sifte Renanot," by his son Gamaliel of Norzi (Mantua, 1661); "Siaḥ Yiẓḥaḳ" and "Sha'ar Shimeon," by the brothers Isaac and Simeon b. Meïr (Venice, 1664); "Sedeh Bokim," by Joseph Darshan of Posen (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1679); "Sha'ar ha-Shamayim," by Isaiah Hurwitz (Amsterdam, 1717); "Pi Eliyahu," by Elijah Deutsch, who credits "Pereḳ Shirah" to David and Solomon (Altona, 1735); "'Abodat Miḳdash," by Menahem de Lonzano (Leghorn, 1767); "Liḳḳuṭe Amarim," by Abraham ben Israel of Brody (Zolkiev, 1802); "Kenaf Renanim," by Enoch Zundel Luria (Krotoschin, 1842); "Ṭub Ṭa'am," by S. J. Abramowitsch (Jitomir, 1875).
The various editions of "Pereḳ Shirah" differ a little in the order followed and in the quotations given. The following list is from Baer's siddur, "'Abodat Yisrael" (p. 547, Rödelheim, 1868).
|1.||Heavens||Ps. xix. 2; Isa. xxiv. 16.|
|2.||Earth||Ps. xxiv. 1.|
|3.||Day||Ps. xix. 3.|
|4.||Night||Ps. xcii. 3.|
|5.||Sun||Hab. iii. 11; Isa. lx. 1.|
|6.||Moon||Ps. civ. 19.|
|7.||Stars||Dan. xii. 3; Neh. ix. 6.|
|8.||Higher clouds||Job xxxvii. 11.|
|9.||Lower clouds||Jer. x. 13.|
|10.||Mist, nebula||Ps. xviii. 12.|
|11.||Lightning||Ps. xcvii. 4.|
|12.||Wind||Jer. x. 12; Isa. xliii. 6.|
|13.||Dew||Hos. xiv. 6.|
|14.||Rain||Ps. lxviii. 10.|
|15.||Water||Jer. x. 10.|
|16.||Springs||Ps. lxxxvii. 7.|
|17.||Rivers||Ps. xcviii. 8.|
|18.||Seas||Ps. xciii. 4.|
|19.||Leviathan||Ps. cxviii. 1.|
|20.||Sea-monsters.||Ps. cxlviii. 7.|
|21.||Fishes||Ps. xxix. 3.|
|22.||Gan 'Eden||Cant. iv. 16.|
|23.||Ge-hinnom||Ps. cvii. 9.|
|24.||Wilderness||Isa. xxxv. 1.|
|25.||Fields||Prov. iii. 19.|
|26.||Vegetables||Ps. lxv. 11.|
|27.||Ears of wheat||Ps. cxxx. 1.|
|28.||Ears of barley||Ps. cii. 1.|
|29.||Other grain||Ps. lxv. 14.|
|30.||Trees||Ps. xcvi. 12, 13.|
|31.||Vine||Isa. lxv. 8.|
|32.||Fig-tree||Prov. xxvii. 18.|
|33.||Pomegranate||Cant. vi. 3.|
|34.||Palm-tree||Ps. xcii. 13.|
|35.||Apple-tree||Cant. ii. 3.|
|36.||Reptiles||Ps. civ. 31.|
|37.||Reptiles, rams||Ps. cxlix. 2.|
|38.||Frogs||Ps. cxiii. 2.|
|39.||Snake||Ps. cxlv. 14.|
|40.||Scorpion||Ps. cxlv. 9.|
|41.||Mole||Ps. cl. 6.|
|42.||Cat||Ob. i. 4.|
|43.||Rat||Ps. xxx. 2.|
|44.||Lizard||Ps. lviii. 9.|
|45.||Fly||Isa. xl. 6, 8; lvii. 19.|
|46.||Spider||Ps. cl. 5.|
|47.||Ant||Ps. cxxxvi. 25.|
|48.||Locust||Isa. xxv. 1.|
|49.||Bird of the vineyard||Ps. cxxi. 1.|
|50.||Cock||Prov. vi. 9.|
|51.||Hen||Ps. cxxxvi. 25.|
|52.||Dove||Cant. ii. 14; Isa. xxxviii. 4.|
|53.||Goose||Ps. cv. 2.|
|54.||Wild goose||Isa. xl. 3; Jer. xvii. 7.|
|55.||Eagle||Ps. lix. 6.|
|56.||Stork||Isa. xl. 2.|
|57.||Gier-eagle||Zech. x. 8.|
|58.||Raven||Job xlviii. 41.|
|59.||Starling||Isa. lxi. 9.|
|60.||Parrot||Ps. xxxiii. 2.|
|61.||Swallow||Ps. xxx. 13.|
|62.||Bird||Ps. lxxxiv. 4.|
|63.||Bird in arid country||Ps. xcvii. 11.|
|64.||Hunting-bird ("ẓappi").||Isa. xxvi. 4.|
|65.||Ravenous bird ("ṭa sit").||Ps. cxxi. 2.|
|66.||Young poultry ("pargiyyot").||Ps. cxxxviii. 4.|
|67.||Clean small cattle.||Ex. xv. 11.|
|68.||Clean large cattle.||Ps. lxxxi. 2.|
|69.||Unclean small cattle.||Ps. cxxv. 4.|
|70.||Unclean large cattle.||Ps. cxxviii. 2.|
|71.||Ox||Ex. xv. 1. 2.|
|72.||Hare||Ps. lix. 17.|
|73.||Horse||Ps. cxxiii. 2.|
|74.||Ass||I Chron. xxix. 11.|
|75.||Mule||Ps. cxxxviii. 4.|
|76.||Camel.||Jer. xxv. 30.|
|77.||Animals||Ps. cxix. 68.|
|78.||Elephant||Ps. xcii. 6.|
|79.||Lion||Isa. xlii. 13.|
|80.||Bear||Isa. xlii. 1.|
|81.||Wolf||Ex. xxii. 8.|
|82.||Fox||Jer. xxii. 13.|
|83.||Deer, or steed||Ps. xxxiii. 1.|
|84.||Dog||Ps. xcv. 6.|
|*Chapters and verses are quoted according to the divisions of the Hebrew Bible.|
Every quotation is preceded by the formula: "The . . . says." In a few cases several verses are quoted continuously. The cock's shirah is divided into seven calls, with a curious preface, as follows: "When the Almighty visits the righteous in Gan 'Eden, the trees there drop aromatic spices and sing praises. Then the cock rises also to praise." In the first and second calls he repeats Ps. xxiv. 7, 8, and 9, 10; in the third, "Arise, ye righteous, to study the Law, and win double compensation in the world to come"; in the fourth, Gen. xlix. 18; in the fifth, Prov. vi. 9; in the sixth, Prov. xx. 13; in the seventh, Ps. cxix. 126. In other editions the cock's calls are limited to four. To understand the application of many of the quotations it is necessary to consult the ingenious explanations of the commentaries noted above.