WEHU RAḤUM ( = "But He, being full of compassion"):
A prayer, beginning with Ps. lxxviii. 38, recited on Mondays and Thursdays before Taḥanun. It is composed chiefly of Biblical verses, and is divided into seven parts: (1) "Wehu Raḥum"; (2) "Haṭṭeh Elo'a Ozneka"; (3) "Habbeṭ Na"; (4) Anna Melek"; (5) "El Raḥum we-Ḥannun"; (6) "En Kamoka"; and (7) "Ha-Poteaḥ Yad." From the repetitions in it, it may be inferred that the prayer is the work of more than one author. It was known in its present form to the compiler of the Vitry Maḥzor, who quotes it in full; while in the Siddur of R. Amram it is given in three versions, one beginning with "Im 'Awonenu" (the seventh verse of the present form) and followed by the confession of sins (Ashamnu; see Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, § 134), another commencing with "We-Attah Adonai," and the third opening with "Wehu Raḥum," but in much shortened form. In the Seder Tefillot of Maimonides (at the end of the second book of the "Yad") the prayer before "Taḥanun" is given in a very different version and is to be recited every day, not merely on Mondays and Thursdays.
According to a legend, the "Wehu Raḥum" was composed on the following occasion: After the destruction of the Temple many Jews were placed by Vespasian on three vessels and were abandoned by their captains in the open sea. Among those thus left to perish were Benjamin Yerushalmi, his brother Joseph, and their cousin Samuel. By a miracle the vessel bearing them and their companions reached Bordeaux in safety. They were kindly received by the ruler of the country, but at his death became the object of enmity. They accordingly instituted fasts for the cessation of the persecution, and during this period they recited the "Wehu Raḥum," which had been composed by Benjamin, Joseph, and Samuel. Later, when the persecutions had ceased, the authors sent the prayer to their coreligionists of other countries.
Another legend of the origin of this prayer is given in the Vitry Maḥzor, though it fails to mention the names of the authors. A prince is said to have notified three refugees from Jerusalem that he would throw them into a burning furnace to determine whether they were Jews. At the expiration of the respite which they requested, a pious old man told them he had heard in a dream a Biblical passage containing the word twice and the word thrice. One of them immediately recognized Isa. xliii. 2, from which they inferred that they would be saved. At the command of the prince a fire was kindled in the street, but the flames, as soon as the old man entered them, divided in three directions, and the Jews passed through uninjured. In commemoration of this miracle they composed the "Wehu Raḥum," to which each of them contributed a portion.
- Zunz, Literaturgesch, p. 17;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, p. 75.