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Whence Al Ha Nissim that we say on Hanukka? Who wrote it? When? When did it enter the siddur? Has the wording changed over time?

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  • Old texts like this almost never have precise provenances
    – Double AA
    Dec 8, 2023 at 18:27

4 Answers 4

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The Rokeach and the Kol Bo attribute it to Yochanan Kohen Gadol. The original version had 124 words corresponding to the gematria of יוחנן (or 125 for כהנים), but the ending was dropped because it's considered out of place at the amidah insertion point. See Shaar HaKollel for more details.

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  • He wrote it about his grandsons?
    – Double AA
    Dec 11, 2023 at 1:47
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In (minor Talmudic tractate) Soferim 20:8, we read:

ואומרים בהודייה והודאת פלאות ותשועת כהנים אשר עשית בימי מתתיהו בן יוחנן כהן גדול וחשמונאי ובניו וכן עשה עמנו ה' אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו נסים ונפלאות ונודה לשמך לנצח בא"י הטוב ונסים מרדכי ואסתר מזכירין אותן בהודייה ושניהן נזכרין בברכת המזון:

In the benediction for Thanksgiving we include [on Ḥanukkah] ‘and thanks for the wonders and salvation of Thy priests which Thou hast wrought in the days of Mattathias, son of Yoḥanan, High Priest, and the Hasmoneans his sons. So also, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, perform for us miracles and wonders, and we will give thanks unto Thy name for ever. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Who art all-good’. The miracles [of the days] of Mordecai and Esther are also mentioned [on Purim] in the benediction for Thanksgiving. Both are likewise mentioned in the Grace after meals.

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  • 2
    This isn't the Al Hanissim which is more of a Bavli text. This is a different text that was common in Israel וכניסי פלאיך
    – Double AA
    Dec 8, 2023 at 3:17
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The first place I could find that mentions Al Hanisim is Rav Achai Gaon (~700) in his sh'iltot [in the top right paragraph] https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?sits=1&req=11865&st=%D7%97%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%9B%D7%94&_rnd=0.700921477994997

ומיחייבינן לאדכורי בצלותא על הניסים ואינו חייב להזכיר בברכת המזון מאי טעמא תפילה משום שחובה הוא לצלויי מחייב, אבל הסעודה דרשות היא לא חייבו רבנן...

And we obligate to mention "Al Hanisim" in the prayers, but not in the blessing after the meal. Why in the prayers? Because it is an obligation to pray, we obligate [to add Al Hanisim], but Chachamim didn't obligate [saying Al Hanisim after the meal] because the meal is optional...

Rav Amram Gaon (~850) also brings Al Hanisim in his siddur https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=42696&hilite=f8cdc647-3a61-4376-b88b-2cbba892681f&st=%d7%a2%d7%9c+%d7%94%d7%a0%d7%a1%d7%99%d7%9d&pgnum=78

על הנסים ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות ועל הפורקן שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה

Interestingly, he has a different version for Purim:

על הסים ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות ועל הפדות ועל הפורקן שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן [הזה]

Rav Sa'adia Gaon (~900) also brings it in his siddur (page רנה):

על הנסין והגבורות והתשועות והמלחמות והפדות והפרקן שעשיתה עמנו ועם אבותינו בימים ההם ובזמן הזה

In many rishonim the nusach is slightly different, one example is machzor vitry:

על הנסים ועל הפורקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות פדות ופורקן שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם ובזמן הזה

As you may have noticed, none of the above versions are the one we (at least Ashkenazim) use nowadays, I'm not sure what the original source of our specific version is.


Because there are so many different versions among the rishonim, and no definitive 'correct' version, there are a lot of different versions actually used nowadays. For a more full look at the (surprising amount of) different versions according to different minhagim, see https://he.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A2%D7%9C_%D7%94%D7%A0%D7%A1%D7%99%D7%9D#:~:text=%D7%9E%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%A8%20%D7%94%D7%AA%D7%A4%D7%99%D7%9C%D7%94,-%D7%AA%D7%A4%D7%99%D7%9C%D7%AA%20%D7%A2%D7%9C%20%D7%94%D7%A0%D7%A1%D7%99%D7%9D&text=%D7%94%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%A1%D7%97%20%D7%94%D7%9E%D7%93%D7%95%D7%99%D7%A7%20%22%D7%A2%D7%9C%20%D7%94%D7%A0%D7%A1%D7%99%D7%9D%22%20%D7%90%D7%99%D7%A0%D7%95,%D7%A2%D7%9E%D7%A8%D7%9D%20%D7%92%D7%90%D7%95%D7%9F%20%D7%95%D7%A1%D7%99%D7%93%D7%95%D7%A8%20%D7%A8%D7%A1%22%D7%92.

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I just found this essay on the topic: https://www.thetorah.com/article/al-hanissim-a-chanukah-prayer-revised-to-include-1-maccabees

<< The unusual inclusion of material from 1 Maccabees —a work never quoted in rabbinic literature— is unique to this prayer. As noted at the beginning, other than the reference to Mattathias son of Yoḥanan, nothing in the Soferim version connects to the account in 1 Maccabees.

<< Our Al HaNissim likely reflects a revision—either of the version in Soferim or some other early prayer. The authors of this revision not only knew 1 Maccabees but used it to expand an already existent Chanukah prayer to reflect the tenor of its telling of the story, one that is quite different than the Chanukah story in the Babylonian Talmud.

And by the same author: https://seforimblog.com/2023/12/the-books-of-maccabees-and-the-al-hanisssim-prayer-for-hanukah/

<< The Al HaNissim prayer inserted in the Amidah for Hanukah is a purposeful combination of 1 Maccabees with Rabbinic literature and liturgy. This becomes obvious upon comparing it with the less-developed version of Massekhet Sofrim 20.6

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