Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have always thought that Aleinu was a piyyut (liturgical poem), not a "prayer" since it does not have a bracha in it. I was surprised to find that the Wikipedia page for piyyut does not list it, and that the page for Aleinu calls it a prayer. I realize that Wikipedia may not be the most authoritative source for Jewish answers, so I am asking it here. Is Aleinu considered a piyyut or a prayer? Either way, why? A related (unanswered) question is: Why are Ashre and Alenu considered communal prayers?

share|improve this question
What is the difference? – Double AA Mar 2 '14 at 13:23
@DoubleAA I am not entirely sure. I had thought that tehillim, most zemirot, Aleinu, were all piyyut, but based on the answer Ypnypn submitted below, I might have my criteria wrong. – Mike Mar 2 '14 at 16:00

Actually, a text can be both a prayer and a piyyut. A prayer is a type of content, whereas a piyyut is a type of style. A prayer is when one talks to God (OED, MW); it need not contain a bracha. A piyyut is a style of a text (which may or not be a prayer) similar to poetry.

Therefore, there are selections which are prayers, piyyutim, both, or none. Mi Sheberach is a prayer (note the absence of a bracha), but not a piyyut. Yigdal is a piyyut, but not a prayer. Veye'esayu (on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) is a piyyut and a prayer.

Specifically, the second part of Aleinu is a prayer (since we acknowledge God as the ruler of all, and pray that He be universally recognized as such soon). It can be argued that since part of it is a prayer, the whole thing is. It is not a piyyut.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.