Among the most common requests I receive is to provide readers with the means to learn a traditional Karaite prayer. Indeed, the Karaite community (in addition to having a rich interpretive history) has a rich liturgy. Thus far, I have resisted these requests, because it really isn’t the focus of the blog.
Recently, though, there was a discussion on Mi Yodeya asking how Karaites pray. And after Monday’s post on keeping it real, I thought it was time to do at least one post related to Karaite prayer. It didn’t take me long to determine where to begin: the Haqdamah.
What is the Haqdamah?
The Haqdamah (Hebrew: הקדמה) is a traditional Karaite prayer recited on Shabbat immediately before the Priestly Benediction (Birkat Kohanim). Haqdamah is a Hebrew word that means “preface” or “introduction.” It also has the meaning of “preamble.” Thus, the name of the prayer refers to its function of preparing the congregation for the Priestly Benediction.
In English the prayer is referred to both as “the Haqdamah” and more colloquially as “Eloheinu V’Elohei,” which are the first two words of the prayer.
Why the Haqdamah?
The Haqdamah is one of the first prayers that Karaites (at least those in the United States) teach their children. It is a rather simple prayer – both in melody and in length. The entire prayer is 33 words and the words themselves are relatively easy to pronounce, even for beginning Hebrew speakers.
Who May Say the Haqdamah?
Any member of the congregation (man or woman, adult or child) may recite the Haqdamah.
Meaning of the Haqdamah:
The prayer is a precursor for the Priestly Benediction both in function and meaning. The prayer can be translated as follows:
“Our God and God of our fathers, bless us with the threefold blessing written in Your Torah, spoken by Aaron and his sons, your Kohanim [=priests], as it is written in Your Torah. ‘The LORD spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: thus shall you bless the people of Israel; say to them:'” (citing Number 6:22-23)*
The “threefold blessing” is a reference to the three sentences of the Priestly Benediction, which follows the recitation of the Haqdamah.
The Hebrew text of the Haqdamah appears below:*
For those who don’t read Hebrew, a very rough transliteration follows. I confess that I am not familiar with standard transliteration practices, but this should be good enough for these purposes.
Eloheinu V’Elohei avoteinu, bar’cheinu vaberacha hamshooleshet haketuvah b’Toratecha ha’amoorah mipi Aharon u’vanav kohaneicha kakatuv b’Toratecha: Vaydaber Adonai el Moshe Lemor: Daber el Aharon v’el banav lemor, koh t’var’chu et b’nai Yisrael amor lahem.**
Historic Recording of the Haqdamah and Priestly Benediction:
This YouTube video indicates that it is a 1964 recording of the Priestly Benediction, but it also happens to contain the Haqdamah. I believe that the recording is from the Karaite community of Eupatoria. This melody of the Haqdamah is very similar to the one used in the Karaite synagogue in the United States – but the melody for the Priestly Benediction is a bit different.
Be sure to turn your speaker volume and the volume of the embedded video all the way up. (And you can just fast-forward to the fifteen second mark.)
We might touch on other aspects of Karaite prayer (e.g., full-prostration, melody, responsive reading) in future posts.
* Shabbat Prayer Book, According to the Customs of the Karaite Jews; A Publication of the Karaite Jews of America, Southern California Chapter (April 2011)
** I have maintained the modern Jewish custom of transliterating God’s personal name as Adonai, because that is how the prayer is read in the YouTube video and in traditional Karaite synagogues. “Ch” should be pronounced like a heavy “h” formed toward the back of the throat.