Tuesday, April 20, 2021

On a regular weekday we recite the Kedusha prayer three times: once before the morning Shema, once in the repetition of the Amidah, and once in Uva L’Tzion. The last recital differs from the first two in that in the last we recite each verse followed by a translation in Aramaic.

(When I refer to the “Kedusha” prayer I am referring to the juxtaposition of the “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh” phrase from Isaiah 6:3 with the “baruch kevod” phrase from Ezekiel 3:12. An interesting issue is when we first began reciting these phrases together. See below.)

What is the origin of our third Kedusha recital? Of course, one theory is that it originated for the benefit of latecomers. (See, e.g., Abudarham, 14th cent.) Another theory is that it arose during a period of persecution when one or both of the earlier Kedushot was prohibited (and perhaps the guards left after the Amidah). After the persecution ended, it was decided to leave the new post-Amidah Kedusha in place. Of course this persecution theory is entirely conjectural.

As further background, I have to mention that our post-Amidah Kedusha is mentioned in the Talmud at Sotah 49a. It is referred to as “Kedusha De-Sidra.” (The Talmud here states that the endurance of the world is dependent on the recital of Kedusha De-Sidra and on a certain recital of “Yehei Shemei Rabbah”! It makes this statement based on a homiletical interpretation of a verse at Job 10:22. Based on this, codified in Orach Chayim 132 are the halachot that one is not allowed to leave shul before the recital of Kedusha De-Sidra and that it is important to recite it with much kavana.)

There is a source from the ninth century that suggests a detailed scenario for how Kedusha De-Sidra arose. The source is a responsum of R. Natronai Gaon. (It is found in Otzar Ha-Geonim, Sotah, pp. 274-75.) R. Natronai writes that at the end of the daily prayer service the practice was to read and translate 10 verses from the Prophets to fulfill the Talmudic statement (Kidd. 30a) that one should spend one-third of one’s time learning Mikra, one-third learning Mishnah, and one-third learning Talmud. The verse from Isaiah and the verse from Ezekiel and their translations were added as a fitting ending to these ten. In a later period there was no longer time to read and translate 10 verses, but the custom of reciting and translating the Isaiah and Ezekiel verses remained. Why? Because the word “kadosh” is repeated three times at Isa. 6:3, it was felt that Kedusha should be recited three times per day.

(The fact that “kadosh” is repeated three times at Isa. 6:3 was apparently not enough on its own to justify the commencement of a custom to recite Kedusha three times daily. But once the third recital already arose for a different reason, the three instances of “kadosh” at Isa. 6:3 was enough to justify the third Kedusha’s continuance.)

The title of the prayer in the standard text of the Talmud, “Kedusha De-Sidra,” seems to fit R. Natronai’s explanation. Or one can suggest more simply, based on this title, that there used to be a daily rabbinic discourse (=seder of learning) after the morning prayers, and this Kedusha was recited upon the conclusion of this seder. See Encyclopaedia Judaica 10:876. (But note that Tosafot, Ber. 3a, has a different girsa in the Talmud: “Sidra De-Kedushta.”Abudarham has a similar girsa.)

Rashi on Sotah 49a gives an explanation somewhat similar to that of R. Natronai. He does not mention the studying and translating of 10 verses and that the two verses were appended to this. But he does write that the recital of the two verses and their translation was instituted as a manner of ensuring that everyone study a small amount of “Torah” each day and that reading and translating verses into Aramaic is considered a manner of such study. (Also, the official Aramaic translation of Isa. 6:3 is a bit expansive.)

Note that there are statements elsewhere that record that Rashi adopts the persecution explanation. See, e.g., Machzor Vitry, p. 108.

One more view found in the Geonim, and citing an earlier source, is that Kedusha De-Sidra was instituted so that we should recite one more Kedusha daily than the angels, who recite two. See Shaarei Teshuvah, Teshuvot Ha-Geonim, #55.

The third verse in Kedusha De-Sidra is Ex. 15:18, whereas the third verse in the Kedusha of the Amidah is Tehillim 146:10. I will discuss this in a future column.

Kedusha De-Sidra is also recited as part of the Saturday night service. A very interesting reason for this is given in the Siddur R. Amram Gaon: to prolong the Shabbat-ending prayer service for the benefit of the wicked. There is a tradition that as long as the Jews are still reciting their seder of Shabbat-ending prayers, the angel in charge of Gehinnom is not permitted to order the wicked ones back into Gehinnom. They have a respite from punishment on Shabbat. This tradition is based on Job 10:22, which includes the phrase: “tzalmavet, ולא  sedarim.” The homiletic reinterpretation is: The angel in charge is entitled to say to the wicked ones: Tzeu La-Mavet” (=go to that place of death), but he can only say this when the prayer sedarim are no longer being recited. See Tanchuma Ki Tisa, Sec. 33.

The recital of Kedusha De-Sidra is moved from the end of Shacharit to the beginning of Mincha on Shabbat and festivals. Various reasons are suggested. See Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer, pp. 333-34.


The earliest surviving source that juxtaposes the phrases of Isaiah 6:3 and Ezekiel 3:12 (both statements about God by celestial beings) is a statement by R. Yehudah (second century C.E.) in Tosefta Berachot 1:11. (But see Enoch 39:12-13 for something similar in this earlier source.)

Regarding the origin of the Kedusha of the Amidah, if we think about it, what we do here is very unusual. The purpose of the repetition of the Amidah is to recite it again so that the obligation of everyone listening can be fulfilled. So why, in the third blessing, do we suddenly deviate and add new material? This material is also of a more mystical nature than the rest of the Amidah. Where did this practice come from? I will explore this in a future column.

(There is a passage at Brachot 33a that states that the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah of the early Second Temple period instituted “brachot, tefillot, kedushot and havdalot.” This is sometimes interpreted as a statement about the origin of the Kedusha prayer. But from the context it is evident that “kedushot” here means the various kiddushim that we recite on Shabbat and festivals, and not our Kedusha prayer.)

Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected] Please visit his website rootsandrituals.org. He has fond but vague memories of going to kiddushim at the end of shul and wonders when (or sadly, if) they will ever restart.