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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(הִלֵּל, Gr. ὕμνος ), the designation of a particular part of the hymnal service, chanted in the Temple and in the family on certain festivals.
1. Origins of the name, contents of the service, etc. The name hallel', הִלֵּל, which signifies praise, is κατ᾿ ἐξοχόν, given to this distinct portion of the hymnal service because it consists of Psalms 113-118, which are Psalms of praise, and because this group of Psalms begins with Hallelujah, הֲלְלוּיָהּ .. It is also called הִלֵּל הִמַּצְרַי, the Egyptian Hallel, because it was chanted in the Temple with the Passover lambs, which were first enjoined in Egypt, were being slain. There is another Hallel called הִלֵּל הִגָּדוֹלּ, the Great Hallel (so called because of the reiterated response after every verse, "For thy mercy endureth forever," in Psalms 136; which is part of this Hollel), which, according to R. Jehudah (Pesachim, 118) and Maimonides, comprises Psalms 118-136 (Jod Ha-Chezaka, Hilchoth Chanmez. Maza, 8:10). Others, however, though agreeing that this Hallel ends with Psalms 136, maintain that it begins with Psalms 120 or Psalms 135:4 (Pesachin, 118).
2. Time and manner in which it was chanted. — This hymnal service, or Egyptian Hallel, was chanted at the sacrifice of the first and second Pesach, after the daily sacrifice on the first day of Passover (Mishna, Pesachim, 5, 7), after the morning sacrifice on the Feast of Pentecost, the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Mishna, Succa, 4, 8), and the eight days of the Feast of Dedication (Mishna; Taanith, 5, 5), making in all twenty days in the year. "On twelve days out of the twenty, viz., at the sacrifice of the first and second Pesach, of the first day of Pesach, of the Feast of Pentecost, and of the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles, the flute was played before the altar when the Hallel was chanted" (Mishna, Pesachim, 2, 3), whilst after the morning sacrifice during the eight days of the Feast of Dedication the Hallel was chanted without this accompaniment of the flute. The manner in which "these hymns of praise were offered must have been very imposing and impressive. The Levites who could be spared from assisting at the slaying of the sacrifices took their stand before the altar, and chanted the Hallel verse by verse; the people responsively repeated every verse, or burst forth in solemn and intoned Hallelujahs at every pause, whilst the slaves of the priests, the Levites, and the respectable lay people assisted in playing the flute (comp. Pesachim, 64, a; Erachim, 10, a, b; and Tosipha on Cap. 1; Sota, 27, b; Taanith, 28, a, b). No representatives of the people (אנשׁי מעמד ) were required to-be present at the Temple at the morning sacrifices on the days when the Hallel was chanted (Mishna, Taanith, 4, 4). (See SACRIFICE).
The Egyptian Hallel was also chanted in private families at the celebration of the Passover on the first evening of this feast. On this occasion the Hallel was divided into two parts; the part comprising Psalms 113, 114 was chanted during the partaking of the second cup, whilst the second part, comprising Psalms 115, 116, was chanted over the fourth and finishing cup (רניעי גומר עליו את ההלל, Mishna, Pesachim, 10, 7); and it is generally supposed that the singing of the hymn by our Savior and his disciples at the conclusion of the Passover supper (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) refers to the last part of this Hallel. (Dean Alford [Greek Testament, ad loc. ] strangely confounds this Hallei with the Great Hallel.) In Babylon there was an ancient custom, which can be traced as far back as the 2nd century of the Christian sera, to recite this Hallel on every festival of the new moon (Taanith, 28, a), omitting, however, Psalms 115:1-11; Psalms 116:1-11.
The great Hallel (הלל הגדול ) was recited on the first evening at the Passover supper by those who wished to have a fifth cup, i.e.one above the enjoined number (Maimonides, Jod Ha-Chezaka, Hilchoth Chawmez t. Maza, 8, 10). It was also recited on occasions of great joy, as an expression of thanksgiving to'God for special mercies (Mishna, Taanith, 3, 9).
3. Present use of the Hymnal Service. — The Jews to the present day recite the Egyptian Hallel at the morning prayer immediately after the Eighteen Benedictions ‘(שׁמונה עשׁרה ) on all the festivals of the year except New Year and the Day of Atonement, omitting Psalms 115:1-11; Psalms 116:1-11, on the last six days of the Feast of Passover, and on the new moon. Before the Hallel is recited they pronounce the following benediction: "Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the world, who hast sanctified us with thy commandments, and enjoined upon us to recite the Hallel!" At the Passover supper, on the first two evenings of the festival, both the Egyptian Hallel and the Great Hallel are now recited; the former is still divided in the same manner as it was in the days of our Savior.
4. Institution of this Hymnal Service. — It is now impossible to ascertain precisely when this service was first instituted. Some of the Talmudists affirm that it was instituted by Moses, others say that Joshua introduced it, others derive it from Deborah, David, Hezekiah, or Hanaaiah, Mishael and Azariah (Pesachim, 117, a). From 2 Chronicles 35:15, we see that the practice of the Levites chanting the Hallel while the Paschal lambs were in the act of being slain was already in vogue in the days of Josiah, and it is not at all improbable that it was customary to do so at a much earlier period.
5. Literature. — Mamonides, Jod Ha-Chezaka, Hilchoth Chamez u. Mlaza, sections 7 and 8, vol. i, p. 263-265; Buxtorf, Lexicon Chaldaicum Talmudicum et Rabbinicum, s.v. הלל, col. 613-616; and Bartoloccii, Bibliotheca Moagna Rabbinica, 2, 227-243, have important treatises upon this subject, but their information is most uncritically put together, and no distinction is made between earlier and later practices. A thoroughly masterly and critical investigation is that of Krochmal, More Neboche Ha- Seman (Leopoli, 1851), p. 135 sq.; comp. also Edelmanm's edition of the Siddur with Landshuth's Critical Annotations (Kö nigsberg, 1845), p. 423 sq.; Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel (Nordhausen, 1857), 2, 169 sq.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hallel'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​h/hallel.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.